china daily wine column #43

New Zealand wine is underappreciated in China, and the Alpha Domus range is evidence of how much the wine from this small country needs to be understood and embraced.

The Ham family planted 12 hectares of vines in the Hawkes Bay region of New Zealand’s north island in 1990. The grapes are mostly the classic Bordeaux varieties of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec and cabernet franc, with a sprinkling of chardonnay and shiraz.

The name Alpha Domus comes from the first letters of the names of the five Ham family members who established the winery: parents Anthonius and Leonarda and sons Paulus, Henrikus and Anthonius. Domus comes from the Latin for house.

Paul Ham, the company’s managing director, said the Alpha Domus range of wines came from specially selected parcels of grapes from the family estate. “They are expressive of their unique Hawkes Bay origins and true to their varietal character,” he said.

All were hand-crafted entirely on site from estate grown fruit. The aim was to capture “the essence of the unique terroir”. The philosophy, he said, was to “produce premium wines that display concentrated varietal flavors, supported by complex nuances and structured to allow to mature elegantly”.

Elegance is a by-word for these wines. The whites are good and include a tangy 2011 sauvignon blanc and an unctuous viognier reeking of pear aromas, plus a 2010 chardonnay that exudes flavors of ripe apricots combined with lemon zing.

But it’s the reds that stand out. My favorite was the 2005 The Navigator, a Bordeaux blend of merlot (40%), cabernet sauvignon (35%), cabernet franc (12%) and malbec (13%). It had a classic nose of cigar box and cedar – the kind of aroma that floods one’s senses when someone offers a cigar from their expensive humidor.

This wine is delicious, even mouthwatering, with aromas of liquorice, violets, plums and sweet vanilla. It is formidable now but would reward cellaring for another half decade.

The 2007 The Aviator is another Bordeaux blend where cabernet sauvignon (37%) and cabernet franc (27%) dominate the palate and offer aromas of spice, leather and a range of berry fruits. The wine is slightly sweet from being picked ripe. As Paul Ham noted: “ripeness is the main criteria in determining harvest date”.

This wine has silky tannins and a resolute structure, and ideally should be drunk some time in the decade to 2010. It is a big wine and needs appropriate food, such as a casserole or steak.

Hawkes Bay grows more than 70 per cent of New Zealand’s Bordeax style wine grapes and according to Paul Ham is consistently the leading producer of gold medal and trophy winning wines of the claret style in the country. Alpha Domus is a member of the group of New Zealand vineyards destined for greatness.

“An elegance waiting to be recognised” in China Daily, 13 August 2011, page 12. Find a copy here.

Categories: Not home, wine

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