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Wine Legend: Te Mata, Coleraine 1998

What makes it a wine legend?

Wine Legend: Te Mata, Coleraine 1998, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand

Bottles produced 25,000

Composition 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc

Yield 50hl/ha

Alcohol 13.5%

Release price NZ$75

Price today NZ$250

A legend because…

Although New Zealand is best known for its cool-climate wines – notably Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – it has been recognised for some time that Hawke’s Bay is particularly well suited to weightier reds, such as Bordeaux-style blends and Syrah. The development of the Gimblett Gravels zone put these wines on the map, but the Buck family at Te Mata had started to focus on such styles years before that. From 1982, the first vintage, Coleraine has been Te Mata’s finest expression of the Bordeaux style and the most avidly collected of New Zealand red wines.

Looking back

John Buck was still very much in charge of this important estate in 1998, although today his son Nicholas is deeply involved. John bought the property in 1974, as it was already planted with vineyards widely regarded as among the finest in Hawke’s Bay. Indeed these sites, known collectively as the Havelock Hills Vineyards, were first established in 1892, and by 1909 it was the country’s largest vineyard. In the late 1970s Buck, with experience gained in the British wine trade before returning to his native land, redeveloped the vineyards and winery.

The vintage

After a wet winter, the growing season was very dry and one of the hottest on record. Flowering in early December delivered a potentially large crop, so bunches had to be thinned. The vineyards had be attentively managed to avoid dehydration and stress, but the fruit for Coleraine was exemplary, with Cabernet Sauvignon the most impressive of the three component varieties.

The terroir

The soils in Hawke’s Bay are varied, but Coleraine is planted on north-facing, sandstone-based alluvial gravel. The first vines were planted in 1979, with the chosen varieties being Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The vineyard is harvested by hand, then the grapes are sorted at the winery, to eliminate any sub-standard fruit. Initially Coleraine was a single-vineyard wine, but since 1989 it has been a selection from the best plots in the Havelock Hills Vineyards.

The wine

For 35 years Peter Cowley has been Te Mata’s technical director, and thus responsible for overseeing how Coleraine was made. The grapes are destemmed and crushed, before being fermented for up to 21 days in open-top vats at temperatures up to 32°C, with regular punchdowns. After an extended maceration, the wine goes into French barriques, of which 70% are new, for 18-24 months; the 1998 was aged for 20 months. Racking is performed from barrel to barrel. Before bottling, the wine is traditionally fined with egg whites.

The reaction

In 2009 Huon Hooke remarked: ‘Coleraine is arguably New Zealand’s greatest red wine’.

After a vertical tasting in London in 2007, Steven Spurrier wrote: ‘Of the older wines, 1998 was outstanding, fragrant, floral, with a fine future.’

In 2012 James Suckling pronounced: ‘This is the legendary Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend of NZ. A lovely combination of fruit, tobacco, liquorice and dried flower. New Zealand’s Sassicaia.’

In 2016, Cameron Douglas MS noted: ‘A seductive, almost heady perfume: soft violet scents nestled against the residue of the Cabernet with a quiet tobacco and earthy layer. The tannins were fully integrated and the acidity ensured the wine retained some texture and length.’

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