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Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
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Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.
DEFINITIVE  SYRAH TASTING,  INCLUDING J L CHAVE,  GUIGAL
AND JABOULET HERMITAGE,  AND JAMET COTE ROTIE ...



Geoff Kelly  MSc (Hons)



General Introduction:
The second Library Tasting presented in the Hawkes Bay Food and Wine Classic (FAWC) festival in November,  2014,  set out to define the ideal attributes syrah should show,  in the New Zealand temperate-climate viticultural regime.

The reasoning in presenting this tasting was simple:  having studied syrah since a case-purchase of 1969 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle,  I think syrah is the most exciting new variety emerging in New Zealand,  in 2014.  Cabernet / merlot and related winestyles have been well-known and well-regarded for some time now,  following (slowly,  initially) in the pioneering footsteps of Hawkes Bay's 1965 McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon.  Pinot noir is well-established and becoming increasingly well-accepted,  particularly now that affordable examples are becoming widespread.  Syrah in contrast is relatively little known,  and even less-heralded.  It is a variety particularly suited to Hawkes Bay and Waiheke Island.  When humidity allows it can produce satisfying wines in other better-ventilated or slightly drier parts of North Auckland,  as well.  And in the warmer years,  it has produced fragrant but sometimes light Cote Rotie-styled wines from Martinborough,  Marlborough,  Waipara and Central Otago.  From Karikari Peninsula in the north (where it is successfully planted) to the Bendigo terrace faces of Otago in the south represents 10 degrees of latitude,  or as the crow flies 1165 kilometres distance.  Yet in each of these places,  legitimate (in the sense of French) interpretations of the grape have been produced.  In France the corresponding zone for quality syrah wine production is more like one degree of latitude,  but considering France,  Spain and Italy as a whole,  perhaps six degrees covers the range of potential quality syrah districts in Europe.  Like New Zealand,  some districts await exploration there,  for syrah.  Meanwhile,  such a wide band of climatically and geologically diverse syrah locations in New Zealand promises great variety in future syrah wine styles here.

Syrah therefore seemed an ideal candidate-topic to offer for the November edition of FAWC,  since it should appeal to winemakers and wine-lovers alike.  In the event however,  it appealed so much to winemakers that it filled overnight,  following private circulation of the proposed tasting-list to winemakers and friends.  The public did not get a look-in,  regrettably.

Notwithstanding the excitement about syrah however,  New Zealand winemakers find it difficult for various  reasons to research which wines to study for benchmarking purposes,  or to buy as at-hand reference wines.  At the conclusion of these two FAWC tastings,  first the 2003 Bordeaux including Ch Pavie tasting,  and then the rashly-named Definitive Syrah tasting,  the thought arose from the participants that my Library Tastings,  in the format they are structured now,  could perhaps meet a need for reference-tastings for progressive winemakers.

So to start at the finish,  I ended up feeling the challenge posed in the title for this syrah tasting was in fact met.  2010 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle is in truth one of the most beautiful and multidimensional syrahs to emerge from the Northern Rhone Valley in recent years.  It is not a big wine,  the 2010 J L Chave is bigger but also riper,  so it is not quite so qualitatively complex.  And 100-point Guigal Hermitage Ex Voto 2009 at this stage is scarcely definitive syrah at all,  being more a caricature of the Guigal house style,  perilously close in nett (oaky) impression to a Penfolds premium shiraz – the latter impressive on the quantitative front,  but all-too-often so over-ripe as to not rank qualitatively as syrah.  Nine of the 10 wines shown had something clear and informative to say about the concept 'syrah'.  The tenth wine was a 31-year-old example of La Chapelle,  the 1983,  simply for interest,  in a young wine country with many young winemakers.

It can be argued that it is ridiculous for anyone in New Zealand to present a view of what is 'definitive syrah'  from the Rhone Valley.  It is surprising and pleasing however,  that there is in fact a very good sampling of the leading wines of that district in New Zealand.  And if one has studied syrah for 40-odd years,  one can taste vicariously,  by paying very close attention to the thoughts of warmer-climate-influenced Robert Parker / Jeb Dunnuck on the one hand,  and temperate-climate-influenced John Livingstone-Learmonth on the other.  Their two complementary viewpoints illuminate the concept 'syrah' well.  And likewise there are Stephen Tanzer and Jancis Robinson to back them up,  again bringing complementary perspectives.

2009 and 2010 in the Northern Rhone Valley mimic Hawkes Bay in New Zealand,  both producing rounder,  riper more generous wines in 2009,  and fractionally more aromatic firmer wines in 2010.  2010 predominated in our tasting,  but 2010 Ex Voto had not reached New Zealand at the planning stage.  Accordingly one of the New Zealand wines was a 2009,  too.  More details of the individual wines,  and the tasting in general,  emerge in the wine 'admin' section (in italics) and reviews,  below.

Introduction to the Tasting,  pre-circulated to participants:
As for the 2003 Bordeaux,  who,  we wonder,  has tasted the great Hermitage syrahs of J L Chave,  Guigal,  and the resurrected Jaboulet,  all together ?  Not many,  we suspect,  for these are rare (and expensive) wines.  The hill-slope above the village of Hermitage is the absolute spiritual homeland of the world's greatest syrahs,  but it is tiny.  We are offering three of them,  all from the great 2009 or 2010 vintages. They are rated 100,  99 and 96+ points by Robert Parker.  Rare indeed,  and probably a tasting never before offered in New Zealand. 

Syrah grown in a temperate climate such as the northern Rhone Valley,  or Hawkes Bay (where it excels,  but it is thriving in a number of other places in New Zealand too) is a wonderfully fragrant and aromatic grape.  At varying points in its ripening profile it shares aromas and tastes with pinot noir,  merlot,  and cabernet sauvignon.  Good syrah can even be described as pinot noir on steroids.   

The range of styles which are legitimate has however led to both debate and confusion as to the real nature of the grape.  And our view in New Zealand was until recently distorted by the sheer weight of numbers of shiraz wines from Australia,  wines which usually are so over-ripe as to bear little relation to carefully-made syrah wines.  There will therefore be some discussion of the ripening curve for syrah,  meaning the sequence of smells and flavours the grape passes through in achieving perfect maturity,  and then over-maturity.  Outline below.  Participants will receive a photocopy of a paper on this topic I recently published in the London-based The World of Fine Wine

Excerpt from:
A SYRAH RIPENING CURVE EXPRESSED IN NEW ZEALAND WINE TERMS:

→  green and stalky …
→  leafy …  
→  leafy grading to coolly floral such as jonquils / paper-whites,  with any hint of white pepper still stalky,  the berry component palely red …
→  red currants and suggestions of buddleia / carnations / dianthus / florals,  with the white pepper 'sweetening',  the wines fragrant but still red-fruits-dominant,  clearly cool-climate …
→  increasing darkening of the red currants to red plums and then to suggestions of black currants progressively sweetening to cassis,  and sweetening of the dianthus florals to wallflower and sometimes roses,  at the same time the white pepper grading through to hints of black pepper …
→ full cassis berry darkening and grading through to fresh dark plums to bottled dark plums (such as black doris),  plus freshly-cracked black peppercorn and spice,  the florals now darker and 'sweeter' (wallflower, dark red roses, violets) and then progressively becoming attenuated as ripeness increases.  Perfect Syrah ripeness is where sweet florality peaks,  black pepper is subtle,  and cassis and maybe dark plums dominate at a reasonable alcohol (preferably below 14%) – beyond this lies sur-maturité as Syrah ...
→ bottled black plums grading to blueberry and then blackberry,  still ideally with some florals,  but the florality,  cassis and cracked black peppercorn tapering away as blackberry increases,  and then giving way to boysenberry suggestions …
→ boysenberry becomes dominant,  remaining dark plum and traces of black pepper progressively disappear with increasing ripeness,  cassis and florals have been left behind.  Better phases of Shiraz fit in here,  beyond lies sur-maturité as Shiraz ...
→ suggestions of prunes,  raisining and 'browning' of the boysenberry increase;  the wines become progressively more alcoholic,  hot-climate and varietally characterless,  resting instead on size,  alcohol and oak.


Beyond the boysenberry and prune stage,  so characteristic of many Australian shirazes,  the wines become more and more raisiny,  pruney,  alcoholic and grossly over-ripe,  as so much Australian Shiraz was in the 1960s and 1970s and later,  and some still are in the 2000s.  From a small sampling,  many Californian and Washington Shirazes and Syrahs tend towards this end of the scale too.  

In Northern Rhone terms,  and I suggest for New Zealand,  perfect ripeness / maximum complexity for Syrah is where sweet florals,  black rather than white pepper,  and spice,  cassis and dark plums and maybe a hint of blueberry are all balanced with appropriate natural acid,  and in harmony.
 

The Tasting:
The tasting will assemble six good to great young syrahs of the old world,  which still means from the Northern Rhone Valley of France,  with three young New Zealand examples which have become highly regarded.  There will also be an old syrah,  1983 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle,  to show the variety in full maturity.  Bar that one,  all our wines are from the 2009 or 2010 vintages.  Both years were exciting,  in both the Northern Rhone Valley and Hawkes Bay.  Both showed the same pattern,  2009 warmer,  riper and more ample,  2010 slightly less hot,  and thus fractionally crisper more aromatic wines destined for long cellaring.  In Waiheke Island,  2010 was a dream vintage,  regarded as the best in the modern era of viticulture.  1983 in the Northern Rhone was a hot dry year,  the red wines excellent according to Broadbent,  rich and concentrated with hard tannins which have softened with maturity.  

The tasting will be presented at Trinity Hill winery,  and hosted by Warren Gibson,  Chief Winemaker at Trinity Hill.  It will be led by Geoff Kelly,  a former DSIR scientist with a long interest in wine and wine assessment.  He has been a senior industry wine judge for over 30 years,  was winewriter for National Business Review in the 1980s,  and inaugural winewriter for Cuisine magazine.  The tasting will be a working tasting,  presented blind,  with 30 ml pours only (again,  to make it more affordable),  and presented in XL5 international tasting glasses,  not big glasses.

Conclusions:
Setting out to achieve a 'definitive' syrah tasting was a risk,  but in the upshot the challenge was met.  If the perfect syrah retains some florality,  and reminds of both spicy burgundy on the one hand,  and cassis-led Medoc / bordeaux on the other,  then the 2010 Jaboulet La Chapelle meets all requirements,  and showed optimum florality,  or will when it is the right age.  But better than that,  our range of wines ranged from slightly over-ripe with attenuated florality (the 2010 Chave) or more clearly over-ripe (the 2009 Guigal Ex Voto),  to patently under-ripe,  with exaggerated and slightly leafy florality (the 2010 Jamet Cote Rotie).  Other wines showed near-perfect florality too – the Cuilleron Cote Rotie and the Te Mata Bullnose.  This range of legitimate expressions of syrah varietal character according to ripeness fitted in well with the ripening curve summary for the grape I had earlier published,  and presented to tasters.

A further joy of this fully-blind tasting,  with 22 well-experienced and mostly technically-qualified wine industry people present,  was the sheer range of views expressed.  Wine quality,  like beauty,  is surely in the eye of the beholder.  All but one of the wines was somebody's top example of syrah the winestyle,  six of them for more than one person.  Likewise,  6 of the wines qualified as least wine in the batch,  for at least one participant.  Two of the three New Zealand wines were thought to be one of the Cote Roties,  by several people.  One of the New Zealand wines was particularly tricky,  in this respect.  If nothing else,  this tasting confirmed that syrah in New Zealand will be presented in a range of winestyles,  and those winestyles measure up well alongside the most famous syrah appellations in the world.  In particular,  the New Zealand wines showed both Cote Rotie and Hermitage characteristics,  between them.  This has to be good news,  for the future success of syrah both in New Zealand,  and for export.  

References:
Broadbent,  Michael 2003:  Michael Broadbent’s Wine Vintages.  Mitchell Beazley,  223 p.  
Kelly,  Geoff,  2011:  A Syrah Ripening Curve in New Zealand wine terms.  The World of Fine Wine 34:  130-137
Livingstone-Learmonth,  John 2005:   The Wines of the Northern Rhone.  University of California Press,  720 p.
Parker,  Robert,  1987:  The Wines of the Rhone Valley and Provence.  Simon & Schuster,  459 p.
www.drinkrhone.com  =  John Livingstone-Learmonth 
www.erobertparker.com  =  Robert Parker and increasingly the associates 
www.jancisrobinson.com  =  Jancis Robinson and associates
www.wineaccess.com  =  Josh Raynolds (for Northern Rhone reviews)






THE WINES REVIEWED –  Syrah:

Prices shown below are (with one obvious exception) the approximate current or recent shelf price for the wines.

2010   J L Chave L'Hermitage
2010  Yves Cuilleron Cote Rotie la Madiniere
2009  Guigal Ermitage Ex Voto
2010  Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle
1983  Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle
  2010  Jaboulet Hermitage La Petite Chapelle
2010  Domaine Jamet Cote Rotie
2010  Obsidian Syrah
2009  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose
2010  Trinity Hill [ Syrah ] Homage


2010  Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle   19 +  ()
Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $395   [ Cork 55mm;  Sy 100%,  hand-picked from vines averaging 40 years age,  Le Meal the main vineyard and others at c.2.5 t/ha  (1 t/ac);  website not forthcoming as to elevage,  but Livingstone-Learmonth and Robert Parker have good info:  all destemmed,  c.22 days cuvaison temperature controlled to max 30°C,  MLF preferably in tank;  oxygenation as needed,  then 12 – 18 months depending on vintage in barrique,  20% new now,  balance 1 and 2-year so now a more modern (too modern ?) approach to elevage;  assembly in tank,  may be fined,  filtered;  production now varies with vintage 1650 – 4150 cases, much less than the latter years of Jaboulet,  coupled with a large percentage (say,  25%) now declassified to La Petite Chapelle and a further percentage completely declassified;  with Jaboulet now owned by the Frey family of Ch La Lagune (along with Ayala and 45 percent of champagne Billecart-Salmon),  the renaissance of the formerly famous but latterly sadly deteriorated Jaboulet house is now well in train.  Rumours abound that La Lagune barrels are now in use for La Chapelle.  Given the centuries-old links between Bordeaux and Hermitage,  this makes sense;  overseeing winemaker Caroline Frey graduated in oenology from the University of Bordeaux in 2002,  dux of the class.  There she met consultant oenologist Denis Dubourdieu,  who she regards as her mentor and inspiration.  Sothebys interviewed her in 2012,  and say (ungrammatically):  The quality of the wines, at both properties, have been undergoing a renaissance and show Caroline's total commitment to quality;  this will be an exciting bottle,  and I hope the first opportunity for many to assess the resurrected wine in the context of its peers;  Robinson,  Dec 2012:  Deeper colour than the 2011. Very masculine, dense and convincing. Luscious and much softer than I was expecting; the fruit seems to overwhelm the tannins! But there is lots of acidity and freshness here too. Real density,  18+;  Raynolds in Tanzer,  2012:   Opaque purple.  Heady, intensely perfumed aromas of candied blueberry, cherry and violet, with a wild array of spice and herb qualities adding complexity.  Cassis, bitter cherry and floral pastille flavors stain the palate, with a vibrant mineral nuance providing lift.  Closes with superb energy and cut, leaving floral, spice and blue fruit notes behind.  I'd love to get my hands on some of this but between the low yield (reportedly between 10 and 18 hectoliters per hectare [ that is less than 2.5 t/ha = 1 t/ac]) and inevitable high price, who knows?96-98;  Parker,  2012:  This black/purple-colored beauty is revealing more weight and richness than it did last year from barrel, along with great precision, stunning minerality and enormous quantities of blackberry, cassis, beef blood and smoked game intertwined with hints of graphite and acacia flowers. With good acidity and richness as well as abundant, but ripe, well-integrated tannin, this great wine equals the titan produced in 2009. Forget it for 7-10 years and drink it over the following 30-50 years,  96+;  www.jaboulet.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine,  more oak-influenced (in hue) than the Chave,  one of the two deepest wines.  Bouquet is glorious,  a clear-cut rich sweet floral component worthy of Cote Rotie,  florality to warm Prof Saintsbury's (gillyflower) heart.  Below is rich ripe cassis grading to darkest bottled plums,  a suspicion of cracked black peppercorn,  quality potentially cedary oak,  and great excitement.  This bouquet is exhilarating.  At this early stage,  the palate does not quite live up to the bouquet.  Because the wine is floral,  there is the faintest hint of a fractionally less-ripe component.  Fruit richness is very good but not on the scale of the Chave or the Guigal,  and total acid is fractionally higher.  There is therefore the faintest stalk / hard tannin at this early stage,  which I expect to marry away totally.  The aftertaste is darker fruits than the bouquet,  and here the oak becomes a little noticeable,  in youth.  In essence,  this wine is still a baby,  awaiting marrying-up.  It will become very beautiful.  I expect it to approximate perfection on my ripening curve,  in another 5 years.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 11/14

2010   J L Chave L'Hermitage   19  ()
Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $380   [ Cork 50mm;  Sy 100%;  9.3 ha of Sy at Hermitage,  Bessards most,  then L'Hermite and 5 other vineyards;  all de-stemmed,  most of fermentation in s/s;  cuvaison can be to 4 weeks;  traditionally up to 18 months in barrel,  less than 20% new,  the remainder to 5 years old,  now sometimes to 26 months;  minimal fining,  no filtration;  Robinson has tasted 2010 Chave twice,  but only as components prior to assemblage.  Both times she rated the potential blend highly.  The following fragment is from her note for Bessards,  because Chave himself considers the Bessards juice as:  "the backbone of the final wine and the essence of Hermitage character."  Robinson,  2011:  It really does communicate the majesty and concentration of Hermitage. Extremely backward, chewy and sturdy. But overall these 2010s share a wonderful purity and are extremely promising,  19;  Raynolds in Tanzer,  2013:  Inky ruby.  Intensely perfumed, heady bouquet displays an array of candied dark fruits, floral pastille and spicecake aromas.   Powerful cherry and raspberry preserve flavors stain the palate and show remarkable depth, with bright acidity adding lift and cut.  Finishes with bright, spice-accented cherry and candied licorice flavors and superb persistence96-97;  Parker,  2012:  Pure perfection, the 2010 Hermitage reminds Jean-Louis Chave of their 1990. It appears to be a richer, fresher example of what I remember the 1990 tasting like in 1992. The wine exhibits an opaque purple color along with an extraordinary bouquet of sweet blackberry fruit intermixed with creme de cassis, lead pencil shavings, acacia flowers, bouquet garni, meat and crushed rocks. Full-bodied and stunningly rich with laser-like precision, this is a powerful, massive yet exceptionally well-balanced wine that should be forgotten for a decade and drunk over the following 30-40 years,  100;  no website found. ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the two deepest wines,  less oak affected (in hue) than La Chapelle.  Bouquet opens up skinsy,  giving the impression of a very dry wine,  showing darker riper fruits than La Chapelle,  fragrant but not exactly floral.  In mouth the fruit richness is benchmark,  and the oak handling likewise.  You can hardly see the oak,  yet it firms and shapes the wine beautifully.  Accordingly the wine is richer and softer on palate than La Chapelle,  though acid balance is good.  On my ripening curve the wine may therefore be a little beyond my point of perfection (i.e. where florality is retained),  but it still shows good cassis qualities.  So the nett impression is the reverse of the Chapelle,  palate here being supreme.  The two wines between them say just about all that is necessary to know about fine syrah – indeed 'definitive'.  Cellar 10 – 30 years.  GK 11/14

2010  Trinity Hill [ Syrah ] Homage   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $120   [ Cork 49mm;  Sy 100%,  hand-harvested @ 2.5 t/ha (1 t/ac);  100% de-stemmed but still some whole-berries;  wild yeast,  up to 13 days ferment,  total cuvaison 26 days;  MLF mostly in tank,  15 months in French oak 72% new,  no American oak;  RS < 1 g/L; sterile-filtered to bottle;  around 500 cases;  Campbell,  2012:  Big, rich, velvet-textured Syrah with masses of chocolate/mocha, ripe plum and mixed spice flavours. Is this the best vintage yet of this iconic label? Concentrated, sumptuous wine supported by ripe tannins that suggest great cellaring potential,  95;  Chan,  2012:  100% Syrah from the ‘Gimblett Estate' and ‘Gimblett Stones' vineyards, mainly ‘MS Heritage' clone from 15 y.o. vines, hand-picked, destemmed and fermented with a large portion of whole berries to 13.7% alc. The wine was aged 15 months in predominantly new French oak barriques. Very dark, deep, … colour. This has a very refined and tightly concentrated nose of ripe black fruits, graphite and minerals at the core, initially brooding and unyielding, but unfolding to reveal unending layers of dark red berry fruits, violet notes, black pepper and spices. Medium-full bodied, this combines great intensity and concentration with elegance and finesse. Black fruits, boysenberries, dark plums and iron-earth flavours form a densely packed core. The mouthfeel is rich, luscious and near-unctuous, but simultaneously tight and restrained, the textures being ultra-smooth and fine. This has great power and line, with building tannin expression, along with layers of pepper, Asian spices, oak toast and florals that carry though to a very long and sustained finish. This is a multi-layered Syrah with great concentration and immense refinement. 10-12+ years,  19.5+;  Cooper,  2013:  The 2010 vintage is a '7 out of 7 year' believes winemaker John Hancock. Densely coloured … it is powerful, with great depth of superbly ripe blackcurrant, plum and spice flavours, framed by ripe, supple tannins. Still a baby, it's already approachable, but well worth cellaring to at least 2015+,  5-stars;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the fresher reds,  above midway in depth.  And freshly opened,  the colour correlates with a shadow of reduction.  Once decanted,  pour it splashily from jug to jug five times,  and enjoy the transformation.  It is like a flower bud bursting.  This syrah then combines florality like La Chapelle with a softness of palate which is very beguiling,  closer to the Cuilleron Cote Rotie than the others.  There is also a shadow of leathery complexity,  but in this highly technically-qualified audience,  no one mentioned the b-word.  The length and richness of the palate is Hermitage-like.  This is a beautiful food-friendly wine,  astonishingly best-European in style.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 11/14

2010  Yves Cuilleron Cote Rotie la Madiniere   18 ½  ()
Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $125   [ Cork 55mm;  Sy 100% hand-picked from vines planted at 8 – 10,000 vines / ha,  on darker schist soils of the The Côte Brune vineyards of Les Roziers and Les Rochains;  some whole-bunch, wild-yeast fermentations;  cuvaison c.21 days;  MLF and c.18 months in barrel,  around 50% new;  875 cases;  no UK reviews found,  no Parker;  Raynolds in Tanzer,  2012:  Highly perfumed scents of cherry-cola, blackberry, vanilla and Asian spices.  Weighty but focused dark fruit liqueur and spice flavors show striking clarity and concentration, with soft tannins building on the back half.  The spicy quality lingers on the long, sweet finish,  91-93;  Molesworth in Wine Spectator,  2013:  This is packed with boysenberry, blackberry and loganberry fruit that races along, while graphite, iron and smoldering mesquite notes fill in through the finish. Displays the grip and drive of the vintage. Best from 2016 through 2025. 800 cases made,  95;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Good ruby,  quite fresh,  towards the lighter end.  This wine too needs the jug to jug pouring five times,  and again the blossoming is a pleasure to behold.  Suddenly there are midnight-deep darkest rose florals,  plus carnations,  dianthus and cracked black peppercorns,  all bespeaking syrah picked at pinpoint ripeness for complexity.   Palate is velvety,  spectacularly riper than the Jamet,  a tactile fruit quality,  clear cassis and suggestions of bottled black doris plums and blueberry.  Several winemakers marked this wine down for brett.  I have examined it as closely as sensory evaluation allows,  and have a sneaking suspicion they are confusing the dusky florality with the fragrant 4-EG phase of brett metabolism by-products.  I'm more than happy to have this wine in my cellar:  it epitomises Cote Rotie with no viognier,  yet highly fragrant,  more appropriately ripened than the Jamet.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 11/14

2010  Jaboulet Hermitage La Petite Chapelle   18 +  ()
Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $179   [ Cork 55mm;  hand-picked from young vines as well as the main vineyards at <3 t/ha (1.2 t/ac);  destemmed,  details of production essentially as for La Chapelle,  above;  essentially the wines not making the now severely-tightened cut for La Chapelle proper,  including younger and higher-cropping vines;  production c.1000 cases;  neither Livingstone-Learmonth or Robinson has had the 2010,  but the latter approves of the 2009 and 2011,  17 and 16.5 respectively;  Raynolds in Tanzer,  2012:  Glass-staining ruby.  A complex, floral-dominated bouquet offers violet, lavender and dark fruit preserves.  Lush, palate-coating cherry and blackcurrant flavors possess impressive heft and pick up a peppery quality on the back half.  The floral quality comes back strong on the finish, which clings with excellent energy and tenacity91-93;  Parker,  2012:  The 2010 Hermitage La Petite Chapelle is a better wine than nearly every Hermitage La Chapelle made under the final years of the Jaboulet family’s ownership (for example, 1993-2005). The 2010 was aged in barrel and represents one-third of the Hermitage crop (another one-third was eliminated and the final one-third went into La Chapelle). Its deep purple color is followed by notes of camphor, tar, pepper, beef blood, black currant jam and hints of new saddle leather as well as earth. This supple, rich, full, authoritative beauty should drink well for 15-20 years,  92;  www.jaboulet.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  fractionally lighter and older in hue than La Chapelle proper,  just below midway in depth.  I placed this wine first in the blind tasting,  because it seemed so representative of 'concept syrah',  riper phase.  In every way it is a less elegant and less refined version of La Chapelle.  Bouquet is clean,  rich and ripe,  not quite the floral complexity but fragrant berry,  dry cassis grading to dark plum.  Palate is rich,  aromatic,  coarser tannins than La Chapelle proper (or Homage),  more oaky,  a bit leathery and spirity as well.  On its own you would say it was great syrah,  Hermitage style.  Yet as soon as you have the grand vin alongside,  the difference is obvious.  You have to applaud the selection process for these two bottlings.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 11/14

2009  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose   18  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $45   [ Cork 45mm ;  3 clones of  syrah hand-harvested from 13 – 21-year old vines,  100% de-stemmed;  extended cuvaison;  15 months in French oak 35 – 40% new;  RS nil;  the 2009 selected for this tasting,  since fractionally riper / more depth than the 2010;  Campbell,  2011:  Lovely elegant yet dense red with white and black pepper adding spice to red berry flavours. There's also a touch of floral/violet character adding extra complexity. Lovely vibrant and slightly edgy red that will age splendidly. It has a great, rich and velvety texture. Terrific!,  96;  Chan,  2011: This is arguably the best Syrah yet for Te Mata. Fruit from the ‘Bullnose' site on old red iron soils, from vines up to 19 y.o., this was fermented to 13.5% alc., the wine aged in new and seasoned French oak for 15 months. Dark purple-red in colour, this has a beautifully perfumed, primary fruited nose of violets, black and white pepper, spices and dark fruits. The palate is rich, but stylishly elegant, the ethereal florals lifting the dark berry fruit flavours. The wine has velvety textures and a sustained finish. This will keep 7-10 years,  19+/20 ;  Cooper,  2012:  The 2009 is a top vintage.  Its a very graceful wine, dark and concentrated, with beautifully rich, ripe plum and black pepper flavours, good tannin backbone and a long, finely textured finish. Well worth cellaring,  5-stars;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Fresh ruby,  the lightest of the contemporary wines.  I placed this wine alongside the Cuilleron Cote Rotie,  to emphasise the extraordinary similarity of style the best Bridge Pa Triangle syrahs show to that district.  Bullnose has been consistent in this respect for many years.  Being fractionally cooler (maybe) than the  Gimblett Gravels (though my Hot Reds review,  July 2014,  discounts this as more apparent than real),  but certainly slightly different viticulturally,  the Triangle may be more suited to fine floral and subtle syrah than the Gimblett Gravels,  at least in the warm years.  The florality on bouquet,  dusky roses and wallflower,  is  nearly as great as the Cuilleron,  and much riper than the Jamet,  in a positive sense.  Palate is textbook Cote Rotie,  centred on cassis,  a shadow of black pepper,  hints of red fruits and plums.  Oaking is perfect,   as Te Mata so often achieves with their top syrah.  Florality on bouquet is enhanced by a whisper of VA,  threshold only,  not significant.  It is not a big wine,  but finesse not weight has been the Bullnose goal all through.  Because it is not a big wine,  a couple of tasters felt the oak showed a little much.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 11/14

2009  Guigal Ermitage Ex Voto   18  ()
Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $535   [ Cork 50mm;  Sy 100%;  vine age 40 – 90 years;  30% of the fruit from Bessards,  on granite;  in 2009 cropped at less than half the normal 35 - 37 hL / ha (1.7 – 1.9 t/ac),  so less than 1 t/ac;  fermented in temperature-controlled s/s,  c.4 weeks cuvaison;  42 months in (believed to be 100%) new French oak;  the name Ex Voto embraces the thought of giving thanks;  no UK view found;  no Tanzer,  you start to feel we have a rare bottle;  Molesworth in Wine Spectator,  2013:  This has a distinctive singed mesquite note out front, along with sandalwood, black tea and juniper hints, followed by a very densely packed core of raspberry, plum and blackberry confiture flavors. The long, charcoal-studded finish has a great tug of roasted earth. Dynamic and expressive, this should cellar effortlessly. Best from 2015 through 2035. 656 cases made,  97;  Parker,  2012:  Another perfect wine, the 2009 Hermitage Ex-Voto is surprisingly supple and more approachable than the two single vineyard 2009 Cote Roties, La Turque and La Landonne. The massive Ex-Voto boasts abundant notes of spring flowers, blackberries, cassis, licorice, graphite and forest floor. Extremely full-bodied with sweet tannin and levels of extravagance and flamboyance that are mind-boggling, it will drink well for 30+ years,  100;  www.guigal.com ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  astonishing freshness given the oak regime,  in the middle for depth.  One  sniff ... and ohmigod ... why would Guigal want to emulate Australian shiraz ?  Newly opened and for many hours thereafter,  the wine is monstrously oaky.  At least it is all French oak,  but the oak / alcohol fume in the nostrils is verging on oppressive.  Behind that,  there is abundant fruit.  Being a 2009 it is a riper and richer year than 2010,  with the ripeness level seemingly greater than would allow for full florality.  But how could you tell,  with so much oak ?  In mouth the saturation of fruit is colossal,  the dry extract must be the greatest on the table,  well into the 30s,  so maybe the wine will marry up and prove me wrong,  once the tannins polymerise.  Even so,  I'm puzzled Parker thinks this is a 100-point wine.  The contrast between this monster and the superb Chave,  epitomising how oak should be used,  is dramatic.  It is only fair to record:  (1) a week later,  under ice,  the apparent balance in the wine is vastly improved,  foretelling its likely evolution in bottle;  (2) two senior winemakers rated Ex Voto their top wine.  I look forward immensely to seeing this wine up against the Chave and others in the years to come – a minimum of 10 years ideally.  Cellar 10 – 40 years:  it must be as rich today as 1969 La Chapelle was on release,  and that wine is still vigorous today.  GK 11/14

2010  Obsidian Syrah   17 ½ +  ()
Central Waiheke Island,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ Cork 50mm;  Sy 97.5%,  Vi 2.5;  hand-harvested,  all de-stemmed;  cultured yeast,  MLF and c.13 months in barrel 40% new French,  40% second-year French,  balance older mixed;  light fining;  122 cases;  some name-confusion:  initially the 'standard' syrah was sold as Weeping Sands,  and only when top quality achieved was the flagship Obsidian Syrah released,  the first 2008.  That caused confusion in the marketplace,  so from 2012 vintage the standard wine is Obsidian Syrah,  and the top one when made will be Obsidian Reserve Syrah;  Campbell,  2013:  An array of dark-fruit flavours with floral/violet, black pepper, leather, mocha, licorice and many other savoury nuances. A core of sweet fruit is balanced by ripe tannins that promise good cellaring potential but doesn’t stop the wine being drinkable now. Cellar – 10 years,  97;  Chan,  2012:  The Obsidian Syrah 2010 is a complete wine, softly rich and plump with sweet, ripe black plum fruit flavours, with black pepper and spices. There is plenty of tannin in support, fine and tight, and also excellent acidity. The oaking (40% new) emerges in the glass, but melds in with the opulence. This is certainly in the riper end of the spectrum, yet has not crossed the line to Shiraz,  5-stars;  Cooper,  2012:  The 2010 vintage was co-fermented with Viognier 2.5 per cent) and matured in French oak barrique (40 per cent new). Still extremely youthful, it is powerful, with bold blackcurrant, plum and spice flavours, highly concentrated, finely textured and potentially very complex. Best drinking 2014+,  5-stars;;  www.obsidian.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  one of the deepest.  This wine has a great ripe-syrah bouquet.  The picking point is just past fresh vibrant cassis,  even a little later than the Chave,  but even so the varietal accuracy is terrific.  The bouquet is however made a bit strident by too much new oak exacerbated by light VA,  fractionally more than the Bullnose.  Six tasters were uneasy about the level,  but analysis for export data subsequently made available shows the level is threshold,  no more than many well-regarded Australian reds.  In mouth the quality and purity of berry is a delight,  clear-cut cassis and dark plum,  a long lingering flavour,  great cellar potential.  Picking a few days earlier would enhance florality,  as the 2010 La Chapelle shows,  followed by literally half the new oak,  which by coincidence would also match the La Chapelle specs.  Otherwise,  this is exciting technically pure syrah,  handled in all-French oak,  and show-casing how well-suited Waiheke Island is to fine syrah.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 11/14

2010  Domaine Jamet Cote Rotie   17 ½  ()
Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $125   [ Cork 50mm;  various holdings more in the Cote Brune than Blonde;  traditional winemaking still with considerable whole-bunch component depending on the grapes and the season;  cuvaisons extend to 21 or 22 days;  up to 22 months in mix of barrels and puncheons,  max 20% new,  balance to 10 years;  wines neither fined nor filtered;  some rank the Jamets as now making the definitive Cote Rotie,  in the sense Maison Guigal makes Guigal wines first,  and sense-of-place wines second;  the 2010s highly regarded by Livingstone-Learmonth,  5 and maybe 6 stars,  whereas the 2009 tending less finesse;  Robinson,  2012:  18% new oak 2010. Bottled three weeks ago. Very dark crimson. Very perfumed. Masses of firm juice and lots of fine tannin underneath. Seems drier and more concentrated than the 2011. I’d be inclined to drink it afterwards. Very straight and directed. Glossy. Dry finish but I have great confidence in it. 2016-2026,  18.5;  Raynolds in Tanzer,  2013:  Opaque purple.  Heady aromas of red and dark berry preserves, potpourri, incense and Asian spices, with a bright mineral accent.  Stains the palate with intense black raspberry, blueberry and candied violet flavors and becomes sweeter with air.  Rich but lively, with superb finishing clarity, fully integrated tannins and lingering spice and floral notes.  This wine's blend of power and finesse is remarkable; it was still in barrel when I tasted it in early November, 2012,  95-96;  no website found. ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  fresh,  in the middle for depth.  What a bouquet !  The overt  carnation / dianthus florality (Prof Saintsbury's gillyflowers) on this wine shouts Cote Rotie,  but also given the volume of bouquet,  you immediately have a doubt,  with that piquancy of bouquet,  is the wine going to be stalky.  In short,  yes – reflecting the perils of the whole-bunch fermentation approach.  Yet the fruit weight is good,  and the wine is supple in mouth.  But throughout,  there is a leafy-stalky thought.  This wine divided the room,  four winemaker-tasters rating it their top wine,  and five their least.  It is a wine style I am pleased to own,  because it shows one pole of the positive syrah ripening curve.  The Chave in this tasting reflects the other,  fully ripe to fractionally over-ripe pole.  Each can be criticised from an idealised viewpoint,  but both have their appeal.  Together in a tasting,  the demonstration is exemplary (even definitive !),  particularly when you have the 2010 La  Chapelle showing the ideal compromise.  A wine of this richness will still cellar well,  retaining its fragrance.  Some of the 1984 Rhones are currently particularly enjoyable for their bouquet (as well as palate),  though that was a cool tending-stalky year.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 11/14

1983  Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle   17  ()
Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $234   [ Cork 53mm;  price given is the wine-searcher average for that vintage of the wine;  fashion is so fickle in the wine industry,  and with the recent difficulties chez Jaboulet,  it is easy to forget just how this firm was regarded only a generation ago.  Some notes from the first 1987 edition of Parker's clear-sighted and ground-breaking Rhone book,  therefore:  The increasing fame of the firm's stupendous Hermitage La Chapelle is not difficult to understand. It is an enormously concentrated wine that normally takes a decade to throw off its tannic cloak.  Even then it only hints at the majestic perfume and richness that will arise … equaled only by a dozen or so Bordeax Cru Classés and half a dozen or so burgundies … the wine is conservatively made to last.  First, never more than 40% of of the grape bunches are destalked, and only the wild yeasts from the vineyard are used to start the fermentation.  Second, the maceration is very long, a total of three weeks … the wine is put in one- and two-year-old burgundy barrels purchased from white burgundy producers ….  The Jaboulets abhor new oak, feeling that their Hermitage needs no additional wood tannins and already has so much size and fruit that new oak would only detract from its inherent qualities.  … rarely spends more than 12-14 months in wood compared with 36 months-plus for Guigal … Most wine enthusiasts think of Hermitage as thick, chewy wine with a dizzying degree of alcohol.  However the Hermitage La Chapelle, when mature at 15 or 20 years, is virtually interchangeable with a great Pauillac.  In addition the alcohol rarely exceeds 13%. ... Approximately 5,000-6,000 cases … in an abundant vintage;  this 1983 vintage has a vivid presence for some New Zealand wine enthusiasts.  Robert Parker initially thought it was definitive,  and gave it very high ratings.  Many keen wine people therefore bought it.  Recent reports have been variable,  and meanwhile taste has changed,  people now wanting plush wines,  so dry tannic wines no longer suit.  If they are fragrant,  there can still be charm – let's see;  Robinson,  2011:  Light but mellow, lightly tarry nose. Very sweet and charming on the palate. Definitely on the light side but the tannins are - at last - in retreat, making way for a thoroughly satisfying drink. Long and throat-warming,  17;  Parker,  1987:  Gerard Jaboulet believes this is the finest La Chapelle since the monumental 1961.  I still give a tiny edge to the 1978.  However, the 1983 is a profound wine, closed, very dense in colour with a tight yet blossoming bouquet of very ripe blackcurrant fruit, tar and pepper. On the palate it is very, very tannic, amazingly concentrated, quite full-bodied, and massive on the finish.  It is still an infant.  Anticipated maturity 1998 – 2025,  98;  Parker,  1997:  This wine is so impossibly closed, tannic, and hard that it is at least 10-15 years away from full maturity. I am beginning to have reservations about my initial high rating, and have consequently downgraded it. While it may still turn out to be spectacular (the Jaboulets still consider it their finest effort since 1961), it is forbiddingly tannic and backward,  90;  Parker's most recent review in 2000 drops it to 88;  I believe the wine still has pleasures to offer,  as Robinson notes (above);  www.jaboulet.com ]
Rosy garnet,  far and away the lightest wine – as is reasonable.  The point of putting in an old wine was simply for fun and curiosity,  to show participants how syrah ages.  This seemed useful in a young wine-country,  with many young winemakers,  and more generally,  no great tradition of cellaring wine.  It was interesting,  but it didn't contribute to the sensory experience.  In the context of the 2009s and 2010s,  the bouquet seemed fragrant but faded,  nutty / raisiny,  another dimension from the fresh infant wines.  You would be tempted to say,  barely tertiary aromas,  more quaternary – if that term were available.  But in mouth there is still surprising browning fruit,  the tannin balance is now acceptable (on the furry side),  acid is now slightly noticeable as the fruit fades.  It is a wine crying out for food.  Some in the new world might say it is too old,  being less familiar with old wines,  but it certainly gives great pleasure at table.  Will hold,  but fading.  GK 11/14