Four Kidnapper Cliffs Reds

Kidnapper Cliffs launched as a premium wine brand in 2010 with connections to Hawkes Bay’s Te Awa and Martinborough’s Dry River, the latter the famous and revered vineyard once owned by Neil McCallum. Both wineries were bought by American Julian Robertson, who went on to establish Kidnappers Cliff as a premium Hawkes Bay label. The first wines were made at Dry River but when winemaker Ant McKenzie joined Te Awa in 2009, he collaborated with Neil on the winemaking. High quality Hawkes Bay fruit with Dry River’s fastidious pursuit of perfection. A recipe for success.

Like many other wine writers I was sent some wines to review. I tried a couple of the whites and quite honestly was a little underwhelmed. So it seemed to me the reds should be given some respect, to be allowed to develop in the bottle for a while. After all, at $55 a pop they are expensive wines that will most likely be purchased by wine lovers and collectors. I decided to honour that respect, until a couple of months ago. It was time for them to be opened, especially since the announcement last September that Te Awa, hence Kidnapper Cliffs, had been sold to Villa Maria. The deal included the brand names, the assets including the winery and 100+ hectares (250 acres) of Gimblett Gravels vineyards and land.

There were four wines to taste – three successive vintages of blended reds with the name, Ariki, which means hereditary chief or noble rank. The flagship wines, I guess. There was also a Cabernet Franc and it seemed like a good idea to include that in the line-up. I like Cab Franc, although not much is made as a single varietal wine in New Zealand. One that does resonate in my memory is a Kim Crawford 2002.


We tasted the wines on their own, then again with food – a homely slow cooked beef casserole with leeks, crushed carrot and parsnips, potato and broccoli.

These are my reviews.

The first thing I noticed was the colour and although the wines spanned three vintages, it was pretty hard to tell which one was the oldest and which was the youngest – they were all so intense and deep purple black in colour with vivid edges.

Kidnapper Cliffs Ariki 2007
Deep rich, concentrated bouquet of mocha, liquorice, cherry, vanilla, cigar box and leather. Divine on first tasting – a caress of red velvet as it flows across the palate with flavours of red fruits, chocolate, red liquorice and nutty oak underpinned by a deep, charred meat savouriness. There’s fresh acidity in here too. This wine is still evolving, a long way to go for the tannins that capture the mouth on the finish need to soften. A blend of Merlot (85%) and Cabernet Franc, with 13.5% alcohol on the label, when tasted with the food – creamy chocolate and leather notes come through.

Kidnapper Cliffs Ariki 2008
There’s a spicy brightness to the smoky cedary bouquet – very classic I think for Cabernet Sauvignon. A firm, velvet-coated tannin structured underlies the red and blackcurrant succulence, there’s a smoky depth and a sappy woody herbaceousness with lingering liquorice and cherry. Very dry, but there is some beauty to the lingering taste which opens up after a while in the glass. A blend of 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc, alcohol is stated at 13.5%. I didn’t note a comment with the food

Kidnapper Cliffs Ariki 2009
There’s red fruit brightness to the exotic fragrance that evokes nuances of liquorice and vanillin oak. Firm yet fine tannins in the palate and a lovely floral lift with dark fruit and a silky savouriness with underlying creamy mocha notes and again a red fruit brightness to the creamy finish. The most harmonious wine of the line-up it seems more ‘ready’. And with the food it is simply excellent. Needless to say it was my favourite of the Ariki trio. A blend of 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon with 13.5% alcohol attained.

Kidnapper Cliffs Cabernet Franc 2009
The bouquet is all violets, liquorice, blackberries varnish and leather and it’s a big, rich, ripe juicy wine to the taste – there’s prunes, liquorice, leather and even a touch of mint. Something comforting like childhood cough medicine which has yummy stuff in there to make it taste good. Sappy, full-bodied and juicy with a touch of chocolate raisins too and a plush, velvety structure. There’s definitely lots going on. I think it needs more time but it has all the class and finesse to develop into a great Hawkes Bay red. This sells for $45 and the alcohol reads 14%.

The website,, doesn’t seem to have been updated for a while. Perhaps that will change when we see the debut of Kidnapper Cliffs under Villa Maria command. Meanwhile, if you have the wines in your cellar, there is no hurry.

Comments are closed.