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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.
DRY EXTRACT AND THE SENSATIONAL 2013 RED WINE VINTAGE IN HAWKES BAY,  NEW ZEALAND:  CABERNET /  MERLOT & RELATED;  SYRAH



Geoff Kelly  MSc (Hons)



Scope of this article
This review reports on two tastings I presented at Regional Wines,  Wellington,  in May 2015.  They were titled:  Are these 2013 Hawkes Bay reds Worth Cellaring:  Pt I – Merlot / Cabernet and related;  Pt II – Syrah.  The wines for those two tastings were documented fully,  participants being provided with a tabulated analysis sheet of the main winemaking parameters.  That format did not suit the website so well,  so the information is now formatted in my usual 'admin' section introducing each wine description.  In assembling the tastings,  some winemakers offered other wines for evaluation,  and one or two were sought.  These provided a better feel for the vintage.  Then Glengarry wine merchants presented a 2013 Syrah Tasting,  which scarcely overlapped with the Regional one.  All these wines,  and some conclusions about dry extract in wine in relation to wine quality in New Zealand,  have been assembled into this one report.  I hope this will be useful to both tasting participants and readers more generally,  and also provide background to the Hawkes Bay Winegrowers Hot Red Expo,  which followed soon after.  

Reflecting on the Tastings
I was introduced to red wine by a lovely young lady,  the daughter of a potter,  via the 1958 vintage of a New Zealand red wine 'famous' at the time.  Their family knew about such things,  in those unsophisticated days.  And for me,  it was love at first sight.  By the time Tom McDonald's famous 1965 Cabernet Sauvignon came around,  I was able to evaluate that wine much more carefully,  by then in the context of the 1962 and 1964 Bordeaux then available.

So in reflecting on the years since then,  I will regard 1965 as the starting point for my careful written evaluation of New Zealand red wine.  And in all the vintages since 1964,  some 50 to the 2013 vintage,  I can say after a measure of reflection that I have never seen a set of young Hawkes Bay (bordeaux) blends,  and now syrahs too,  of the quality these 2013 wines present.  Yes,  1987 was exciting as a kind of turning point in the evolution of red wines in New Zealand,  the first year several producers achieved good quality,  1998 again was a further marker-point for ripeness particularly,  and 2002 (and 2005 to a degree) consolidated that.  Then 2009 (riper) and 2010 (more aromatic) produced some wondrous wines in Hawkes Bay.  But these better 2013 wines are a sheer delight almost across the board,  which set a new standard.  Many producers have achieved their finest wines yet.  New Zealand red wine really is coming of age,  not least because the dry extracts for several of these wines now approach or reach the defining 30 g/L international benchmark for great wine.  In both sensory and analytical terms,  the best of these wines are fine wines by international standards,  which is a quite different proposition from being merely wines of international standard.  And a key factor in their excellence is that so many have been brought to exquisite ripeness at c.13.5% alcohol,  with one or two fine wines a bit lower.  This immediately sets them apart from so much Australian wine production.  They are wines to buy by the case,  and treasure for many many years to come.

Conclusion:  The best of the red wines in this review are making New Zealand wine history.  They represent the future,  for those who care to see it.

Dry Extract
Why is dry extract relevant to wine understanding and appreciation ?  After all,  we all know small-minded wine-snobs and similar people who,  when confronted with an informed view about wine,  or worse,  facts,  have a dismissive refrain along the lines:  well anyway,  wine is all subjective,  so what's it matter … [ what anyone apart from me thinks,  understood ...].  What self-serving drivel – these people do so much harm to the standing of wine in the community.  There are plenty of similarly ignorant / bigoted / dismissive views about dry extract on the Net.  But in contradistinction to the views of people like the above,  many parameters of wine quality can now be measured accurately.  Simply think of volatile acidity,  or residual sugar,  for example.  Nowadays,  with gas-chromatography and similar tools,  even measuring components which previously were either very difficult,  or beyond wet chemistry,  are now easily accessible.  This particularly applies to the host of odorous compounds with sulphur atoms in their make-up.  

Thus,  dry extract is a key measurable dimension of wine quality.  To paraphrase Ribereau-Gayon et al,  total dry extract (TDE,  or dry matter,  the French matiere),  consists of all the organic substances including anthocyanins,  proteins,  phenolics,  tannins and glycerol etc,  and all the mineral compounds,  dissolved in wine that are not volatile under normal wine-related conditions.  In practice and in the lab,  that means at temperatures below 70 degrees C.  Certain winemaking techniques greatly influence the TDE,  including length of skin contact and cuvaison,  elevation on lees,  and anything which facilitates extraction of organic and mineral compounds from the grape pulp,  skins,  seeds and stalks where present,  plus yeast cells and bacteria.  For dry table wines particularly,  dry extract is usually understood to be the sugar-(fermentable)-free dry extract.  For meaningful discussion therefore,  residual sugar left in the wine by the winemaker should be deducted from the total dry extract.  Non-fermentable sugars,  pentoses,  xyloses and the like,  may be counted.

Dry extract is therefore an index of how rich,  concentrated or otherwise satisfying a dry wine is,  as perceived on the palate.  With training,  dry extract can be tasted for … to a degree.  In tasting,  it has to be an assessment,  a judgement,  but think how many aspects of our lives are in fact set by the judgement of professionals,  rather than measurement.  The law for example,  or more domestically,  house prices.  But in the lab,  dry extract may simply be obtained by measuring any fermentable sugar left in the wine (to make it more 'fruity' and acceptable to untutored palates),  then evaporating the liquid wine (under controlled-temperature conditions not exceeding 70 degrees C,  so that organic compounds do not break down) to a residue.  The weight of that residue,  less the weight of the fermentable sugar,  is in the simplest terms,  the dry extract.  It is the 'goodness' in the wine,  the sum of all the complex carbohydrates,  minerals and so forth dissolved in it.  Nowadays to comply with (for example) EEC regulations,  a much more complex assessment technique as prescribed by the OIV is employed,  which takes longer,  and therefore costs more.  But the message is the same.  

As a rule of thumb,  European experience tells us that even good white wines measure less than 20 – 25 g/L dry extract sugar-free (though certain whites notably chardonnay with red-wine-like elevations may just creep over).  In contrast,  red wines tend to taste thin if significantly below 25 g/L,  but once over the 25 g/L mark every unit increase is noticeable.  Given appropriate varieties,  red wines of 27 g/L dry extract are becoming distinctly pleasant,  28.5 g/L seems very much richer and worth commenting on,  and approaching,  achieving or passing the near-mythical 30 g/L dry extract measurement bespeaks a wine of great length and palate satisfaction.  It is not just richness,  it is the whole textural quality of the wine on tongue and in the mouth,  that matters.  Again,  given appropriate varieties and quality winemaking,  wines of higher dry extract will be more satisfying cellar wines,  and retain their fruit longer.  Hence the joy that 50-years-old bottles of good Bordeaux classed growths and grands crus burgundies can produce.

New Zealand winemakers have traditionally been reluctant to think about dry extract as a measure of wine quality.  This is simply a product of post-Prohibition history,  when a previous generation of winemakers grew up on wine made from hybrid grapes cropped at tens of tons per hectare rather than the 4 – 7.5 or so of high-quality traditional vinifera European winemaking.  Prior to 1980 – 1983,  many winemakers even added water to their musts,  partly to attenuate hybrid flavours and high acid.  Most New Zealand winemakers were therefore reluctant to accept that quality vinifera wine demands such totally different cropping rates.  In the simplest terms,  a higher crop (or volume) in an uncritical market means more profit.  In the 1980s pioneering New Zealand wine-scientist and winemaker Rainer Eschenbruch  documented some dry extract measurements for New Zealand commercial wines,  as part of research work in the then Division of Horticulture and Processing,  DSIR.  That work revealed that typical 'commercial' New Zealand wines had very low dry extracts by European standards,  TDEs in the 'teens,  even the low 'teens.  The document was never published,  factual information not always being welcome in the wine industry of the time.  And New Zealand winewriters have never tackled this issue.  

For decades therefore we in New Zealand were supplied with and became habituated to skinny wines – wines which were mocked,  and rightly,  by Australians.  In the simplest terms winemakers were greedy,  too many preferring the profits resulting from a higher cropping rate,  rather than the satisfaction of achieving higher quality wines.  And many winemakers simply were not familiar with the standard-setting wines of Europe,  to have any mental grasp of the wine standards that should be aimed for.  Further the industry received bad advice as to the winestyles New Zealand should climatically be aiming for,  and spent some years travelling the 'liebfraumilch' / riesling sylvaner / muller-thurgau diversionary road.  And the import controls of that political era fostered that ignorance.  Similarly the industry as a whole tended to reward winewriters and wine judges who went along with these blinkered local views,  rather than striving for the international standards and comparisons the country is climatically suited to,  so the whole set of practices was for too long self-perpetuating.  Many winemakers did not actually 'choose' to ignore dry extract in wine:  they simply did not know about it at all.

We have the unanticipated success of sauvignon blanc in Marlborough,  the EEC,  and a new generation of tertiary-educated and well-travelled younger winemakers to thank for the dramatic turnaround in wine quality now.  In permitting wine from countries outside Europe to enter the 'home' of wine,  EEC authorities guided by the long-standing and generally wise AOC regulations of France (which limit yield or cropping rate to achieve wine quality),  required all wines entering the EEC to be accompanied by documentation stating the dry extract.  And our younger and travelling winemakers have simply found that good wine from France and other countries tasted so very different,  in terms of mouthfeel and palate satisfaction,  and hence with food.

So how did Marlborough sauvignon blanc become such a world-wide success,  then ?  Firstly,  in the 1980s,  traditional European white wines were in general dire,  suffering from excess sulphurs including reduced sulphurs,  and generally old-fashioned winemaking.  And matching that,  too many British winewriters were in that era essentially blind to reduction in wine,  coupled with the fact that winewriting then was seen more as 'art',  than technology.  So waffly winewriting abounded.  In New Zealand however,  we had a dairy industry wedded to stainless steel technology,  and in the 1980s the first significant influx of winemakers trained in oenology schools appeared.  Put these two factors together,  plus a measure of luck in the arrival of the Cloudy Bay wine company (from West Australia) in 1985 with its switched-on approach to winemaking and marketing,  and the resulting wines had so much clean grape aroma and flavour that even a lighter example seemed pretty good,  especially in the competitive supermarket price segment.  But we have been fortunate,  too.  As every year new,  younger,  technically-qualified and more-travelled winemakers came into practice,  wines such as Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc,  made from grapes increasingly grown at much more traditional (to Europe) cropping rates started to be exported.  Thus the initial impact of our 'clean' and 'different' sauvignon blanc has quickly been consolidated by wines of increasing substance and quality,  wines with dry extracts approaching European norms for white wines – which are lower than for reds.  This trend continues.

The main finding in this report therefore,  is that the best of the 2013 Hawkes Bay reds have dry extracts nearly touching or in fact exceeding the magical 30 g/L mark.  2013 must be the first vintage in New Zealand where a number of red wines have achieved that.  There have been odd examples probably since the 1998 vintage,  but they have been few.  And the exciting thing for the consumer is,  these rich dry wines are not only superb with food,  because the textures are simply so pleasing in the mouth,  but even more important,  high dry extract wines cellar particularly well.  Thus one can enjoy the sensory pleasures of the richer wines for decades,  not years.  In this report,  for example,  a couple of supplementary wines offered for review with the presentation 12,  the not-yet-released 2013 Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon Ngakirikiri and the similarly not-released Elephant Hill Syrah Airavata,  have dry extracts of 31.6 and 31.9 g/L respectively.  Those are fantastic figures,  and hugely exciting for the New Zealand wine industry.  Ngakirikiri is virtually straight cabernet sauvignon,  and will I suggest cellar easily for 40 years,  and still be a good bottle after 50 years.  The Airavata being syrah,  may not make quite such old bones,  but will be similar.  How many New Zealand reds over the years have had such lifespans ?  

Some will hurry to say that size or weight is not everything in wine,  in an attempt to justify lighter fragrant winestyles.  And there is truth in that,  so far as it goes.  But in a temperate climate,  such as France or New Zealand,  there is no impediment to fine wines being floral and fragrant and beautiful,  and rich as well.  That is the key character which the absolute yardstick wines display,  the Palmers,  Lafite-Rothshilds,  Le Musignys and Romanee-Contis of the wine world.  And apart from prestige and rarity-value,  a contributing reason for their higher cost is the much lower cropping rates the best of these wines are grown at.  The top syrah in this tasting,  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage,  is grown at a cropping rate of approximately 5 t/ha (2 t/ac),  and you can taste it.  That figure is worthy of the greatest grands crus burgundies.  Likewise the outstanding 2013 Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon Ngakirikiri was cropped at  4.2t/ha,  and has yielded a wine with a dry extract of 31.5 g/L.  This is simply another quality and calibre of Hawkes Bay-blend / bordeaux-blend wine,  when compared with former industry yardsticks such as Te Mata Coleraine,  the 2013 of which has a dry extract of 27.1 g/L.

Research needed:  One key issue which emerges from this review is that while there is a trend evident,  there appears to be no simple or linear relationship between cropping rate and dry extract.  Details of cuvaison-,  elevation- and lees-status-practice in the winery for example clearly influence the outcome.  This is a topic so ideally suited to University research dissertations and theses as to be self-evident,  yet for some reason is untouched.  Why ?  And further,  winemakers do comment there is the suspicion that the different analytical labs servicing the industry may produce differing results.  There is scope for this,  from the differing methodologies available for measuring dry extract,  but for export certification,  the OIV protocol must be used.  The industry should be taking the initiative here,  and in fact be submitting identical samples to the contracting labs,  to establish their reliability,  or calibrate their differences.

Invitation and Introduction to Parts I and II
In the Vintage Chart included with my July 2014 review titled:  The 2014 Hawkes Bay Winegrowers Hot Red Expo ... 2000 – 2014 Hawkes Bay Vintage Chart ,  I described the 2013 vintage thus:  A remarkably good long summer,  and not unduly hot.  El Nino early summer,  La Nina later didn't help the rainfall total.  Triangle 1435 GDD,  Gimblett Gravels 1410 GDD.  March / April rain indication 115mm good but not ideal.  Winemakers nonetheless are hopeful this may be the best season for reds yet (and uniformly across all districts),  in the current (meaning post-Prohibition) era.  Riflemans,  The Terraces and Tom all made.  Some reports of delayed physiological maturity and syrahs and cabernets running out of warmth,  though alcohols tending high.  Continuing high levels of winemaker enthusiasm for the vintage mean it is still too early to say if the best wines of 2009 and 2010 will in fact be surpassed.  Initial tasting of the few serious red wines presented in the 2014 Hot Red Expo shows attractive ripe fruit,  and supple and potentially satisfying wines of international calibre.   Definitely a cabernet year.  Further assessment needed.  

Since then,  various wineries have offered their views on the vintage,  the most recent being Craggy Range in May,  2015.  They describe 2013 as the:  ... vintage of a generation,  one that may only be experienced once every 25 years.  It therefore seems imperative we taste as many as we can of the top Hawkes Bay wines,  to identify which will be the key components of a worthwhile 2013 Hawkes Bay red cellar.

In sorting out which wines to offer for this tasting,  we made a short-list of wines that have excelled in previous years,  plus some convincing gold medal winners in this year’s Easter Show and the November Air New Zealand.  We then approached winemakers to see if they were keen to participate in such a tasting.  We also asked if they would allow us to see their top wines,  even if not yet commercially released.  The response was good,  and we have several exciting wines made available to us well before release,  and,  some made available for the tastings gratis,  as well.  We then sought detailed information on the winemaking etc,  and 11 of the 12 wineries were wonderfully helpful and patient.  We did not secure all the wines we hoped for,  however.  

In the first tasting,  we do not have Craggy Range's Sophia Merlot.  They did not make The Quarry at all in 2013,  but rumours that production of the The Quarry has ceased are false.  Matt Stafford advises they are simply awaiting the appropriate vintage.  Great !  I was fearful that wineries (in general) might think the modern in-a-hurry palate had been too much influenced by Robert Parker,  and now preferred softer,  richer,  earlier-maturing East-Bank-styled bordeaux blends,  rather than the classic aromatic long-maturing cabernet-led wines of the Medoc.  Likewise we do not have their Le Sol Syrah in Pt II.  From Church Road we in the end did not secure even the Cabernet / Merlot Grand Reserve.  For the Pt II tasting,  we also failed to secure Trinity Hill's Syrah Homage,  and Bilancia's La Collina Syrah.  Be assured we made every effort to secure all these wines.    

Some wineries understandably do want the first sighting of their wines to be in tastings they control.  Also we did not ask for one or two 'icon' wines at all,  wines such as Church Road Tom,  or Esk Valley The Terraces.

We do however have other equally exciting wines.  In Pt I,  Babich,  Ngatarawa,  Pask,  Sileni,  and Sacred Hill have all made wines available to us,  pre-release.  This is pretty wonderful.  For Pt II,  we have the rare (and expensive) Mission Vineyards Syrah Huchet and the similar Elephant Hill Syrah Airavata included,  both pre-release.  The simple answer for those wines not represented,  is to repeat the theme of the tasting next year,  with the wines we rate best in the present tasting up against the late-released wines.

The result this year is two tastings.  The first is Cabernet,  Merlot,  and related variations on the Hawkes Bay blend (bordeaux blend) theme,  on Thursday 14 May.  The second will be Syrah,  a week later on Thursday 21 May.  We feel sure that these tastings will include some of the top wines of the year.  Whether or not the missing wines are better is hardly the point.  A worthwhile cellar will contain a careful selection from several winemakers,  spanning a range of styles,  and at more than one price-point.  And we need to have this first look at them early,  since one or two are already sold-out at the winery,  though still available in the retail trade.

These tastings should be seen as complementary to the Hot Reds Expo,  Thursday June 11 (for Wellington).  The great advantage of our presentation is we can see the wines at relative leisure in a formal sit-down tasting,  and compare and contrast the wines in a structured format.  That will be an excellent preparation for the more hectic and demanding Hot Red format,  and allow better decisions to be made there,  too.

Part I,  Cabernet / Merlot:  Looking at the detail,  we have a 100% cabernet sauvignon wine to contrast with more than one 100% merlot.  We have both cabernet-dominant and merlot-dominant blends,  to illustrate the two great strands of Bordeaux winemaking,  the Medoc,  vs Saint-Emilion / Pomerol.  Only one of our wines is a really 'classical' bordeaux blend in the sense the wine contains not only cabernet sauvignon,  cabernet franc,  and merlot,  but also the hard-to-ripen-in New Zealand petit verdot.  Further,  this wine is one of the three with a significant cabernet franc content,  a variety known for its beauty and delicacy.  

More exciting still,  we have examples of wines known to be 30 g/L or more of dry extract.  This figure represents an approximate dividing line between wines which are ideally rich and cellar-worthy,  like most classed bordeaux,  and those which are lighter.  This technical measure of wine body is a wine parameter the Bordelais have long held important,  but we have been slow to think about it in New Zealand.  Until fairly recently,  very few New Zealand reds were anywhere near 30 g/L dry extract.  Unfortunately however we do not have this measure for half the wines.  Some winemakers do not disclose it,  perhaps because it is an index of the virtue or otherwise of their cropping rates.  We will have to endeavour to make our own assessments of palate richness and body therefore,  and see how they match both the data we have,  and where the 'Not Disclosed' wines fit in.  This should be a fascinating aspect to the tasting.

Part II,  Syrah:  Considering the detail for Pt II,  there is not the diversity of Pt I.  All our wines are syrah-dominant.  Perusal of the data sheet attached [ to the handout at the tasting,  info now in the 'admin' section for each wine review ] reveals that only two of the wines have any viognier blended in,  and for those the amount is minuscule.  The reason for this is two-fold,  I think.  Firstly notwithstanding the chemistry theory,  that the phenolics of viognier augment colour fixation in syrah / viognier blends,  the popular perception in some markets is that blending in a white makes a weaker wine.  Further,  the wines of Cote Rotie,  the home of blending-in a percentage of viognier,  are in general too expensive to be widely known.  And they do in truth tend to be subtler.  Both these factors work against the assumption that 'real' red wine drinkers want the straight syrah,  or shiraz,  as the case may be.  Further,  in Australia at least there is the thought that syrah / viognier blends have become down-market / cheaper labels.

As in Pt 1,  there is however the exciting technical facet of dry extract in relation to these wines.  The write-up for these two tastings will  discuss the concept of dry extract,  a measure of the richness and mouthfeel of the wines.  We have one wine over the magical 30 g/L mark,  and one which is close.  For Pt II we only have three analyses,  but there are other wines which have not been analysed,  which also may match these figures,  given their low cropping rates.  I hope these high-extract wines may perhaps be recognised as showing richness and texture on the tongue and palate,  and simply feel satisfying and persistent in the mouth.  

Procedural details for the Tastings
For the formal blind public tasting,  following the first decanting all wines are carefully assessed,  in writing.  This freshly-poured evaluation is a critical step in careful wine evaluation and reporting.  The wine may be very different after aeration.  I then sequence the wines in a way which I think optimises each of the wines,  and shapes a carefully presented tasting.  Somebody has to be first,  and that is a totally unenviable position for a wine to be in,  in a wine tasting.  The first wine is almost never rated the top wine,  to matter how good it is,  because it is such a shock to the virgin palate.  My tendency is to place one or two 'good-average' wines first in the line-up,  wines which well reflect the scope of the tasting.  For the cabernet / merlot tasting,  for example,  I presented a 100% merlot,  and a 100% cabernet,  both medium-weight,  as the first two wines,  to more informatively scope the tasting.  Then in the body of the tasting there is the issue of placing wines which are overly oaky,  tannic,  or acid,  or show other features which might disrupt the palate.  Given such wines,  I try to have a 'normalising' wine after them,  so tasters' palates are in good shape again for the balance of the wines.  In general it is not always a good idea to have the best wine last,  simply because some kinds of audiences tend to expect that,  and accordingly find that,  irrespective,  depending on their wine experience.  Such an approach loses the point of my evaluation tastings.  These two tastings were offered under the title:  “Are These 2013 Hawkes Bay Reds Worth Cellaring”.  The goal is clearly to establish which wines are worth spending one's hard-earned pennies on.  

At this point in preparing the wines,  being satisfied none are corked or oxidised (as may happen with screwcaps),  for a two-bottle tasting the bottles are then combined,  stirred,  and split back into lettered bottles,  for masking in numbered bags.  The wines were therefore in effect decanted three times.  For 2013 wines,  this did wonders for them.  Several winemakers made pre-release bottles available only on the condition they were appropriately prepared.  The time from first decanting to presentation in the evening was of the order of 6 hours.  The extra time taken to carefully prepare two bottles for a larger group is one good reason for limiting my Library Tastings to single bottles.  Some old wines may not handle so much airing.

In the public tasting,  tasters pour a measured 35 mls / head from marked measures.  The wines are assessed fully blind,  having been decanted into a set of near-identical burgundy bottles (for a smoother pour).  Tasters are asked to be sure to have some wine left,  at the end of this first assessment.  Following assessment,  but still at the fully blind stage,  there is a brief set of questions,  where tasters are asked to vote (by hand) for the wine they rate the best of the set,  their second wine,  and which they like least.  There may be one or two other questions,  designed to encourage people to try and tease sensory information out of their samples.  Then the wines are discussed one by one,  points of interest such as the conspicuously high cabernet of this sample,  and compare it with wine X are noted,  and their identities are finally revealed.  During this process,  each of the tasters including the organiser finds they make mistakes.  The opportunities for learning in this structured format prove most rewarding,  for those aminded to share in it.

Why 43 wines in the write-up
My tastings are usually of 12 wines.  This review deals with two tastings,  first the cabernet / merlot and related wines,  then the syrahs.  Several wineries however were variously happy for one or other of their top wines to be assessed afterwards,  but with the field,  even though they were not in the formal presentation of 12 wines.  I appreciated this greatly.  It has made both my tasting and the written reviews more interesting,  and provides a glimpse into the future,  on which keen wine people can base their cellaring preferences.  Since these young wines were all without exception better and more communicative on the day following the tasting,  than on the night,  little can be made of the fact samples were held under ice after the tasting.  The additional wines were also opened the first day,  and similarly held.  All wines are then adjusted for height volume in the glass,  for the second day all completely re-blinded,  and tasted rigorously and comparatively,  over and over,  until the final written notes are prepared.  Unlike many winewriters,  my reviews are therefore the third writing,  in assessing the wines.  This facilitates a more contemplative approach,  and a better appreciation of how the wine will evolve over time.  Then a few days after the syrah tasting,  Glengarry wine merchants presented a further tasting of 2013 syrahs,  the wines drawn from several districts,  and thus outside the original scope of the article.  But since one wine was common to both their tasting and mine,  I was able to calibrate the second set against the first,  and include them too,  adding perspective to the report.  The Glengarry wines have not been documented in the manner of the 24 wines in my presentations,  which winemakers helped so greatly with.  Info has been gleaned from websites,  noting some wineries provide virtually no technical wine information on them.  In the reviews below,  wines NOT part of the Regional Wines public tasting are asterisked.

Time for another London Tasting
In my 2008 article:  The Evolution of Bordeaux and Hawkes Bay Blends in New Zealand,  to 2005,  on this website,  I suggested that for the best of the 2005 reds,  the time had come to present a very carefully thought-out comparative blind tasting of the pick of the Hawkes Bay wines,  against appropriate Bordeaux.  I emphasised the Bordeaux chosen must be precisely selected on taste,  and the choice should avoid any elements of grandiosity,  such as using First Growths.  The recent great success of the top Kumeu River Chardonnays in a comparative blind tasting against well-respected white burgundies,  convened by Farr Vintners of London and published on their website ,  shows that this approach to new-world wine promotion is still very valid.  

The best of these 2013 reds from Hawkes Bay are a step forward from the 2005s.  Some of them even show desirable restraint in their oak handling,  a factor all too often letting down new-world wines,  when compared with the traditional yardstick wines of Europe.  Less is more,  all too often,  when it comes to new oak,  but too many new world winemakers have enormous difficulty in seeing this,  being dazzled by the odd almost irrelevant exception,  the Guigal grands crus and the Mouton Rothschilds,  for example,  of this world.   'Irrelevant' to the kind of wine keen wine-people cellar by the case or half-case,  say,  which by definition has to be affordable.   This is a category in which our wines will increasingly be seen as offering valid and affordable alternatives to the old world standards,  particularly once we pay more attention to dry extract.  

Accordingly,  planning for a 2013 presentation in London,  using the 2013 Bordeaux wines almost of necessity though it is not a well-regarded vintage,  seems more than desirable.  But in the same breath,  it can also be suggested that with  2009 and 2010 mimicking each other as to winestyle,  in Hawkes Bay and Bordeaux,  comparative tastings of these two vintages should likewise be assembled for presentation in London,  before the 2013s.  The scale of the tasting,  and the number attending,  would preferably be a single-bottle tasting.  Participants should be key winewriters,  only.  If expanded to require two bottles,  the wines must be assembled.

Acknowledgements
The help all but one winery offered in assembling these two tastings was simply superb.  Some people went to extraordinary lengths to assist the whole project,  particularly in supplying information for the data sheets prepared for each tasting,  and allowing not-yet-released wines to be used in the public showing.  Some wineries even generously made the wines available free-of-charge.  Others made un-released wines available to me,  to evaluate in the context of the tastings,  and thus add another layer of detail and interest to the written report.  I have annotated the wine reviews appropriately,  and thank you all most sincerely.

Reference
P. Ribereau-Gayon, et al,  2006:  Handbook of Enology Volume 2:  The Chemistry of Wine  Stabilization and Treatments,  2nd Edition.  John Wiley & Sons Ltd,  2006:  441 p.



       

The wines in the two Regional Wines public tastings:  

   Pt I:  CABERNET / MERLOT
   2013 Babich Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec The Patriarch
   2013 Church Road Merlot McDonald Series
   2013 Mills Reef Cabernet Sauvignon Elspeth
   2013 Mission Estate Cabernet / Merlot Jewelstone Antoine   
   2013 Ngatarawa Merlot / Cabernets Alwyn
   2013 Pask Merlot Declaration
   2013 Sacred Hill Cabernets / Merlot Helmsman
   2013 Sacred Hill Merlot / Malbec / Syrah Brokenstone
   2013 Sileni Merlot EV (Exceptional Vintage)
   2013 Te Mata Estate Cabernets / Merlot Coleraine
   2013 Trinity Hill Cabernets / Merlot The Gimblett
   2013 Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Reserve

   Pt II:  SYRAH

   2013 Black Barn Vineyards Syrah
   2013 Church Road Syrah Grand Reserve
   2013 Crossroads Syrah Winemakers Collection   
   2013 Elephant Hill Syrah Airavata
   2013 Esk Valley Syrah Winemakers Reserve
   2013 Matua Syrah Matheson Single Vineyard
   2013 Mills Reef Winery Syrah Elspeth
   2013 Mission Estate Syrah Huchet
   2013 Sacred Hill Syrah Deerstalkers
   2013 Te Mata Estate Syrah Bullnose
   2013 Vidal Estate Syrah Legacy
   2013 Villa Maria Syrah Reserve








THE WINES REVIEWED,  IN ONE SEQUENCE

#  Though the two Regional tastings were presented quite separately,  the over-arching goal was to clarify which wines were worth cellaring.  It therefore makes sense to present the wines in one ranking.  This approach can also be rationalised along the lines,  in a temperate climate,  optimally-ripened syrah and cabernet sauvignon share critical aroma and flavour characteristics,  plus with riper syrah there is also an overlap with correctly-ripened and not over-oaked merlot,  so again the wines inter-finger more than might be expected.  Whereas the two Regional Tastings sought the top wines of Hawkes Bay alone,  the Glengarry syrah one included wines from several districts.  The result has been rather a tail of less cellar-worthy syrah wines.

#  Wines with an asterisk * were not in the two 2013 Hawkes Bay tastings presented at Regional Wines


2013  Babich Cabernet / Malbec / Merlot The Patriarch
2013  Bilancia Syrah La Collina *
2013  Black Barn Vineyards Syrah
2013  Brookfields Syrah Hillside *
2013  [ Pernod-Ricard ] Church Road Merlot McDonald Series
2013  [ Pernod-Ricard ] Church Road Syrah Grand Reserve
2013  Coopers Creek Syrah Hawkes Bay Reserve *
2013  Craggy Range Merlot / Cabernets Sophia *
2013  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol *
2013  Crossroads Syrah Talisman Elms Vineyard *
2013  Crossroads Syrah Winemakers Collection
2013  Elephant Hill Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec / Merlot Hieronymous *
2013  Elephant Hill Syrah Airavata
2013  Esk Valley Syrah Winemakers Reserve
2013  Fromm Syrah La Strada *
2013  Matua Syrah Matheson Single Vineyard
2013  Mills Reef Cabernet Sauvignon Elspeth
2013  Mills Reef Syrah Elspeth
2013  Mills Reef Syrah Trust Vineyard Elspeth *
2013  Millton Syrah Clos de St Anne The Crucible *
2013  Mission Estate Cabernet / Merlot Jewelstone Antoine
2013  Mission Estate Syrah Huchet
  2013  Ngatarawa Merlot / Cabernets Alwyn
2013  Pask Merlot Declaration
2013  Pask Syrah Declaration *
2013  Pask Syrah Gimblett Gravels *
2013  Sacred Hill Cabernets / Merlot Helmsman
2013  Sacred Hill Merlot / Malbec / Syrah  Brokenstone
2013  Sacred Hill Syrah Deerstalkers
2013  Sileni Merlot EV  (Exceptional Vintage)
2013  Soho Syrah Valentina *
2013  Te Mata Estate Cabernets / Merlot Coleraine
2013  Te Mata Estate Syrah Bullnose
2013  Trinity Hill Cabernets / Merlot The Gimblett
2013  Trinity Hill Syrah Gimblett Gravels *
2013  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage *
2013  Vidal Cabernets / Merlot Legacy *
2013  Vidal Syrah Legacy
2013  Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Reserve
2013  Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon Ngakirikiri *
2013  Villa Maria Merlot Braided Gravels Single Vineyard Organic *
2013  Villa Maria Merlot Reserve *
2013  Villa Maria Syrah Reserve


2013  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage *   19 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels mostly,  a little Roy's Hill,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.1%;  $120   [ cork 50mm;  DFB;  Sy 98.7%,  fermented on skins only of Vi 1.3%,  hand-picked from on average c.11-year old vines planted at c.3,000 vines / ha and cropped @ 5 t/ha = 2 t/ac;  no cold-soak,  cuvaison averaged 28 days (though one batch 56 days) with 30% whole bunches retained,  mostly cultured-yeast;  MLF mostly in tank;  12 months in French oak c.53% new;  RS 0.23 g/L;  sterile-filtered;  dry extract not measured;  production 556 x 9-L cases;  release date November 2015;  this pre-release evaluation bottle courtesy Warren Gibson;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  well above midway in depth,  not quite as deep as the less-oaked Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Syrah.  Dianthus / carnations are the signature note of fine Northern Rhone syrah.  Even though the bouquet is infantile,  there is already a beautiful foretelling of that character.  Behind the florality is a tightly interwoven berry and oak synthesis showing a more French quality of elevation than most of the wines.  The potentially floral qualities rest on rich ripe deep cassisy berry with wonderful purity.  The key issue however in this wine,  and several of the fine syrahs in this tasting,  is the significant whole-bunch component,  and the contribution that technique makes to perceived florality in the final wine.  This approach borrows from the 'pioneering' work of Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac,  in the Cotes de Nuits.  I say 'pioneering' because he has merely put into practice certain older or traditional practices in Burgundy,  which were becoming lost with the increasing mechanisation of grape harvest and pre-fermentation treatment.  Homage clearly has greater oak exposure than Trinity's Gimblett wine,  so some vanillin is showing too.  Flavours are already very beautiful:  this is total Hermitage in concentration,  ripeness and depth,  all characters near-perfect.  The level of oak seems near-ideal by traditional Hermitage standards,  the wine showing a sophistication of elevation that outshines the wonderful Matua Matheson wine,  making this young Homage already graceful.  Later info reveals time in barrel was 12 months,  noteworthy.  Many new-world tasters would however think it under-oaked.  I am tempted to say this is the most perfect young red wine I have tasted from New Zealand.  As you savour it,  a suggestion of black pepper creeps into the cassis,  subtly differentiating it from a high-cabernet wine.  This is simply a great young wine,  closely matching the finest Hermitage,  to cellar for 5 – 25 years,  maybe longer.  GK 05/15

2013  Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon Ngakirikiri *   19 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $130   [ screwcap;  CS 97%,  Me 3,  62% hand-picked from c.14-year old vines planted at 2,720 vines / ha and cropped @ 4.2 t/ha = 1.7 t/ac;  cuvaison 35 – 42 days,  cultured-yeast;  MLF  in barrel;  18 months in French oak c.52% new;  RS 0.3 g/L;  not sterile-filtered;  dry extract 31.5 g/L;  production 500 x 9-L cases;  preview of this totally new special series wine courtesy Nick Picone,  all marketing and release details still to be decided;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Colour is a velvety fresh and vibrant carmine and ruby,  slightly deeper than the Villa Maria Cabernet / Merlot Reserve,  second only to the Elspeth.  This wine is a bit out to one side in the tasting.  It is both incredibly rich,  and so young as to seem awkward.  Subtleties such as its floral qualities only reveal themselves after many hours breathing in the glass,  deepest violets melding with cassis,  all still to emerge.  The intensity of the fully ripe cassis character tiptoes towards certain West Australian high-cabernet wines,  but the oak handling here while emphatic is still more subtle than most Australian wines.  Put this cabernet alongside Penfolds Bin 707,  and it seems quite innocent.  In mouth the fruit is of a calibre rarely seen in New Zealand cabernet sauvignon.  It is riper,  richer and even more aromatic than the Mills Reef Elspeth,  yet there is no hint of over-ripeness.  It has a laser-like varietal definition and clarity which the Helmsman,  though very good,  just misses,  due to more apparent oak.  The first impact is reminiscent of Tom MacDonald's original 1965 cabernet,  at the time,  but the concentration of berry is greater,  and the oak both finer and less.  Villa Maria have a sensational wine here,  with a 50-year cellar life,  a wine so infantile now as to be hard to assess.  But it is all there,  it is all in proportion,  it is beautifully clean and it is potentially a very beautiful Medoc-style red.  It will score higher in 10 years time.  I will be surprised if the dry extract here is less than 30 g/L  [ confirmed since writing at 31.5 g/L,  wonderful ];  the wine is tactile in its richness.  Release details for this Special Edition wine are well in the future,  at a level and price-point above current Reserve and Single Vineyard wines.  I imagine close liaison with the Villa Maria H/Q cellar shop at Mangere will be essential,  to secure it.  A triumph.  Cellar 10 – 40 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Matua Syrah Matheson Single Vineyard   19 +  ()
The Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $56   [ screwcap;  DFB;  Sy,  three clones plus a handful of viognier co-fermented;  hand-picked from c.15-year old vines planted at c.3,000 vines / ha and cropped @ c.4 t/ha = 1.6 t/ac;  3 – 4 days cold-soak,  cuvaison in oak cuves averaged 14 days with 10% whole bunches retained,  mostly wild-yeast;  MLF in barrel;  10 months in 90% French oak c.45% new,  10% American white;  RS <2 g/L;  not sterile-filtered;  dry extract 28.4 g/L;  production 250 x 9-L cases;  released and sold-out;  www.matua.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  intense,  the third deepest wine,  like the Villa Maria,  exceptional.  This wine epitomises the wonderful floral beauty which syrah can achieve in temperate climates,  when perfectly ripened.  One runs out of words in trying to pin down florality of this quality,  but it is dark and 'sweet',  with reminders of wallflowers,  darkest roses,  violets and a top note of dianthus.  Below there is beautiful cassis of benchmark quality,  a little cooler and more aromatic than some,  enriched by dark plum.  Florals and berry are shaped by oak,  but the thought of it dominating doesn't arise.  The intensity of aromatic cassis firmed by black pepper on palate is of reference quality.  Has there been a syrah in New Zealand to so exactly pinpoint perfect syrah varietal florality as this wine ?  Palate weight is deceptive.  Because the berry quality is so focussed and beautiful,  in one sense the wine seems light on the tongue.  Yet the fruit weight is in fact well up with better New Zealand practice.  This wine is noteworthy for its 10% whole-bunch component in fermentation,  and its low cropping rate,  one of the two lowest.  Dry extract must be approaching the 30 g/L barrier [ later,  not quite,  showing this is a hard parameter to taste for ].  This is one of New Zealand's top syrahs in the 2013 vintage,  matching fine Hermitage.  Like the Homage,  the wine shows particular sensitivity in its use of oak.  Note the elevation of 10 months.  This kind of approach will greatly differentiate New Zealand red winemaking from Australian,  and takes us much closer to European standards.  This will benefit exports greatly.  In the Regional Wines tasting,  14 tasters rated this the top wine at the blind stage,  unequivocally the most-favoured wine on the night.  What a transformation there is at Matua under new winemaker Nikolai St George,  after so many years of dreary wines.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Sacred Hill Merlot / Malbec / Syrah  Brokenstone   19 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $45   [ cork 46mm;  Me 86%,  Ma 6,  Sy 5,  CS 2,  CF 1,  hand-picked from c.13-year old vines planted at 3,333 vines / ha and cropped @ 7 t/ha = 2.8 t/ac;  cuvaison 30 – 40 days,  mostly wild-yeast;  MLF mostly in tank;  18 months in French oak c.35% new;  RS <2 g/L,  all unfermentable;  sterile-filtered;  dry extract 28.4 g/L;  production not disclosed;  release date August 2015;  pre-release tasting bottles courtesy Tony Bish;  www.sacredhill.com ]
A lovely fresh ruby,  carmine and velvet,  not one of the deep ones,  midway in fact.  One sniff of this reminds of violets,  deepest darkest roses,  and glorious sun-ripened dark plums,  the kind of juicy plum that bursts in your mouth and goes everywhere.  You can't help thinking,  blind,  this has to be merlot,  though like some Saint-Emilions with a significant cabernets component,  it is aromatic too.  The syrah adds to that.  In mouth there is a richness of texture,  and a weight of plummy fruit,  which is benchmark Pomerol.  The new oak component is significantly less in taste terms than Helmsman,  which may be why I am ranking Brokenstone higher.  What a glorious wine,  showing both finesse and delicacy yet wonderful richness,  coupled with magical oak.  It seems fractionally richer than Helmsman.  Hill Labs report 2013 Brokenstone has a dry extract of 28.4 g/L,  comparable with the 2010 Ch Paveil de Luze used as a marker wine in my April bordeaux-blends article.  Only when you taste this subtle Brokenstone wine,  do you go back to the Hieronymous and wonder if the latter wine has gained just a bit much dark aromatic character from its higher percentage of malbec.  It is hard to believe that Brokenstone would not be a finer wine still without malbec.  In the Regional Wines tasting,  two people rated this the top wine,  at the blind stage.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Sacred Hill Cabernets / Merlot Helmsman   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $74   [ cork 46mm;  CS 50%,  Me 35,  CF 15,  hand-picked from c.13-year old vines planted at 3,333 vines / ha and cropped @ 7 t/ha = 2.8 t/ac;  cuvaison 30 – 40 days,  mostly wild-yeast;  MLF mostly in tank;  20 months in French oak c.60% new;  RS <2 g/L,  all unfermentable;  sterile-filtered;  dry extract not measured;  production not disclosed;  release date August 2015;  pre-release tasting bottles courtesy Tony Bish;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  right in the middle for depth.  Bouquet is fascinating alongside Brokenstone,  clearly showing the aromatic cassis-led character of a high-cabernet sauvignon wine,  and equally clearly in the Medoc camp.  As with all the top wines,  the purity is marvellous.  Here however the oak is showing a little more than some,  but the fruit is there for it all to marry up,  with time.  It will become gloriously rich and cedary with some years in bottle.  Helmsman has as much cabernet franc as Coleraine,  but its character does not show through now,  in comparison with that much prettier wine.  Helmsman is a sturdier wine,  closer to the Villa Cabernet / Merlot in style,  markedly richer than Coleraine,  another which will blossom after some years in cellar.  Helmsman was far-and-away the most favoured wine by the Regional Wines tasting group,  nine people rating it top on the night.  It is fair to note that in these situations,  like judgings,  slightly more new oak often raises a wine's ranking.  Cellar 10 – 30 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Villa Maria Merlot Braided Gravels Single Vineyard Organic *   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  DFB;  Me 100%,  all hand-picked from c.12-year old vines planted at 2,775 vines / ha and cropped @ 6 t/ha = 2.4 t/ac;  cuvaison 21 – 28 days,  cultured-yeast;  MLF  in barrel;  18 months in French oak c.35% new;  RS 0.24 g/L;  not sterile-filtered;  dry extract not measured;  production 250 x 9-L cases;  just released;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  in the middle for depth of colour.  On bouquet however it is not middling.  I wrote last year about the organic 2013 Villa Maria Merlot Cellar Selection which was such a good exemplar of the variety,  for a Lincoln University oenology class.  It showed the soft floral beguiling nature of the variety very well indeed,  in a wine so much more silky and seductive than cabernet sauvignon.  If that wine was good,  this wine is near-benchmark.  The depth of warm violets and darkest roses on bouquet is enchanting,  though relative to the organic Cellar Selection Merlot the Braided Gravels bouquet is augmented by sweet oak vanillin.  The florals rest on sensuous darkly plummy fruit with none of the aromatics of high-cassis cabernet sauvignon.  On palate Braided Gravels is not one of the big wines.  It is more on a par with  Brokenstone maybe,  but the razor-sharp varietal definition is clearer than that wine,  where oak confuses things slightly.  Like Coleraine,  Braided Gravels wins points on its sheer beauty,  rather than size.  Winestyle is more fragrant soft Saint-Emilion than Pomerol,  even though it 'should' be the other way round (on cepage).  

In Ngakirikiri and Braided Gravels,  Villa Maria and New Zealand have a spell-binding and textbook-quality illustration of the enchanting similarities and differences between cabernet sauvignon and merlot.  I don't think a better matched pair has ever been made in New Zealand,  if varietal accuracy is the criterion.  The Sacred pair are good,  but they are oakier and the cepage more diverse.  Perhaps there have been Craggy pairings,  in years they make The Quarry,  but again oak and cepage complications make things not as crystal clear as the Villa two.  These two wines speak volumes for the admirably sensitive approach new chief winemaker Nick Picone is bringing to Villa Maria wines,  both in picking at pinpoint ripeness where florality is optimal,  and then raising the wines with infinitely more care in oak,  so that the variety has full expression.  All students and lovers of cabernet and merlot in New Zealand need a case each of these two definitive wines,  Ngakirikiri and Braided Gravels.  Yes,  that will cost,  but for people truly interested in wine,  they will be an investment.  They will serve to benchmark tastings for years to come.  Cellar Braided Gravels for a shorter time than Ngakirikiri,  5 – 20 years.  GK 06/15

2013  Villa Maria Syrah Reserve   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $56   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  25% hand-picked from c.14-year old vines planted at c.3,125 vines / ha and cropped @ c.5.8 t/ha = 2.3 t/ac;  variously 1 – 4 days cold-soak,  cuvaison 21 – 28 days,  no whole-bunch component,  cultured-yeast;  MLF in barrel;  17 months in French oak c.35% new;  RS 0.34 g/L;  not sterile-filtered;  dry extract not measured yet;  production 650 x 9-L cases;  released;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  intense,  the second deepest syrah.  Bouquet is hard to tease apart on this wine,   at this stage,  but there is a darkly floral quality on saturated cassis and a suggestion of black pepper which is closest to the Matua in style,  berryfruit dominant over oak in a most impressive way.  Understated though.  Follow-through from bouquet to palate is exceptional,  the concentration and freshness of berry simply sensational.  The flavour expands and fills every corner of the mouth,  becoming exquisitely varietal.  The oak in this 2013 Reserve is subtle compared with the 2010,  though still significant alongside the Homage,  for example.  This is the finest syrah Villa Maria has ever made.  It will score higher in a couple of years.  The dry extract must be around 30 g/L.  One could not own too many cases of this wine,  I think,  but it did not come through in the most-favoured wine stakes at the Regional Wines tasting.  In my view it will outpace the Matua at the 6-year or so point,  and be wonderfully rewarding wine to have under the house.  It will cellar for 5 – 25 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Elephant Hill Syrah Airavata   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels 65%,  Te Awanga 35%,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $90   [ cork 50mm;  Sy 98.7%,  Vi 1.3,  co-fermented where possible;  all hand-picked from vines of average age 13 years planted at c.2,525 vines / ha and cropped variously between c.3.7 and c.5.8 t/ha (1.5 and 2.3 t/ac);  on average 4 days cold-soak,  6 ferments experimenting with whole-bunch component blended into Airavata,  average for finished wine probably 25% whole-bunch;  cuvaison averaged 14 days,  all cultured-yeast;  wild-MLF always in barrel;  18 months in oak c.40% new;  RS nil;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  dry extract 31.9 g/L;  production 273 x 9-L cases;  release date March 2016,  pre-release tasting bottles courtesy Steve Skinner;  www.elephanthill.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  wonderful freshness and density,  the deepest and richest colour in the set.  Bouquet is extraordinary,  incredibly rich,  fragrant but not exactly floral (yet),  much cassis,  darkest plum,  some blueberry,  plus at this stage rather much oak vanillin.  It smells very young.  The world changes when you taste it.  Immediately there is a velvety concentration of fresh aromatic berryfruit of a depth and mouthfeel not previously  achieved in New Zealand syrah.  Flavours like aromas are youthful in the extreme,   tending oaky at this pre-release stage,  and it is hard to penetrate the wine.  But there is no escaping the richness,  concentration and texture of this dark plum and cassis-laden palate.  It seems the richest wine on the table,  and the dry extract at 31.9 g/L later confirms that is likely to be the case,  being of a quality rarely achieved.  It is the highest measured in the syrah bracket,  noting that few have been measured.  Yet the wine is not at all 'heavy',  in any sensory way.  This wine is all promise at this stage,  everything is there except obvious florality.  I fully expect the bouquet to develop surprisingly in bottle,  like the Villa Maria.  The whole wine will gradually unfold,  and in five years will almost certainly score higher.  In the Regional Wines tasting,  four people rated this the top wine,  at the blind stage.  This is a syrah to ensure you secure literally a lifetime supply.  It should cellar for 10 – 25 and maybe 35 years.  It will be referred to for years to come,  as a benchmark New Zealand syrah.  GK 05/15

2013  Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Reserve   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $50   [ screwcap;  DFB;  CS 75%,  Me 25,  10% hand-picked from c.14-year old vines planted at 3,125 vines / ha and cropped @ 4.4 t/ha = 1.75 t/ac;  cuvaison 35 – 42 days,  cultured-yeast;  MLF in tank and barrel;  18 months in French oak c.30% new;  RS 0.44 g/L;  not sterile-filtered;  dry extract 30.1 g/L;  production 1200 x 9-L cases;  released;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Intense ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the third deepest.  This wine needs a little coaxing,  initially opened,  but gradually reveals intense dark cassisy berry with sweet violets / dark florals,  and even some blackberry notes,  so clearly a whole notch riper than Coleraine.  The flavours are strong,  great richness,  berry-led,  really concentrated,  more new oak showing than some.  It will therefore need longer than several of the wines to reveal its beauty.  Leaving aside the special yet-to-be-released 2013 Villa Cabernet Sauvignon Ngakirikiri,  its closest soul-mate in the set is the Mills Reef Cabernet Sauvignon,  both reflecting wonderful cabernet dominance.  However in comparison with the Mills Reef wine,  the merlot contribution to the Villa Maria's palate width couldn't be more obvious – a textbook demonstration of the merits of blending,  in the claret class.  Given its benchmark dry extract measurement,  this wine will be a particularly interesting cellar prospect for the longer term,  and should rate higher in years to come.  This wine too achieves the magical 30 g/L mark for dry extract.  In the Regional Wines tasting,  two people rated this the top wine,  at the blind stage.  Cellar 10 – 30 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Elephant Hill Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec / Merlot Hieronymous *   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels (CS),  Triangle (Me & Ma),  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $90   [ cork 50mm;  DFB;  CS 60%,  Ma 21,  Me 19,  hand-picked from c.13-year old vines planted at 2,525 vines / ha and cropped @ 3.6 – 5 t/ha = 1.4 – 2 t/ac;  cuvaison c.21  days,  cultured-yeast;  wild-MLF in barrel;  19 months in French oak c.75% new;  RS  nil;  sterile-filtered;  dry extract 29.7 g/L;  production 201 x 9-L cases;  release date March 2016;  pre-release tasting bottles courtesy Steve Skinner;  www.elephanthill.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a glorious colour,  among the deepest.  Bouquet is wonderfully aromatic,  clean,  and fresh,  reminiscent of a young Ch Montrose (in a way),  deepest berry notes and violets.  The depth of berry,  coupled with perfect ripeness retaining full aromatics and freshness,  yet with no hint of leafyness or stalks,  is West-Bank Bordeaux at its best.  It is more fragrant,  and suppler,  than the other high-malbec wine,  The Patriarch.  Arguably (or in principle) it would be a finer or even more subtle wine without malbec,  but in this season,  with appropriate ripeness even in that difficult grape,  it does not let the wine down.  It is one of the bigger wines on the table,  and in its aromatic Medoc styling showing beautiful ripeness and real richness (also clearly over 30 g/L dry extract),  it is very good indeed.  Cellar 10 – 35 years,  perhaps longer,  with great anticipation.  GK 05/15

2013  Mills Reef Cabernet Sauvignon Elspeth   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $49   [ screwcap;  DFB;  CS 100%,  hand-picked from c.20-year old vines planted at 5,000 vines / ha and cropped @ 10 t/ha = 4 t/ac;  cuvaison 28 days,  cultured-yeast;  MLF mainly in tank;  18 months in French oak c.35% new;  RS <2 g/L;  not sterile-filtered;  dry extract not available;  production 500 x 9-L cases;  released;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  totally benchmark Bordeaux,  the deepest colour.  Freshly opened,  this wine is taut and reserved,  and very aromatic.  With air it opens up to be gloriously fragrant,  cassisy and more aromatic still,  with the deep 'port-wine magnolia' (michelia) and roses florals of fine Medoc.  It smells rich yet not plump,  most intriguing.  Flavour in mouth is simply benchmark cabernet sauvignon,  exquisitely handled in oak.  This wine has all the subtlety and beauty of fine high-cabernet bordeaux,  with none of the brashness so many new-world high-cabernet wines show.  It is an easy wine to underestimate,  at this early unknit stage,  but it will repay time in cellar superbly,  10 – 25 years,  perhaps longer.  It seems to be of good richness,  but details are awaited with interest.  What a transformation this wine represents,  from the more obvious and oaky Mills Reef wines of 10 years ago.  GK 05/15

2013  Trinity Hill Syrah Gimblett Gravels *   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.7%;  $32   [ screwcap;  Sy,  a little Vi,  hand-harvested,  co-fermented,  and 25% whole-bunches in the ferments;  various lengths of cuvaison,  seeking complexity;  c.14 months in French oak of varying ages,  some lees-ageing and even lees-stirring,  in a more pinot noir-based approach to elevation;  RS 1 g/L;  dry extract 30 g/L;  sterile-filtered;  released;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the second deepest wine.  Bouquet is verging on the dramatic,  in this wine,  total Rhone syrah florals spanning the full suite:  dianthus,  wallflower,  darkest roses,  wonderful,  on cassisy and  darkest plum berry.  There is a nominal trace of an aromatic I can't quite pin down,  whether 'usual' syrah black pepper or maybe a trace of balsam,  not sure,  but it is very Rhone,  and more than likely correlates with the whole-bunch component.  In mouth the wine is rich and dry,  the berry much less oaked than most,  with enchanting fruit richness [ later found to be 30 g/L ].  As a 'standard commercial wine',  this Gimblett Gravels syrah epitomises the quality of the 2013 vintage in Hawkes Bay.  To have this degree of flavour development at 12.7% alcohol bespeaks vines of increasing age,  and superb viticulture,  as well as the ideal season.  It is totally Rhone-like in that respect.  It is phenomenal the degree to which this wine mimics a modern soft low-oak Cornas.  It needs to be exported to the United Kingdom,  quite desperately.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Te Mata Estate Syrah Bullnose   18 ½ +  ()
The Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,,  New Zealand:  13%;  $50   [ cork 45mm;  Sy 100%,  hand-picked from c.23-year old vines;  all de-stemmed,  15 months in French oak usually 35 – 40% new;  RS dry;  no other info,  the winery not responding to correspondence;  released;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a lovely colour though one of the lighter ones.  Bouquet is one of the stand-out wines for dianthus-led precise syrah varietal quality,  as seen typically in Cote Rotie.  This is a syrah that on bouquet almost takes over where richer pinot noirs run out,  being simply very beautiful.  Oak augments the bouquet,  but is hard to tease out.  The delicacy and purity of cassisy berry and subtlest pepper spices are again exquisitely varietal.  In mouth the neatness and tautness of the wine is most impressive.  There is no hint of either under-ripeness or over-ripeness,  just a perfect fragrant expression of ripe syrah,  in a Cote Rotie styling.  Its ripeness surpasses 2013 Coleraine,  cross-referencing variety with variety.  Fruit weight in terms of dry extract also seems fractionally ahead of Coleraine,  but is lighter than the syrahs marked more highly in this review.  It is is more good New Zealand red for that criterion,  however,  rather than exemplary.  It makes up for that with its beauty.  In the subsequent blind tasting,  Bullnose crept up the rankings on the definitive quality of its varietal character,  and its absolute vinosity.  In the field,  this year's Bullnose looked a little more oaky than some years,  but this is an aspect of their red wines Te Mata are traditionally careful about,  and the wines harmonise in cellar and are good with food.  In the Regional Wines tasting,  two people rated this the top wine,  at the blind stage.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Sacred Hill Syrah Deerstalkers   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $56   [ cork 50mm;  Sy 100%,  hand-picked from c.13-year old vines planted at c.2,775 vines / ha and cropped @ 5 t/ha = 2 t/ac;  no cold-soak,  cuvaison 25 – 35 days with 3% whole bunches retained,  mostly wild-yeast;  MLF in barrel;  16 months in French oak c.38% new;  RS <2 g/L;  not sterile-filtered;  dry extract not measured;  production not disclosed;  release date August 2015;   pre-release tasting bottles courtesy Tony Bish;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a model syrah colour,  above midway in depth.  This is a quiet one in the field,   and thus easy to underestimate.  It is riper than the Te Mata,  and hence not as floral,  but it is also more concentrated,  with a gorgeous texture of cassisy berry fruit which lasts and lasts in mouth.  At a certain point you realise there is quite a bit of potentially cedary oak,  but the wine should harmonise.  Like the Elephant  Hill,  you feel a floral component will emerge,  but it is not as concentrated as that wine or the Villa Reserve.  Intriguing,  a wine not giving too much away at this stage.  In the Regional Wines tasting,  three people rated this the top wine,  at the blind stage.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Crossroads Syrah Winemakers Collection   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $56   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  25% hand-picked from c.14-year old vines planted at c.3,125 vines / ha and cropped @ c.5.8 t/ha = 2.3 t/ac;  variously 1 – 4 days cold-soak,  cuvaison 21 – 28 days,  no whole-bunch component,  cultured-yeast;  MLF in barrel;  17 months in French oak c.35% new;  RS 0.34 g/L;  not sterile-filtered;  dry extract 29.3;  production 650 x 9-L cases;  released;  www.crossroadswines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a lovely young syrah colour,  right in the middle for depth.  This wine stands out for its lovely bouquet,  illustrating darkest rose and wallflower florals of haunting beauty,  on darker cassisy berry and bottled black doris plum fruit.  There is subtlest black pepper spice too.  In mouth it is not the richest wine,  but nor is it oaky,  so the varietal quality comes through beautifully.  I prefer it to the 'Reserve' Talisman version,  which shows more oak influence.  Under its new management,  Crossroads is becoming a winery to watch.  This wine will mature gracefully in bottle,  but it is already of young Hermitage quality.  It's dry extract is a creditable 29.3 g/L.  This is another wine which appealed to me more than the group,  though there were four second-place rankings at the Regional Wines tasting.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Vidal Syrah Legacy   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $75   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  20% hand-picked from c.13-year old vines planted at c.3,125 vines / ha and cropped @ c.5.5 t/ha = 2.2 t/ac;  no cold-soak,  cuvaison 28 days,  no whole-bunch component,  cultured-yeast;  MLF in tank and barrel;  20 months in French oak c.40% new;  RS nil g/L;  sterile-filtered;  dry extract not measured yet;  production 250 x 9-L cases;  pre-release tasting bottles courtesy Ian Clark,  release Sept. 2015;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  below midway in depth.  One sniff of this,  and the beautiful floral complexity combining dark red roses,  dianthus and wallflower is impressive.  Blind once again you think this could be the Te Mata syrah in the set.  And in flavour the similarity of styling is uncanny,  beautiful light fragrant cassis and plummy fruits,  and a hint of black pepper.  On close comparison there is just a touch more oak than the Te Mata,  making the wine slightly firmer and more aromatic.  It is a considerably less intense wine than the Villa Reserve,  and will be accessible sooner.  In the Regional Wines tasting,  one person rated this the top wine,  at the blind stage.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Babich Cabernet / Malbec / Merlot The Patriarch   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $70   [ cork 48mm;  DFB;  CS 49%,  Ma 27,  Me 24,  hand-picked from c.22-year old vines planted at 1,832 vines / ha and cropped @ 5 t/ha = 2 t/ac;  cuvaison 16 days,  cultured-yeast;  MLF in tank and barrel;  16 – 17 months in barrel 98% French,  2 US,  c.45% new;  RS <2 g/L;  not sterile-filtered;  dry extract not available;  production 1,000 x 9-L cases;  release date Nov. 2015;  pre-release tasting bottles courtesy Adam Hazeldine and John Lang;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the fourth deepest.  Bouquet is deep,  dark and mysterious,  not revealing too much yet,  at this stage smelling simply rich and dry.  Flavour shows a wonderful concentration of dark grape tannins,  certainly rich and yes,  very dry,  berryfruit and skins more than oak,  long and fine-grained on the finish.  What a remarkable grape malbec can be when it is properly ripe,  as it so rarely is in New Zealand.  There is no coarseness or malbec-induced stalkyness in this Patriarch at all,  the wine is simply reserved at this stage.  It must be the ripest and richest Patriarch ever.  Don't look at it for five years.  The very different cepage in this wine makes it an essential component of any representative 2013 Hawkes Bay red collection.  Tasting back and forth through these wines,  though,  you cannot help feeling that malbec coarsens The Patriarch to a degree,  the flavours being obvious rather than magical.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Craggy Range Merlot / Cabernets Sophia *   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.8%;  $75   [ cork 50mm;  DFB;  Me 62%,  CS 19,  CF 18,  PV 1,  hand-picked from c.14-year old vines cropped @ 6.25 t/ha = 2.5 t/ac;  cuvaison not given,  cultured-yeast;  19  months in French oak c.42% new;  RS nil;  sterile-filtered;  dry extract 25.9 g/L;  production not disclosed;  release date 1 June,  2015;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  below midway in colour depth,  lighter than Coleraine.  One sniff and you think of St Emilion or even Pomerol,  the wine soft and floral / fragrant,  not as rich and dark as the Brokenstone,  which is even more Pomerol,  or as perfumed as the Coleraine.  It is not a big wine,  but there is beautiful ripe berryfruit underpinning the floral qualities,  all tending soft and round as you might expect from a merlot-led wine,  and showing distinctly less oak influence than most of the top wines.  It is softer and a little riper than Coleraine,  a wine aiming for beauty more than power.  It thus contrasts rather in style with some of the more heroic reds of Craggy's earlier years.  The palate ripeness should allow it to cellar well – in the sense the high cabernets of Coleraine adds to that wine's cellar longevity,  so greater ripeness here should match that.  Dry extract is more in the traditional range of better New Zealand reds,  but the Craggy winemakers feel this will be a particularly long-lived example of the Sophia label,  which may well out-perform some of the bigger wines.  An interesting wine to follow,  therefore,  and also to have as a running mate for Coleraine,  with which it shares some attributes.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.   GK 05/15

2013  Trinity Hill Cabernets / Merlot The Gimblett    18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ screwcap;  DFB;  CS 40%,  Me 30,  CF 29,  PV 1,  hand-picked from c.10-year old vines planted at 3,125 vines / ha and cropped @ 6 t/ha = 2.4 t/ac;  cuvaison c.28   days,  cultured-yeast;  MLF in tank;  18 months in French oak c.30% new;  RS  0.4 g/L;  not sterile-filtered;  dry extract 28.1 g/L;  production 3,000 x 9-L cases;  released;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  just above midway in depth,  not as bright as Coleraine.  This wine has even more cabernet franc than Coleraine or Helmsman,  but you don't pick it up blind.  So once the identifications are known,  one is looking for grape fragrance and complexity,  as opposed to oak complexity.  But on the fragrant and pretty side,  Coleraine wins,  perhaps because it has appropriate ripeness for cabernet franc to show its red-fruits charm and florality.  The Gimblett is clearly riper,  and therefore somewhat less fragrant.  Helmsman is the other high-franc wine,  but it is more oaky,  likewise muting the subtle fragrant cabernet franc to a degree.  It is on the palate that The Gimblett wins,  showing a ripe berry softness and weight which is beguiling,  and a pleasing depth of fruit.  It is softer,  riper and richer than Coleraine or Sophia.  It is also a fractionally darker wine than Sophia,  but the fruit quality is close.  It remains to be seen whether the softer structure will curtail cellaring potential at all,  compared with the leaner style of Coleraine,  which has a great track record for cellar-worthiness,  despite being lighter.  At a certain point it is relevant to note that,  loosely speaking,  you can buy three of The Gimblett for one of Coleraine or Sophia.  If the snob-factor associated with the labels were taken out of the equation,  it would be a brave person who would predict which of these three wines would please the greater number of people,  blind.  A clue can be gained from the rankings at the Regional Wines tasting,  noting this record of the popular vote is taken strictly at the blind stage.  If both first and second place rankings are counted,  The Gimblett was clearly the second-favourite wine of the night.  Two people rated this the top wine.  Cellar 10 – 25  years.  GK 05/15

2013  Mills Reef Syrah Trust Vineyard Elspeth *   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $47   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  hand-picked;  all de-stemmed to leave whole berries,  short cold-soak,  cultured-yeast fermentations,  total days cuvaison up to c24 days;  15 months in 300-litre barrels (note),  80% French,  20% American,  41% new;  not sterile-filtered;   released;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Bright ruby,  one of the the lighter colours.  Not the lightest bouquet,  however,  a very fragrant and floral syrah bouquet with suggestions of dianthus,  clear red roses,  some oak vanillins,  and then lots of berry.  There seems to be a hint of red fruits as well as cassis and black plum,  with a spicy black pepper suggestion.  There are reminders of Bullnose on the bouquet,  but there is more oak vanillin and less berry here,  which would correlate with the American oak component.  Palate is pure berry,  elegant oak with a hint of char suggesting milk chocolate,  again red fruits as well as black,  an attractive beguiling flavour,  more accessible / less authoritative than the top wines,  earlier developing,  a lovely accessible style.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Mission Estate Syrah Huchet   18 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $120   [ cork 45mm;  Sy 100%,  hand-picked from on average c.10-year old vines planted at c.2,500 vines / ha and cropped @ 4 t/ha = 1.6 t/ac;  2 days cold-soak,  cuvaison averaged 24 days with no whole bunch component;  cultured-yeast;  MLF in tank;  18 months in French oak c.33% new;  RS nil g/L;  not sterile-filtered;  dry extract not measured;  production 140 x 9-L cases;  not exactly released yet but available on request at the winery;  pre-release tasting bottles courtesy Paul Mooney;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  right in the middle for depth of colour.  This is one of the 'different' wines,  in a positive sense,  but it is still absolutely within the style parameters for Crozes-Hermitage most closely,  or some Hermitages.  It particularly reminded me of Yann Chave's top Crozes,  Le Rouvre.  Bouquet is fragrant and pure,  nearly floral,  but also a hint of leaf,  and of beeswax.  The latter is perfectly legitimate in Northern Rhone syrah.  Palate follows appropriately,  very different from both the top wines in this tasting,  and from 2010 Huchet,  which was a richer and more massive wine.  There is a fresh nervy quality to the berry here,  some cassis,  clear omega plum flavours,  careful oak,  and other berries too,  blueberry and even guava (canned).  Oak balance is good.  This is going to be an exciting wine to include in blind tastings,  preferably with French syrahs.  It will create havoc.  Tasters liked its style,  it being the second most favoured wine,  on the night (from first-place rankings).  It is also one of the richer wines,  in terms of dry extract.  I'm  slightly worried by the hint of leaf,  and did not mark it quite as high as the group.  But it would be fun to be  proved wrong in the years to come.  In the Regional Wines tasting,  six people rated this the top wine,  at the blind stage.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Te Mata Estate Cabernets / Merlot Coleraine   18 +  ()
Havelock Hills,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $90   [ cork 50mm;  CS 56%,  Me 30,  CF 14,  hand-picked from c.25-year old vines;  18 months in French oak c.75% new;  RS dry;  released;  no other info,  the winery not responding to correspondence;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Fresh ruby,  carmine and velvet,  just below midway in depth.  Bouquet is where this wine wins points,  showing a silky slightly aromatic florality reminiscent of fine Saint-Emilions (the high-cabernet ones) or even better years of Ch Pichon-Lalande (even though the cepage doesn't quite fit),  when the cabernet franc is speaking.  Quality of bouquet is a feature of the good Coleraines,  and it owes much to the care they take with cabernet franc.  This is one of the three wines in the bracket to have a significant component of this beautiful grape – beautiful when it is appropriately ripe.  The purity and perfume of the bouquet is sensational.  In mouth Coleraine is not one of the richer wines,  and in a careful comparative tasting to international standards,  loses points for that.  But then it gains points for its beautiful fragrant red-fruits berry character,  and the quality of its cedary French oak.  This is a Coleraine where all the components are ripe,  only just you might say,  for the acid is slightly noticeable,  but in so many years,  by modern standards Coleraine is distinctly on the pinched side.  Even in 2013,  palate weight is less than the wines marked more highly.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.

Since my April article reviewing Coleraine 2013,  correspondents have advised me of reviews for this wine being circulated in Australasia,  marking the wine 100 points.  Such a ranking and opinion is both ludicrous,  and infinitely sad.  Firstly,  it simply advertises to the informed world (at least) that the reviewer is not sufficiently familiar with the fine wines of the world.  Secondly it reinforces the notion prevalent in more sophisticated parts of the world,  that Australian and New Zealand wine assessment,  with its endless scoring of 94, 96 and 98 point wines,  is both parochial and pathetic,  a laughing stock.  Such an assessment makes it harder for antipodean persons actually striving to mark to international standards.  Thirdly,  too many wine marketers,  whether in wineries or as merchants,  are without principle when it comes to the peddling of such reviews.  They care not for the veracity,  integrity,  or factual worth of the views offered.  Marketers are concerned only with moving stock,  with throughput,  and money at the end of the day.  The nett result is,  less-informed wine consumers are totally mislead,  misinformed,  and in short,  fleeced.  

How can all this be ?  On the one hand,  many of these reviews may be made in all sincerity by the blinkered authors.  But ... in the simplest terms,  for a cabernet / merlot wine (from anywhere) to be marked 100 points or near-to,  it must be a wine of outstanding beauty of aroma and flavour,  and be of such a flavour subtlety,  intensity,  ripeness and concentration that it compares in absolute quality with the best classed growths of the benchmark district for cabernet / merlot (and related) wines,  Bordeaux,  and will cellar for a timespan comparable with wines from that district.  Note that wines from outside Bordeaux are not excluded by this description.  One of the greatest bordeaux-blends I have ever tasted was a Napa Valley wine,  1964 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon.  

In the earlier article,  I used the well-regarded cru bourgeois Ch Paveil de Luze as a measuring-stick for the New Zealand cabernet / merlot wines.  The 2010 of that wine is a sheer delight,  in my view the best the chateau has produced.  It sets an immediate,  affordable,  and available (Peter Maude Fine Wines) standard for New Zealand cabernet / merlot producers to aspire to,  and being a cru bourgeois,  strive to surpass.  In the article,  I commented a key failing of 2013 Coleraine was the lack of palate weight,  or concentration,  in the sense of dry extract as discussed in the introduction to the present article,  and stated:  'Dry extract data would settle the issue'.   Hill Labs now report that the dry extract for 2013 Coleraine,  by the winery’s own assessment the best Coleraine they have ever made,  is 27.1 g/L.  My yardstick wine,  2010 Ch Paveil de Luze,  measures 28.5 g/L.  In taste terms,  or informed taste terms maybe,  that is a big difference.  So there is no comparison.

For the present discussion,  if 2013 Coleraine is not as rich and concentrated as a good cru bourgeois,  let alone some of the truly fine classed growths where dry extract may reach or surpass 30 g/L,  and perfection can in reality be talked about,  it is simply nonsense to rate 2013 Coleraine at 100 points.  And I am sure the proprietors would agree (secretly).  But they must laugh to themselves.  GK 05/15

2013  Vidal Cabernets / Merlot Legacy *   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $65   [ screwcap;  CS 80%,  Me 20,  53% hand-picked from c.13-year old vines cropped @ 4.5 t/ha = 1.8 t/ac;  cultured-yeast;  MLF in barrel;  19 months in French oak c.50% new;  RS nil g/L;  sterile-filtered;  dry extract not measured;  production 500 x 9-L cases;  release date not yet decided;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  the second to lightest.  Bouquet is intriguing,  beautifully sweet vanillin,  floral and  fragrant,  at the blind stage the mind idly noting … hmmm … Coleraine style ... .  The purity is great,  red roses,  almost a pinot noir delight to the wine,  red fruits more than black.  In mouth one is not quite so sure,  the wine showing lovely elegance and balance,  but it seems lighter and less substantial than is desired in a cabernet / merlot cellar wine.  But on checking,  notwithstanding the low cropping rate it seems about the same weight as Coleraine,  and that wine has shown that size and weight alone do not predicate cellar worthiness.  Intriguing,  one thing is for sure with its subtle oak handling,  this will be a good food wine.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Villa Maria Merlot Reserve *   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $50   [ screwcap;  Me 100%,  machine-picked from  c.14-year old vines planted at 3,125 vines / ha and cropped @ 6 t/ha = 2.4 t/ac;  cuvaison 28 – 35 days,  cultured-yeast;  MLF in barrel;  18 months in French oak c.37% new;  RS 0.89 g/L;  not sterile-filtered;  dry extract not measured;  production 800 x 9-L cases;  released;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  towards the lighter end.  Bouquet is sweet,  ripe and fragrant,  clearly some florals and more bottled red plum qualities,  very pure.  Palate shows fresh red fruits,  and some darker berry  notes,  the latter tending to blueberry rather than blackcurrant.  Oak handling is lovely,  real restraint,  gently shaping the medium-weight fruit.  Much like the Mills Reef Cabernet Sauvignon,  but for different reasons,  this is a charming wine which it is easy to underestimate.  And the more you taste it,  the better it gets.  It will be great with food.  Oakniks will dismiss it,  but this wine reflects delicacy and subtlety,  both attributes associated with the merlot grape.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Sileni Merlot EV  (Exceptional Vintage)   18  ()
The Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,,  New Zealand:  15%;  $60   [ screwcap;  DFB;  Me 100%,  machine-picked from c.15-year old vines planted at 2,525 vines / ha and cropped @ 6.2 t/ha = 2.5 t/ac;  cuvaison 30 days,  cultured-yeast;  MLF in barrel;  15 months in French oak c.40% new;  RS 0.8 g/L;  sterile-filtered;  dry extract 33.1 g/L;  production 270 x 9-L cases;  not exactly released yet but available on request at the winery;  pre-release tasting bottles courtesy Grant Edmonds;  www.sileni.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  below midway in depth,  and showing more oak influence than the Church Road Merlot,  even in colour.  And the bouquet confirms huge spicy oak.  Initially opened,  this wine is oaky to a fault,  seemingly youthful,  unknit,  and not at all ready for release.  There are some reminders of a modern-in-style Chateauneuf-du-Pape,  grenache with too much new oak,  suggesting the fruit is very ripe.  But when it is tasted,  there is this astonishing richness (as the dry extract measurement confirms),  and you have to conclude simply,  that this wine is far too young.  The fruit does seem very ripe for merlot,  there is not the florality that the Villa Maria Merlot Reserve or the Brokenstone show.  That would correlate with over-ripeness,  as would the alcohol.  But the richness is such that,  who can say what charms this wine will show in 10 years ?  This is quite the most dramatic Merlot EV Sileni have so far made,  and it shows great cellar potential.  The main worry is whether it will end up reflecting a warmer-country winestyle than is ideal for the subtle merlot grape.  There is a reminder of 1976 Ch Petrus in this,  which was a hot year for that famous high-merlot wine (Petrus at that time was at least 95% merlot,  but is now 100%).  This Sileni EV may later need re-rating upwards,  if the oak marries in and the alcohol does not intrude.  Even now,  it was the second-most favoured wine for the group,  if only first place rankings are counted.  Again,  oak may be playing a role in this assessment.  In the Regional Wines tasting,  four people rated this the top wine,  at the blind stage.  Cellar 10 – 30 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Ngatarawa Merlot / Cabernets Alwyn   18  ()
Triangle 81% and Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $75   [ cork 49mm;  DFB;  Me 77%,  CS 19,  CF 4,  hand-picked from c.14-year old vines planted at 2,450 vines / ha and cropped @ 6.25 t/ha = 2.5 t/ac;  cuvaison 21 – 38 days,  cultured-yeast;  MLF in tank mostly;  16 – 19 months in French oak c.55% new;  RS <1  g/L;  sterile-filtered;  dry extract 27.6 g/L;  production 350 x 9-L cases;  release late 1916,  pre-release tasting bottles courtesy Alwyn Corban;  www.ngatarawa.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  not quite so much carmine,  just below midway in depth.  Bouquet is a complex interaction of several factors:  a slight lift from trace VA,  a lot of dark berry,  and just a suggestion of sur-maturité.  There is not quite the freshness of cassis,  for example,  just a lot of dark red fruit,  plus some oak.  The wine becomes clearer in mouth,  now clear aromatic berry,  very ripe by New Zealand standards so there is some loss of freshness and aroma,  but a lovely palate,  skins dominant.  The lingering aftertaste of aromatic cabernet skins is great,  though there is a hint of raisins too,  perhaps from the merlot.  This wine too is completely different in style from the Alwyns of 10 years ago,  showing unprecedented ripeness for the label.  Its darker notes make you think of malbec,  but inappropriately in this case.  As for Patriarch,  Alwyn too is an essential component of a representative 2013 Hawkes Bay red collection,  adding a distinctive alternative (and this year,  sturdy) view.  In the Regional Wines tasting,  one person rated this the top wine,  at the blind stage.  It will cellar for 10 – 25 years,  at least.  GK 05/15

2013  Esk Valley Syrah Winemakers Reserve   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  all hand-picked from c.15-year old vines planted at c.2,645 vines / ha and cropped @ 4.85 t/ha = 1.9 t/ac;  2 – 3 days cold-soak,  cuvaison 24 – 28 days,  no whole-bunch component,  wild-yeast ferments;  MLF in barrel;  16 months in French oak c.35% new;  RS 0.2 g/L;  not sterile-filtered;  dry extract not measured yet;  production 350 x 9-L cases;  released;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  just above midway in depth.  Oak vanillins are initially tending dominant on bouquet,  at this stage of the wine's evolution.  They mingle with a floral quality which is hard to characterise,  on good aromatic berry.  In mouth more time is definitely needed for the cassisy berry to creep up around the oak.  It is less rich and more oaky than the Villa Reserve,  at this stage.  Flavours however are pure and varietal,  oak aside.  It should marry up well,  and cellar 5 – 18 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol *   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.1%;  $100   [ cork 50mm;  DFB;  Sy 100%,  all hand-picked from c.13-year old vines cropped @ c.7.1 t/ha = 2.8 t/ac;  some ferments in oak cuves,  in previous years cuvaison of c.20 days,  wild and cultured-yeast ferments;  MLF preferences not known;  18 months in French oak c.32% new;  RS nil g/L;  sterile-filtered;  dry extract 26.8 g/L;  production believed to be 500 – 1,000 cases;  released 1 June 2015;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  below midway in depth of colour.  One sniff and this is a very different  interpretation of syrah.  It is fragrant but not exactly floral,  with the dominant berry note being canned South African guavas,  and blueberry.  Most unusual,  but within spec,  so to speak,  at the riper end of the syrah spectrum.  Palate is delicate in comparison with some Le Sols which have gone before,  seemingly very 'free-run',  pleasing fruit weight,  fragrant vanillin oak,  and lovely balance.  It seems nearly succulent.  Like the Bullnose,  this should become a great food wine.  It's just a bit off-centre in its aroma and flavour characters,  for classic syrah,  and tending petite by previous Le Sol standards.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Bilancia Syrah La Collina *   18  ()
Roy's Hill slopes,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $120   [ screwcap;  Sy fermented on 8% viognier skins,  so hard to establish a percentage of Vi;  hand-picked from 17-year old vines planted at c.5,000 vines / ha and cropped @ 2.5 t/ha = 1 t/ac;  no cold-soak,  cuvaison averaged 10 days with 100% whole-bunches retained,  cultured-yeast;  MLF mostly in tank,  finished in barrel;  15 months in French oak 75% new;  RS <1.0 g/L;  sterile-filtered;  dry extract not measured;  production 100 x 9-L cases;  release date November 2015;  this pre-release evaluation bottle courtesy Warren Gibson;  www.bilancia.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  less carmine than most,  above midway in depth.  This is another rather different interpretation of syrah in the augmented set,  showing intense florality which contains a suggestion of leaf,  like some Cote Roties.  Below that is big berry,  almost red plums as well as cassis and dark black doris plums.  Flavours are distinctly cooler than the other wines,  cooler even than the Huchet with which it shares some characteristics.  The concentration of fruit is excellent,  suggesting a low cropping rate and good dry extract.  Nett flavours are very different from the Homage,  yet both are clearly syrah.  At this stage there is just a trace of bitterness from the stalk component,  which Huchet avoids.  Unusual syrah,  until you think of Domaine Jamet,  when the wine falls into place.  I suspect UK writers will like this very much.  Cellar 5 – 18 years,  perhaps longer.  GK 05/15

2013  Crossroads Syrah Talisman Elms Vineyard *   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $56   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  25% hand-picked from c.14-year old vines planted at c.3,125 vines / ha and cropped @ c.5.8 t/ha = 2.3 t/ac;  variously 1 – 4 days cold-soak,  cuvaison 21 – 28 days,  no whole-bunch component,  cultured-yeast;  MLF in barrel;  17 months in French oak c.35% new;  RS 0.34 g/L;  not sterile-filtered;  dry extract 30.0 g/L;  production 650 x 9-L cases;  released;  www.crossroadswines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a little more oak-affected than the Winemakers Collection Syrah,  to the lighter end but still good.  Bouquet too suggests greater oak exposure in the wine,  when compared with the standard syrah,  so it is harder to tease out suggestions of wallflower and dusky rose aromas.  It seems too ripe for dianthus notes.  The floral suggestions are warmed by some barrel char.  Below is fragrant cassis and darkest bottled plum,  with oak.  Flavour is berried syrah with cassis and high-cacao chocolate notes correlating with the char,  fattening to dark plum,  with oak influence more prominent than the the Collection wine,  but not dominating unduly.  An attractive balanced wine more in the Deerstalkers style,  but not quite so harmonious.  Cellar 5 – 18 years.  GK 05/15

2013  [ Pernod-Ricard ] Church Road Merlot McDonald Series   17 ½ +  ()
The Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $29   [ screwcap;  Me 87%,  CS 13,  machine-picked from c.13-year old vines planted at 3,500 vines / ha and cropped @ c.8.5 t/ha = 3.4 t/ac;  cuvaison 28 days,  cultured-yeast;  MLF in barrel;  20 months in French oak c.33% new;  RS <2 g/L;  not sterile-filtered;  dry extract not available;  production not disclosed;  released;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a good representative colour,  above midway in depth.  Initially opened,  the wine is quite powerful,  even burly.  With air it fines down to very ripe berry,  black fruits and dark plums,  but on reflection still tending burly.  Flavours are more clearly merlot,  but with a lot of spicy oak influence browning the wine slightly,  quite vanillin so you wonder about some American oak,  but not so.  In this batch of wines,  there is a certain robustness about this wine that is appealing,  yet the tannin load also makes it seem simpler.  It contrasts therefore with the Vidal Legacy.  The oak may make it less suited to food,  at least until it has crusted in bottle.  This wine is the most affordable in the tasting,  partly by default since we could not secure the 2013 Grand Reserve.  Over the next year or so it will be available from time to time at a significant discount,  when the richness and cellar worthiness will make it even more appealing.  In the Regional Wines tasting,  one person rated this the top wine,  at the blind stage.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 05/15

2013  [ Pernod-Ricard ] Church Road Syrah Grand Reserve   17 ½ +  ()
The Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $45   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  100% hand-picked from c.8-year old vines planted at c.5,200 vines / ha and cropped @ c.7 t/ha = 2.8 t/ac;  no cold-soak,  cuvaison 28 – 35 days,  no whole-bunch component,  cultured-yeast;  MLF in barrel;  c.15 months in French oak c.35% new;  RS 1.6 g/L,  non-fermentable;  not sterile-filtered;  dry extract not measured yet;  production not disclosed;  released;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  a flush of carmine,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is soft,  fragrant and rich,  a lot of fruit and a lot of milk chocolate and vanilla oak,  making recognition of floral or precise berry characters difficult.  Flavour is velvety,  smooth and rich and oaky,  almost a blackberry level of ripeness.  This will please many people a great deal,  but there are reminders of Wolf Blass in the beguiling oak use.  In terms of a varietal tasting,  however,  it is harder to pinpoint the syrah characters.  Hard wine to mark,  therefore,  in a New Zealand context.  In the Regional Wines tasting,  one person rated this the top wine,  at the blind stage.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  This wine is forward and slightly Australian in style,  compared with most examples,  notably the Villa Maria.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Pask Syrah Declaration *   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $49   [ screwcap;  this wine is some distance from release,  so there is no info on their website,  the Glengarry showing being a preview;  recent vintages have been along the lines of  Sy 100%,  all machine-harvested,  some cold soak,  some BF in new oak;  formerly c.16 months in a high percentage of new oak;  release late 2015;  www.pask.co.nz ]
Ruby,  more oak influenced,  the third to lightest.  Bouquet needs a swirl or two,  to reveal classic syrah aromas,  darkly floral,  cassisy berry,  a suggestion of black pepper,  oak in balance.  Palate is lighter than most,  not the concentration and depth of berry so the oak becomes more apparent,  but there is a freshness to this wine contrasting with earlier Declaration Syrahs.  There is so much less oak than yesteryear,  allowing the berry to shine through.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Soho Syrah Valentina *   17 ½  ()
Waiheke Island,  Auckland,  New Zealand:  14.4%;  $45   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  all hand-picked;  10 months in French and American oak 44% new;  Soho's North Island winemaker is James Rowan of Westbrook Winery;  www.sohowineco.com ]
Rich ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the deeper ones.  Initially opened,  the bouquet is strong and oaky,  with even suggestions of American oak [ later confirmed ].  Breathed,  beautiful cassisy berry develops,  with a hint of cracked black pepper,  seemingly now more floral rather than oak-vanillin,  attractive.  Freshness of cassisy berry on the palate is delightful,  good fruit weight,  the oak now reasonably harmonious and lengthening the flavours well.  A fresh and varietal syrah,  best left a couple of years to allow the oak to marry in,  then cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Mills Reef Syrah Elspeth   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $49   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  all hand-picked from c.20-year old vines planted at c.5,000 vines / ha and cropped @ 10 t/ha = 4 t/ac;  2 days cold-soak,  cuvaison 25 days,  20% whole-bunch component,  wild and cultured-yeast ferments;  MLF in tank;  18 months in French oak c.35% new;  RS nil g/L;  sterile-filtered;  dry extract not available;  production 1,000 x 9-L cases;  released;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  a flush of carmine,  one of the lighter ones.  Tricky wine,  this.  First pass,  you think,  lovely florals,  and mark it up.  Second time round,  it seems more oak vanillins,  very fragrant,  but not sure.  And the flavours are more like the Church Road in one sense,  the fruit greatly oak-influenced.  The detail is different,  though.  This oak is vanillin and hessian,  potentially cedary,  whereas the Church Road is soft and chocolatey.  This may be a reflection of the degree of toast.  Concentrating on the flavours,  the berry is fresh and cassisy,  but the fruit weight is more standard good New Zealand red.  It is clearly a lighter and crisper wine than the Church Road,  but equally oak-influenced,  to the detriment of varietal expression (unless one likes oak).  Their Trust Syrah this year shows a much subtler and finer balance.  In the Regional Wines tasting,  one person rated this the top wine,  at the blind stage.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Brookfields Syrah Hillside *   17 +  ()
Bridge Pa / Maraekakaho Road,  south of,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $45   [ cork 50mm;  Sy 100%,   nil whole-bunch;  MLF in tank;  c.12 months in unspecified oak,  a higher percentage new;  RS 'dry';  released;  www.brookfieldsvineyards.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  in the middle for depth.  Bouquet is big,  three components fighting for attention,  dark berry,  obvious oak,  and eucalyptus taint.  The latter masks any possibility of seeing varietal florals.  In mouth the wine has good body and plenty of flavour,  and is very aromatic,  so much so that it seems almost Australian.  But as soon as you out of curiosity,  do open a bottle of Filsell Shiraz alongside,  the New Zealand wine is fragrant and neat in comparison:  interesting.  Actual fruit richness and suppleness is attractive,  and apart from the spurious aromatic,  this wine will give pleasure to many.  Some tasters marked the wine up on this aromatic character,  noteworthy.  Cellar 5 – 18 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Pask Merlot Declaration   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $50   [ screwcap;  DFB;  Me 100%,  machine-picked from c.20-year old vines planted at 2,500 vines / ha and cropped @ c.6.5 t/ha = 2.6 t/ac;  cuvaison 22 – 26 days,  cultured-yeast;  MLF in barrel;  18 months in French oak c.75% new;  RS <1 g/L;  sterile-filtered;  dry extract 27.2 g/L;  production 500 x 9-L cases;  release late 2015;  pre-release tasting bottles courtesy Kate Radburnd;  www.pask.co.nz ]
Fresh ruby,  the lightest colour in both the formal presentation set,  and the extended tasting.  Like the Vidal Cabernet / Merlot Legacy,  there is the thought of floral and fragrant red-fruits pinot noir to this wine.  It is the most dramatically different Declaration Series red from Pask I can think of,  but I don't have my finger on  every vintage of them.  The oak of yesteryear is not apparent at all.  This is a berryfruit-dominant wine.  But in this bracket,  in this wonderfully ripe year,  the Pask Merlot comes across as tending cool,  both on bouquet and then more markedly on palate.  There is not quite the ripeness and the suggestion of black fruits merlot needs.  Instead there is a suggestion of leaf and nearly stalks,  with total acid above optimal.  It is fragrant attractive but light wine,  which hasn't captured the magical potential of the year.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Millton Syrah Clos de St Anne The Crucible *   16 ½ +  ()
Gisborne district,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $75   [ screwcap;  Sy 95% destemmed,  Vi 5% whole-bunch and co-fermented;  100% hand-picked;  a single vineyard wine from a Poverty Bay hillside west of Gisborne city,  facing northwest,  well-protected;  wild-yeast fermentation in oak cuves;  c.15 months in unspecified oak,  percentage new not given;  RS 2 g/L,  whether above non-fermentable not given;  certified organic and biodynamic;  website tending to purple prose;  released;  www.millton.co.nz ]
An older ruby than the other wines,  presumably more oak-affected,  below midway in depth.  If the euc'y (or lawsoniana) character in the Brookfields is debatable,  here it is offensive,  drowning out any varietal delicacy or beauty.  The comparison with the Filsell here is dramatically close,  not least for the Millton also being 14.5% alcohol.  Such a level of over-ripeness pretty well guarantees no floral components in the wine,  anyway.  So what does the wine taste like?  The softness,  ripeness and richness of palate is unusual both for New Zealand syrah,  and more particularly for any red wine in the Gisborne district.  Millton's sites are certainly very special,  in this regard.  But inescapably,  in a syrah tasting,  ripeness isn't necessarily better.  This wine is over-ripe and shiraz-like in character,  in all respects,  and almost sweet to the finish [ later,  website mentions 2 g/L residual ].  Needless to say,  a number of tasters marked the wine up for these attributes,  but we have the potential to make so much finer syrah-like syrahs in New Zealand.  Cellar 5 – 20 years,  in its style.  GK 05/15

2013  Mission Estate Cabernet / Merlot Jewelstone Antoine   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $50   [ screwcap;  CS 58%,  Me 42,  hand-picked from c.10-year old vines planted at 2,500 vines / ha and cropped @ 5 t/ha = 2 t/ac;  cuvaison 33 – 35 days,  cultured-yeast;  MLF in tank;  18 months in French oak c.60% new;  RS nil;  not sterile-filtered;  dry extract not available;  production 470 x 9-L cases;  released;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  towards the lighter end.  Like the Pask,  and for the same reason,  this is a fragrant wine,  showing both red fruits and some floral qualities on bouquet,  and then some riper material too,  a darkly plummy undertone.  But as soon as you taste it,  a stalky green quality jumps to the forefront,  and total acid is up.  Fruit richness is fair,  oak handling is careful,  but the fruit was either picked too early,  or not sufficiently sorted for ripeness.  The green under-ripe component is too obtrusive.  Many do like these cool and fragrant claret styles,  but they are less-favoured nowadays,  and off-target in international terms.  In the Regional Wines tasting,  one person rated this the top wine,  at the blind stage.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Coopers Creek Syrah Hawkes Bay Reserve *   16 ½  ()
Havelock Hills,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $50   [ screwcap;  Sy 99%,  Vi 1,  co-fermented;  fruit from a single vineyard on steep slopes,  hand-picked;  12 months in French oak 60% new;  RS 2 g/L;  sterile-filtered;  released;  www.cooperscreek.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the darker and least oak-affected wines.  Bouquet is intense,  but unsophisticated,  showing almost juicy black fruits more blackberry than anything,  suggesting over-ripeness,  plus noticeable VA.  Flavours are odd too,  the wine lacking structure and integration and harmony,  the berry dark almost like elderberry.  Tasting this alongside the Homage or Bullnose is a vivid contrast in vinosity,  the Coopers seemingly lacking elevation complexity alongside those two beautiful wines.  The finish might not be bone-dry either [ later confirmed ].  This is wholesome,  hearty but simple wine,  to cellar for a shorter time,  3 – 10 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Pask Syrah Gimblett Gravels *   15 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $22   [ screwcap;  previous vintages have been along the lines Sy 100%,  90% de-stemmed and crushed,  10% whole-bunch;  some cold-soak;  MLF and c.12 months in new and 1-year French oak;  RS <1 g/L;  released;  www.pask.co.nz ]
Ruby,  a suggestion of carmine and velvet.  This is a relatively simple wine too,  showing clear fragrant red and blackberry fruit,  not quite floral.  Flavours in mouth are light and fresh,  again both red and black berries but also a hint of stalk suggesting mixed ripeness,  reasonably varietal,  light oak yet to marry in,  suggestions of a stainless steel clean neutral component.  As a red wine,  it is more refreshing than the Coopers Creek.  More a QDR syrah,  to cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Fromm Syrah La Strada *   15  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $35   [ screwcap;  in a reasonable time spent searching the website,  there is absolutely no factual information relevant to this wine at all,  most  odd;  released;  www.frommwinery.co.nz ]
Ruby,  the second to lightest.  Freshly poured the wine is reductive to a fault.  Vigorous decanting jug to jug is needed.  Well-breathed the wine becomes somewhat more fragrant,  another New Zealand syrah with suggestions of canned guava in the berry notes,  unusual but within bounds.  Palate is ripe and rich,  black fruits more than red,  the subtleties still tending muted,  but this is not a pinched wine as so many syrahs from Martinborough are,  for example.  Style analogies are closest to very plain Crozes-Hermitage.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 05/15

2013  Black Barn Vineyards Syrah   14 ½  ()
Havelock Hills & The Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $38   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  25% hand-picked from 6 – 10-year old vines planted at c.2,775 vines / ha and cropped @ 6.25 t/ha = 2.5t/ac;  no cold-soak,  cuvaison 14 – 24  days,  20% whole-bunch component,  mostly wild-yeast;  MLF in tank;  c.10 months in French oak c.20% new;  RS <0.5 g/L;  sterile-filtered;  dry extract not measured;  production 550 x 9-L cases;  released;  www.blackbarn.com ]
Ruby,  the lightest wine.  This was the lame-duck in the tasting,  being quite severely reductive.  Prolonged and aggressive aeration did not remedy that.  There is good fruit and berry,  careful oak elevation,  and pleasant balance in mouth,  but the reduced sulphurs are already complexing to mercaptan-like compounds,  adding animal aromas and flavours.  It was not liked by the group,  there being unusual unanimity about the 'least wine' of the tasting.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 05/15