I joined Nobilo’s as company secretary in the mid-1970s. It was a dream job for a young wine enthusiast. Based in Huapai, northwest Auckland, it was a progressive mid-sized family winery transitioning from fortified-wine production to cutting-edge varietal wines such as müller-thurgau, chardonnay, gewürztraminer, pinotage and cabernet sauvignon. 

General manager/chief winemaker Nick Nobilo was keen for me to understand every aspect of wine production. Comparative wine tastings were an important part of my position. 

I recall my first barrel tasting, where we compared cabernet sauvignon that had been picked at the same time from the same vineyard before being fermented in a stainless-steel tank and racked into a row of identical French oak barrels. We had to taste wine from every barrel. Remarkedly, they all tasted at least slightly different. 

We talked about selecting the very best barrels for a “Reserve” cabernet sauvignon, but finally decided to make a single wine after downgrading a few of the lesser barrels to help perk up Nobilo’s Dry Red.

Nick explained that if you blended an equal quantity of wine from a one-year-old and a nine-year-old wine, you would probably expect it to taste like a five-year-old wine, when in fact it would taste like a six- or seven-year-old wine. The older component has more influence on the final blend.  

Blending wine is a critical part of a winemaker’s job description. A good winemaker should always be able to make the final wine taste better than any of its component parts. 

I have listed below my top 10 blended red wines tasted in the past year. Most are a blend of some or all the so-called “Bordeaux varieties” (2019 Paritua Kakara includes 45% syrah). 

2020 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawke’s Bay, $115
A blend of cabernet sauvignon (57%), merlot (36%) and cabernet franc (7%). Deeply tinted, almost inky wine with layers of sumptuous fruit and savoury characters, including cassis, red rose, dark chocolate, hedgerow, anise and nutty oak. Generously proportioned, youthful red that is already surprisingly accessible but promises to age gracefully.

2020 Craggy Range The Quarry, Hawke’s Bay, $120
A blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot grapes from the Gimblett Gravels sub-region. Dense, almost inky and fine-grained red with cassis, cigar box, blackberry, violet and classy French oak flavours. Dominated by perfectly ripe and supremely elegant cabernet sauvignon characters with an impressive structure of fine, ripe tannins. It promises to age gracefully.

2018 Church Road Tom Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, Hawke’s Bay, $220
From grapes grown in the Redstone vineyard (86%) and Gimblett vineyard (14%). An impressive flagship red that lives up to its exalted status. Inky, concentrated, almost chewy wine with Christmas cake-like concentration of ripe fruit and spices. Dark berries, chocolate/mocha and spicy oak flavours. Long-lived red that will reward cellaring.

2020 Craggy Range Sophia, Hawke’s Bay, $120
A blend of merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon grown in the Gimblett Gravels sub-region. Intense, rich and complex wine with cassis, blackberry, dark chocolate, cedar, liquorice and spicy oak flavours supported by firm, ripe tannins. Serious red that promises to reward careful cellaring.

2019 Smith & Sheth CRU Omahu Cantera, Hawke’s Bay, $60
A blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and tempranillo from the Gimblett Gravels sub-region. Dense, concentrated red wine in a blockbuster style with cassis, cedar, blackberry, chocolate/mocha and nutty oak flavours. Can be appreciated now but shows excellent cellaring potential.

2014 Squawking Magpie SQM Cabernets Merlot, Hawke’s Bay, $79
Quite a youthful wine from a top Gimblett Gravels vintage. Moderately intense with blackcurrant /cassis, blackberry, cedar and spicy oak flavours. Vibrant, high-energy wine with a mellow texture that makes it quite accessible. It has serious cellaring potential.

2019 Radburnd Merlot Cabernet, Hawke’s Bay, $85
Intense, seamless red from a stellar vintage. It shows old-vine density with a silken texture and berry, spice, floral/violet and classy French oak characters. A wine of subtlety with impressive underlying power demonstrated by a lingering finish. Winemaker Kate Radburnd predicts it will age beautifully. I agree.

2019 Paritua Kakara, Hawke’s Bay, $99.99
A blend of cabernet sauvignon (55%) and syrah (45%). Dense, rich and concentrated red with a core of sweet fruit and alcohol balanced by ripe fruit and oak tannins. Dark berry, cigar box, plum and mixed-spice flavours. Generously proportioned wine with obvious cellaring potential.

2018 Elephant Hill Hieronymus, Hawke’s Bay, $120
A flagship blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot from the Gimblett Gravels district. Dense, heroic red with dark chocolate/mocha, cassis, dried fruits and mixed-spice flavours. A long-distance runner that will repay cellaring. Aerate before serving.

2020 Mudbrick Velvet, Waiheke Island, $150
A blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot from a top vintage. Elegance on a grand scale with intense, ripe berry fruit, liquorice, new leather and dark-fleshed plum flavours. High alcohol (14.75%) adds a little heat. Nicely integrated tannins add structure and will no doubt assist longevity.

Read more from Bob at therealreview.com