If syrah spins your wheels, then Elephant Hill deserves your attention.

The Hawkes Bay winery, a close neighbour to the revered Clearview Estate, is rapidly coming of age.

Te Awanga may not be on the main Hawkes Bay wine trail but with its sea views and coastal zephyrs it's a lovely spot, boasting two of the best vineyard restaurants in the country.

While Clearview does relaxed, play-ful, rustic and funky, Elephant Hill does a more urban, sleek bistro style of eatery.


Elephant Hill is a relative newbie on the block with vines first planted in 2003 and the impressive light indoor-outdoor restaurant complex and tasting room up and running in 2008.

Winemaker Steve Skinner (ex-Trinity Hill) brings considerable skill and precision to the task at hand, and the wines are now showing the value of some vine age.

Their 2009 Airavata, from a magnificent vintage, was my best syrah of the last year and in this category the competition was fierce.

Airavata wines are not made every year and by their very nature will only always be made in tiny volumes. In Hindu mythology, Airavata is the king-god of elephants who emerged out of the waters when the gods churned the ocean. Airavata brought luck and abundance and was celestial in the eyes of the King and his kingdom. Other Airavata from Elephant Hill include the 2008 sauvignon blanc and 2009 viognier.

Elephant Hill owners Roger and Reydan Weiss are from Germany and usually spend the summer basking in Hawkes Bay's high sunshine hours. Weiss jokes that, hopefully, his considerable investment will give him some return eventually. Meanwhile he's justifiably proud of the Elephant Hill brand. One can only hope his business interests back in Germany will continue to be successful, allowing him to support his obsession.

In the course of an outstanding degustation lunch at the restaurant I got to try a gorgeous sweet wine called Rania. Made from hand-picked sauvignon blanc grapes, this was a blissful display of honey, marmalade and apricot - a perfect match for the meyer lemon sorbet, manuka honey jelly, and thyme sherbet lavender meringue. Sigh.

2010 Elephant Hill Chardonnay - $29
Elegant, poised and tending dry, this is drinking well now but should benefit even more from a few years' cellaring. It has big grapefruit and peach flavours with a nutty finish. A summer sipper.

2010 Elephant Hill Syrah - $34
Entry-level and excellent value for money, this wine is a keeper and may be comfortably cellared for up to five years. It has typical syrah characters; expect blackberry, anise, dark chocolate, juicy black fruits and a smoky overlay. A very finely balanced wine.