Tasting Reviews

Red Barrel Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2013 – 2018

I’ll declare my interest in this article straight away: The Red Barrel wines from Havelock North in Hawke’s Bay are distributed by my partner Sue Davies and her company ‘Wine2Trade’. As most of my readers are aware, I review and write about all of the wines from Sue’s portfolio, but I always state the connection so that there is no misunderstanding that there is a possible conflict of interest, especially when it comes to reviewing the wines. Do I rate the ‘Wine2Trade’ wines more favourably than others? I certainly don’t think I do, and possibly I may even mark them on the harder side! www.redbarrel.co.nz

One important factor must be taken into account when reading my reviews of wines from Sue’s ‘Wine2Trade’ portfolio. And that is that I am more familiar with the background, philosophies, culture and method behind growing the grapes and making the wine – more so than most of the other producers’ wines I review. Also, I have the opportunity of tasting many of the ‘Wine2Trade’ wines on multiple occasions, allowing me to better judge their development, and see the nuances they may have. In some ways it’s the antithesis of ‘blind’ assessments, which can be very valid in certain circumstances. But with the full knowledge and background of a wine, it can be assessed with respect to the aims of the producer and the potential of its style. Both approaches, as any experienced taster will attest, are valid.

Juliette and John Lockie, Red Barrel

The Lockies, Dave McKee and Red Barrel Chardonnay
When John and Juliette Lockie purchased the tiny ‘Zepelin’ vineyard on Te Mata Road, opposite Black Barn in Havelock North in 2010, their experience as grapegrowers told them to take out the Cabernet Sauvignon and replace it with Chardonnay. Along with the already existing Merlot and Syrah, planted in 1997, they would have a vineyard representative of the most successful varieties of the region. The clones planted are Mendoza, 15 and 95, proven performers for quality wine. The vines yielded their first crop in 2013.

The Lockies and their winemaker Dave McKee from Black Barn take the philosophy that the Chardonnay must represent the character of the vineyard first. The style made is a relatively big and flavoursome one that shows distinctive stonefruit flavours more so than citrus or tropical fruits, at least initially. Is this the style that emanates from the ‘Te Mata Special Character Zone’? Dave takes a relatively low or non-interventionist approach in making the wines, employing hand-picking, whole bunch pressing and fermentation with solids in French oak barriques and puncheons. The wines spend around 11 months in approx. 50% new oak with lees work and MLF. All of these inputs are subtle and sensitive to the fruit expression. What I’ve noticed to date is the varying degrees of gunflinty sulphide reductive complexities, and this is attributable to the vintage.

A Vertical Tasting from 2013 to 2018 Barrel Samples
It really is far too early to make definitive judgements on the style of Red Barrel Chardonnay, but one can not deny their weight, presence and depth of flavour, with balanced winemaker inputs. During our recent visit to Hawke’s Bay, Sue and I spent an hour with John and Juliette Lockie, and Dave McKee, and tasted all of the Chardonnays made to date. The 2013-2016 were finished wines, and the 2017 a blended up tank sample, while the 2018s were separate barrel samples. The tasting was relatively informal and relaxed, so I have not added my notes to this website database. However it gave a perspective on their relative differences and similarities. My impressions are as follows.
2013: Light golden-straw colour. The nose shows rich and intense aromas of stonefruits and citrus fruits along with spicy oak. This is quite accessible and up-front. The palate has a lovely richness and sweetness of soft citrussy fruit, with fulsome body and presence, but with an open forwardness. The acidity is fresh and there is more in the tank to go further. But it has opened up nicely with a couple of years of bottle age. (Provisional score: 18.5/20)

2014: The palest in colour of the first four tasted. This is very tight and elegant in presentation. White stonefruits with restraint, some nutty detail, oak and lees, and a balanced amount of gunflint reduction to allow the fruit to show, even in this shy state. Again quite taut on palate, this has white stonefruits, citrus fruits, nuts and gunflint lending a sort of austere minerality. This feels as though it has closed up and is going through the ‘Chardonnay Tunnel’. (Provisional score: 18.0-/20)

2015: Light golden hued straw-yellow colour. This is a powerful wine on nose, very intense and penetrating, with white stonefruits, nuts and a strong amount of gunflinty sulphides. The fruit exudes richness and almondy detail. A firm and intense wine on palate, with richness and concentration. There is balance of the componentry, but the projection may be too forceful. There was talk of creating a ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay, and the power of this wine would make it a contender. (Provisional score: 18.0/20)

2016: Light golden-yellow colour. This has finely expressed yellow stonefruits and citrus fruits, along with nutty interest from the oak and background gunflint elements. At present quite taut on the palate, with all the elements on show. Stonefruits, citrus fruit, nutty oak, flinty reduction. It’s a little dis-jointed at present. Initially seeming elegant, but with more time in the glass, the richness grew. This came to resemble the 2013 in a very positive way. (Provisional score: 18.0+/20)

2017 Tank Sample: A little cloudy. This has soft mealy aromas intermingling with white stonefruits and citrus fruit, and unfolds a little leesy complexity. This is considerably richer than this time last year, with good fruitiness, the acidity a little piquant and crisp. The mouthfeel and textures are soft. This is a more elegant expression and no doubt a reflection of the vintage. It will develop more. (Provisional score: 17.5-/20)

2018 Mendoza clone Barrel Sample: From puncheon. Pale straw-yellow colour. The nose is still very fresh with banana-like fermentation esters, but citrus fruit and nutty lees detail underneath. Bright and lively on palate, lifted citrus fruits entwined with esters. An elegant wine on palate with very fine textures and fresh, lacy acidity. Needs time to show its real personality. (Not Rated)

2018 Clones 95 and 15 Barrel Sample: From puncheon and barrique, one-third new oak. Pale straw-yellow colour. An elegant and refined nose, with a little youthful fermentation esters, but unfolding attractive stonefruit and citrus fruit flavours. A more even and gently broader style, a little phenolic grip with piquant acidity. Clearly a good blending component with richness. (Not Rated)

Dave McKee, Red Barrel winemaker
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