An island 35 minutes from Auckland by ferry, Waiheke is home to vineyards situated on clay soil mixed with volcanic rock, giving grapes a wonderful consistency (and particularly smooth tannins to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot). Due to its position in the Hauraki Gulf, the island also experiences a warmer climate than Auckland, lengthening the critical ripening season. Then there's simple luck: Waiheke experienced exceptionally sunny weather from January 2005 through till harvest. "Abundant sunshine and the virtual absence of rainfall translated into small, thick-skinned berries, concentrated flavors and significant, ripe tannins," says Tony Forsyth, owner of Te Whau Vineyard and the current chair of the Waiheke Winegrowers Association. Tasting notes are still not conclusive, given that many of the 2005 wines are still maturing, but these three examples of one of the most talked-up New World vintages of recent times will not disappoint. As to whether the wines really are in the same league as a 1961 Bordeaux, well, give them a little more time in the bottle before deciding. You might be pleasantly surprised.
LAROSE: This darkly colored wine from the Stonyridge vineyards has sweet blackberry, cassis and plum notes with a rich, concentrated flavor. It's definitely one to cellar, if the Larose 1990—just peaking now—is anything to go by. www.stonyridge.com
RESERVE MERLOT CABERNETS: The Mudbrick winery's fruity blend of 50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits forest-berry notes, as well as aromas of oak and violet. The big finish on the palate will become even fuller with cellaring. www.mudbrick.co.nz
THE POINT: Te Whau's The Point seems closest to a classic Bordeaux, with its excellent balance and body. It will probably age superbly, but if you can't wait to drink it, go right ahead. The 2004 already tastes so full-bodied that it's hard to believe it's only two years old. www.tewhau.co.nz