You might think of New Zealand as a black country - All Blacks (rugby) and black boats (America's Cup yachting), that sort of thing. But in the wine world New Zealand is most certainly on the light side of the spectrum. As the place of the pale, rampant Sauvignon Blanc, the extravagantly blonde virile Chardonnay and the creamy, lustrous sparkling, New Zealand is the bright white wine land. But it also knows a thing or two about red...
The loudly-proclaimed 1998 Hawke's Bay1 reds have emerged to be every bit as good as their excellent previews. These are dark wines filled with the muscular bits that you expect of good reds, ripe in flavours redolent of all those berryfruits that wine writers love to accuse, thick through and bristling with textures from gloss to grit.
The problem with vintage character is that it is a sign of the time, not an affirmation of quality. Even in a year when the climate is perfect, all it produces is excellent grapes, not outstanding wine. It is up to winemakers to do that. The following is a checklist for those with money to invest. And none of these are cheap, so don't expect any bargains. If you are over 75, they aren't a wise investment - by the time the '98s are at their peak you won't be strong enough to pull the corks out.
If you are ready, hang out for Te Mata's three top reds - Coleraine, Awatea and Bullnose. Few match the latter two in any year, and no New Zealand red has been made to compare with the '98 Coleraine. Also keep your eye on Sanderson, especially the Syrah (known in some countries as Shiraz), the CJ Pask Merlots, Ngatarawa's very fine Glazebrook reds, Redmetal's rare but good Merlot blends, Brookfield's Cabernet based wines, and Trinity Hills Black Label range.