Elegant style and intensity of flavor are what Trinity Hill Wines do best. Balanced, precise, and imminently drinkable, these New Zealand wines are distinctive, a reflection of their superior vineyard sites, and a product of the “Quality rather than Quantity” philosophy. Trinity Hill offers wines that will please everybody, at prices for all wallets.
Trinity Hill Winery started as a partnership between winemaker John Hancock and London restauranteurs Robert and Robyn Wilson almost 30 years ago, with the goal of producing world-class red wines in a region of the world more known for its stunning whites, notably Sauvignon Blanc. Carving out those first vineyards over 20 years ago in Hawkes Bay, located on the North Island of New Zealand, Hancock became one of the region’s pioneers, planting grape vines on a former river bed, which became known as the Gimblett Gravels region. Traditional grape varietals for the region, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot were planted, but experimentation with Syrah, Viognier, Tempranillo, Arneis, Touriga Nacional, and Montepulciano soon followed. In 2014, Charles Banks of Terroir Selections, a renowned investor in California “cult” wineries, joined the team. Native Kiwi Warren Gibson has taken over the winemaking duties, with a global pedigree as a Flying Winemaker, and since settling down at Trinity Hills almost 20 years ago, has earned New Zealand Winemaker of the Year accolades. Getting out the word that “there is more to New Zealand wines than Sauvignon Blanc”, Warren, who just finished their harvest (it is the Southern hemisphere, and their seasons are the reverse of ours) is promoting Trinity Hill wines from coast to coast. At a recent winemaker lunch at the Hotel Bel-Air, a cross section of Trinity Hill’s new releases, the 2013 vintage wines, were sampled by distributors, restaurant and wine shop managers, and wine journalists, with pleasantly surprising results.
Trinity Hill crafts three tiers, or as they call it, ranges of wines, for all tastes and budgets. At the very top, their flagship wine, Homage, is a stunning Syrah, crafted in the style of Côte Rôtie from France’s Northern Rhône. A tribute to the late iconic Rhône Valley winemaker, Gerard Jaboulet, Homage springs from cuttings given to John Hancock by Jaboulet from the legendary La Chapelle vineyard in Hermitage. Only produced in the very best years, and in limited quantities, this award-winning Homage Syrah is a standout. Warren says, “It’s lovely and silky, very food friendly, a beautiful wine to drink, decanted, … it’s a wine we want to create heritage with”. The most recent release, the 2010 Trinity Hill Homage Syrah is excellent, its body and beauty will take your breath away. Garnet in color, with an intensely thrilling nose, dense, concentrated, and complex, this 100% Syrah, with its dark berry fruit, plum, violet notes, spice, black olive, and bacon fat, is young, delicious now, but worth giving it more time to develop intriguing secondary characteristics. Homage is elegant, with a savory, roasted meat character, accented with dried herbs, and laced with hints of smoke and cocoa, it finishes long and satisfying. Beautiful structure, supple tannins, and bright acidity, Homage is easily one of the best wines in the world. According to Warren, James Suckling recently ranked it #11 in his Top 100 Wines of the Year, scoring 98 points. It retails for over $100, which is very reasonable for its high quality.
The Gimblett Gravels collection, their mid-range bottlings, which retail for $35, offers eight wines: Tempranillo, Arneis, Chardonnay, Viognier, a Marsanne-Viognier blend, Syrah, Touriga Nacional, and a red Bordeaux blend. These wines make up the majority of Trinity Hill’s grape harvest, and channel the deep river gravel soils left by the Ngaruroro after it changed course over 150 years ago, which, consequently, produce small bunches of concentrated berries. Warren brought two to taste, the Syrah and the red blend.
The 2013 Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Syrah is a savory wine, with good acidity, medium body, blackberry and raspberry fruit, black pepper spice, tinged with a meatiness, and a medium-long finish. The 2013 Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels “The Gimblett” is a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. It has bright acidity, a round body, with ripe blackberry, raspberry, and blackcurrant fruit, dried herbs, and a touch of cedar, it persists on the palate. Warren is very happy with this wine, “getting great expressions from the Bordeaux family, beautiful blackcurrant, cassis, and ripe tannins, I like the structure and backbone of Cabernet, the acidity, it gives the wine the freshness, the ageability, while Merlot fleshes out the wine”.
Finally, the Hawkes Bay range of six wines, all priced under $20, was a revelation. These wines are produced from the broader Hawkes Bay region, where numerous micro-climates are tucked inside a maritime area, which supports a variety of different wine styles and grape varietals, but all made with 100% Hawkes Bay fruit. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Syrah, Pinot Noir, and a Merlot blend offer distinctive yet affordable bottlings. Warren brought the following three value-priced wines to sample:
The 2013 Trinity Hill Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc is intensely aromatic, with lemongrass, lime, stone fruit, mineral, and grass, has bright acidity, yet round in body, textured from the lees ageing, it is what Warren calls his “Sauvignon Blanc for grownups”. Although it is their introductory wine, at $17, and currently makes up one-third of their production, it’s an elegant wine, and unlike the laser flavor profiles of most New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, it has no sharp edges, and glides smoothly across the palate.
Next up, the 2013 Trinity Hill Hawkes Bay Pinot Noir has a fruit-driven style, with ripe cherry, strawberry, raspberry and plum fruit, a savory touch of earth and forest floor, velvety tannins, but with some structure from the 25% whole cluster fermentation, that is finished in a combination of tank and barrel. Warren explains, “it’s about freshness, it’s about Pinot, it’s about juiciness, all natural acidity, all about that Pinot Noir statement, we’re not trying to over make the wine, it’s very versatile, by the glass, and food friendly”.
Finally, the 2013 Trinity Hill Hawkes Bay “The Trinity” is a Merlot dominant blend, 68% Merlot, 15% Tempranillo, 8% Malbec, 4% Touriga Nacional, and 4% Cabernet Franc. This blend is juicy and savory, as Warren relays, “there is some structure, some texture from that Bordeaux family, but we want the wines to be juicy, something you can drink by the glass”, what he calls the “Trinity Hill house style”. Plum, red berries, and cassis fill out the fruit, accented with spice and hints of leather, a round body with ripe tannins make this a drinkable wine that pairs well with food, as do all of Trinity Hill wines.
Initially, Trinity Hill launched with a small core of wines; Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Merlot-Cabernet based blends. But founder John Hancock’s grand experiment, which took “an innovative path” of planting 18 different varietals throughout the estate over the past 15 years, “stretched the portfolio a little too strongly”, Warren notes, “but we are bringing it back to the original core”.
Innovative, committed to quality, and value-oriented, Trinity Hill is blazing new distribution trails worldwide, and expanding their brand. Surging beyond Sauvignon Blanc, Trinity Hill is riding the wave of New Zealand red wines breaking upon our shores.