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Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
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analytical
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Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.

SYRAHS FROM AUSTRALIA AND FRANCE:  27 REVIEWS


This review considers a few syrahs from Australia and France.  As syrah becomes more and more exciting in New Zealand,  the critical issue to be resolved is the style we are best suited too.   And the best references we can take are to contrast the classical wines of France,  from a climate more like Hawkes Bay's,  with the diversity of mostly hotter-climate styles from Australia.  All-too-often,  oak substitutes for complexity in the latter.  Though drawn from recent three-country syrah tastings, these notes cover only the French and Australian examples,  including some good-value wines, e.g. 2002 Pepperjack Shiraz.  There are some references in the reviews to New Zealand wines yet to be filed.    


THE WINES REVIEWED

White
Sparkling
Chardonnay
Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
Riesling
Pinot Gris
Gewurztraminer
Viognier
Sweet / Sticky
All other white wines, blends, etc.
Red
Rosé
Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2002  Pepperjack Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet / Shiraz
Pinot Noir
Syrah = Shiraz
2001  d'Arenberg Shiraz Footbolt
2000  d’Arenberg Shiraz The Dead Arm
2002  d'Arenberg Shiraz / Viognier The Laughing Magpie
2001  Bannockburn Shiraz
2002  Jim Barry Shiraz Lodge Hill
2000  Jim Barry Shiraz McRae Wood
  2002  Grant Burge Shiraz Barossa Filsell
2001  Grant Burge Shiraz Barossa Filsell
2001  Cape Mentelle Shiraz
2001  Fox Creek Shiraz Reserve
2000  Henschke Shiraz Mount Edelstone
2001  Jaboulet Hermitage la Chapelle
2001  Leeuwin Estate Shiraz Art Series
2000  Peter Lehmann Shiraz Eight Songs
2001  Peter Lehmann Shiraz Futures
2001  Peter Lehmann Shiraz
1999  Peter Lehmann Shiraz Stonewell
2002  Pepperjack Shiraz
2001  Rostaing Cote Rotie Cote Blonde
2001  Rostaing Cote Rotie Cuvee Classique
2001  Rostaing Cote Rotie la Landonne
2002  Saltram Shiraz Mamre Brook
2002  Vasse Felix Shiraz
2000  Yalumba [ Shiraz ] The Octavius
1999  Yalumba [ Shiraz ] The Octavius
2000  Yalumba Shiraz / Viognier
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre & related blends
All other red wines, blends etc
From the Cellar. Older wines.
   

2002  d'Arenberg Shiraz / Viognier The Laughing Magpie   19  ()
McLaren Vale,  South Australia:  14.5%;  $35   [ Sy 93% co-fermented with 7% Vi;   12 months US & French oak;  www.darenberg.com.au ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a gorgeous dense colour.  Bouquet is deep and rich,  big but not too heavy,  showing marvellous cassis and dark berry with black pepper.  It is sweet,  fragrant,  only faintly euc'y,  not quite light enough to be floral.  Palate is saturated black plum and cassis,  very hard indeed to tell as shiraz because of the aromatic cassis-like complexity,  easily confused with Australian cabernet of the same quality unless one has them right alongside.  Though the wine is huge,  the oaking is not too heavy-handed,  and it finishes pure and skinsy-fresh in mouth.  Can one see the viognier ?  It is too big and dark to be sure,  but maybe there is a floral sweetness in there.  In this bracket of wines,  the one that 'appears' to be fragrant from viognier is the beautiful but wildly contrasting McRae Wood.  This d'Arenberg is glorious McLaren Vale shiraz which will cellar for 10 – 25 years.  GK 06/04

1999  Peter Lehmann Shiraz Stonewell   19  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australian:  14.5%;  $82   [ partial BF in 73% French oak,  27 US,  then 20 months in new French;  www.peterlehmannwines.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet.  A very pure bouquet of classic Barossa Shiraz,  showing a depth of berry combining cassis,  blackberry,  and boysenberry with faintest hints of Australian florals as in the McRae Wood,  plus attractively fragrant and understated oak.  Palate is noticeably concentrated relative to the mainstream Lehmann shirazes,  with the fruit flavours settling into the more conventional boysenberry spectrum of Barossa fruit,  uplifted by the suggestion of aromatics and florals.  This will cellar for 10 – 20 years,  to become a classic Barossa Shiraz.  Lehmann's shirazes are going from strength to strength,  the best more refined every year.  GK 06/04

2002  Saltram Shiraz Mamre Brook   19  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia:  15%;  $22   [ www.beringerblass.com.au ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet,  denser even than the company's 02 Pepperjack Cabernet Sauvignon,  and much denser than the 02 Pepperjack Shiraz.   Bouquet is immensely deep,  rich and densely plummy,  massive,  but not as heavy as Aussie wines so often are,  in this size range.  Palate is unctuously rich,  velvety,  yet totally dry,  with a bottled blackest plums flavour which is subtler than the boysenberry of so much over-ripe Australian shiraz,  and therefore more interesting – despite the hint of prunes.  Oak handling on this wine is a little more noticeable than on the Pepperjack,  but still very good.  Total mouthfeel is pleasing,  again unlike so many big Barossa shirazes where one feels manipulated by tannin additions,  acid additions,  and various excessive uses of oak.  Whatever has been done here is subtle (relative to the size of the wine).  Like the Pepperjack  Cabernet Sauvignon,  it will be of compelling interest to see how this massive wine cellars,  for it is hard to taste whether it is totally conventional,  or contrived in some way.  Meanwhile,  the number of grapes per bottle makes this the original wine bargain.  It should cellar for 5 – 20 years,  and is worth buying by the case.  VALUE  GK 09/04

2001  Bannockburn Shiraz   18 ½  ()
Geelong,  Victoria,  Australia:  13.5%;  $45
Good ruby,  some velvet.   Benefits from a splashy decanting,  to reveal a voluminous bouquet in which carnations,  cassis,  black pepper and flowering mint-shrub combine beautifully.  The whole thing smells uncannily like good Hermitage,  but with this light floral Australian accent.  Palate is much the driest of the Australasian wines,  complex,  slightly old-fashioned and fragrantly savoury from restrained oak and academic brett, in nett impression closer to the la Chapelle than any of the others,  but more concentrated.  This is a wine for winelovers,  not technocrats.  It shows Australian shiraz can have syrah-like complexity when not over-ripened,  rather more than just sheer size.  It will be marvellous with food,  and cellar for 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/04

2000  Jim Barry Shiraz McRae Wood   18 ½  ()
Clare Valley,  South Australia:  14.5%;  $40   [ 14 months in French & US oak ]
Older ruby.  Here is another shiraz in the gloriously floral Australian Cote Rotie style  –  carnations and Australian flowering mint (Prostanthera),  lightly aromatic,  but not euc'y.  It reminds of the Lehmann 2001, but is richer,  and seemingly 'sweeter' on that fruit richness.    This is great Australian shiraz,  but in a particular style,  so the advice offered with the Lehmann applies here,  too.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/04

2001  Peter Lehmann Shiraz    18 ½  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia:  14%;  $24   [ 12 months in US & French oak;  www.peterlehmannwines.com.au ]
Ruby,  relatively light.   This wine has a great bouquet,  showing  a much lighter and more floral side of Australian shiraz which is reminiscent of Cote Rotie,  with an Australian accent.  It combines the beautiful florals of carnations / dianthus with light Australian flowering mint,  to give a piquant bouquet in exactly the same style as the 1966 Tahbilk Shiraz, or the 1996 McRae's Wood.   Palate optimises the floral style,  with sweet fruit and ripe stalks yet to integrate,  subtle oak,  and a lightness that belies good fruit richness.  This is a particular kind of Australian shiraz which not everybody enjoys,  so try one before buying a case.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/04

2002  Pepperjack Cabernet Sauvignon   18 ½  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia:  13.5%;  $20   [ Saltram group;   www.beringerblass.com.au ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet.  This is a remarkable bouquet for a big Australian red,  for it smells explicitly of intense cassis,  of beautifully ripe varietal fruit,  instead of oak.  These days in Australia,  with increasingly sophisticated fermentation techniques designed to optimise the approachability and hence early drinking of red wines,  it is becoming harder to tell cabernet from shiraz,  so intent are winemakers on providing big juicy fruitbomb wines where 'plummy' is a common descriptor.  In mouth the wine tastes as good as it smells,  every bit as cassisy,  the oaking seems genuine and not too prominent,  and the tannins are not excessive for the size of the wine.  The cabernet is however firmer than the Shiraz,  which traditionally,  is appropriate.  Some say these big juicy numbers fall to bits once the tannins crust in the bottle,  especially when they are added tannins.  Sure,  it may crust,  but I suspect the wine will remain clearly varietal throughout,  and in some ways more food-friendly as it lightens up.  It should cellar well,  say 10 – 15 years.  A wine to buy by the case.  VALUE  GK 09/04

2002  Pepperjack Shiraz   18 ½  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia:  14%;  $20   [ Saltram group;  US  & French oak;  www.beringerblass.com.au ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  not as dense as the 02 Pepperjack Cabernet.   Initially opened,  the wine is faintly reductive,  but that quickly breathes off.  Pouring it off into a decanter or jug is the answer.  Below is beautifully ripe shiraz with hints of florals and even black peppercorns,  in a big soft Barossa Valley red chockfull of fruit.  Palate is even more spicy and aromatic,  blueberry,  boysenberry and dark plum,  illustrating Aussie shiraz very well indeed.  Often it is hard to tell the difference between cabernet and shiraz in Australia's too-warm and all-dominating climate,  but this 02 Pepperjack Shiraz and its matching 02 Cabernet are as good an illustration of the difference between the two as one is likely to find,  irrespective of price.  This wine is a little fresher,  lighter,  and less serious than the Saltram Mamre Brook Shiraz,  and like it,  it is not crippled with oak.  Though obviously designed for instant gratification,  and getting a bit close to the fruitbomb style,  it has this great (and at best,  aromatic) fruit of the 2002 vintage in South Australia,  and should cellar for 5 – 15 years. Another to buy by the case.  VALUE  GK 09/04

2002  Grant Burge Shiraz Barossa Filsell   18  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia:  14%;  $31
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet.  A big  bouquet in a more obvious South Australian shiraz style:  lots of boysenberries,  lots of oak,  and aromatic on euc'y notes rather more than varietal complexity.  Palate is very rich,  sweetly fruited but one-dimensional on boysenberry,  with the levels of oak,  tannins,  and euc'y aromatics all too intrusive for real beauty.  Drinking such wines,  one slows down,  rather than wanting a third glass.   It is one interpretation of the current trend to fruitbomb wines,  richer and softer than the 01,  but still too phenolic.   Cellar 10 – 15 years.  GK 09/04

2001  Jaboulet Hermitage la Chapelle   18  ()
Hermitage,  northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $170   [ Sy 100%;  grapes de-stemmed,  18–25 days cuvaison;  12–18 months in barrel;  www.jaboulet.com ]
Ruby,  a suggestion of velvet,  a little deeper and older than the Cornas.   Initially opened,  this syrah too is slightly reductive.  It benefits from vigorous decanting,  to reveal a clearcut Northern Rhone syrah with good ripening of the fruit:  some florals in the carnations and dianthus camp,  good cassis and dark plums in the sun,  some herbes de Provence complexity,  smells which are attractive and almost saliva-inducing.   Palate does not show quite the concentration hoped for,  but what is there is good:  black pepper and aromatics in the cassis,  good berry fruit of perfect ripeness for complexity and still retaining florals,  very understated and clean mostly older oak,  beautiful balance,  highly varietal,  but only medium weight.  Initial reductiveness aside,  it is a carefully tailored wine,  very polite.  It will be delightful drinking in 5 – 10 years,  and will cellar for 20.  It is however lighter than the rich and dramatic good years of la Chapelle in earlier decades.  This wine and the Rostaing Cote Blonde illustrate their respective appellations delightfully.  GK 06/04

2000  Peter Lehmann Shiraz Eight Songs   18  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia:  14%;  $81   [ vine age 80 – 85 years;  partial BF and 18 months in new French oak;  www.peterlehmannwines.com.au ]
Ruby.  Initially opened,  this wine shows aggressive oak,  which detracts.  Decanted and well-aired however,  it settles into a very typical boysenberry and raspberry jam bigger style of Australian shiraz,  with a fruit sweetness reminiscent of freshly-baked raspberry tartlets.  On palate it is quite different,  with a fragrant flowering mint quality in mouth,  which unusually,  one cannot see on bouquet.  The wine therefore shares some of the characters of both the '99 Stonewell,  and the '01 straight Shiraz,  but with impressive fruit sweetness and concentration.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 6/04  GK 06/04

2001  Rostaing Cote Rotie Cote Blonde   18  ()
Cote Rotie,  northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $114   [ Sy mostly,  5 – 8% Vi;  vine age 65 +;  24 months in 30% new oak ]
Lightish ruby.  Initially opened, this wine is a bit veiled by soft reductive odours,  but given a splashy decanting,  it quickly clears to a floral,  fragrant,  and almost burgundian bouquet,  which in the blind tasting has to be Cote Rotie.  Palate is equally floral even suggesting carnations,  plus red and black currants and plums,  all slightly aromatic from careful oak,  producing lovely fruit and poise in the mouth.  Unlike so many of the Australasian wines,  this would be great with food right now,  and at any point through a cellar life of 15 or so years.  Classical Cote Rotie,  illustrating the varietal beauty of syrah.  GK 06/04

2001  Grant Burge Shiraz Barossa Filsell   17 ½  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia:  14%;  $31
Ruby and velvet.  In the same blind tasting as the 02 Filsell,  this shows a slightly more minty version of eucalyptus than the younger wine,  but it is also more oaky.   On palate there is the same profusion of boysenberry,  but all a little 'browner' from the hotter year.   Both oaky and euc'y flavours loom larger in this version of the wine,  so it seems a little coarser.   This is a familiar approach to big Barossa Shiraz,  hearty and rich,  but again lacking the subtlety to be refreshing to the palate.  It will cellar for 5 – 10 years,  drying all the while.  GK 09/04

2001  Cape Mentelle Shiraz   17 ½  ()
Margaret River,  West Australia:  14.5%;  $31   [ c. 20% whole-berry fermentation;  most of wine c. 16 months in French and US oak,  30% new,  some in vat;  www.capementelle.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet.  Initially opened, this one too is slightly reductive.  Splashily decanted,  it breathes to a big,  fruit-rich bouquet with berry characters darker than many Australian shirazes,  more blackberry than boysenberry.  There is some cassis,  dark plum,  and  lightest black pepper too,  adding interest.  Palate is a bit damped down by charry barrel flavours,  but fruit richness is good in a slightly lush blackberry way,  oak is restrained,  and the texture is fine-grained.  This should cellar well for 10 – 15 years,  and build in complexity,  though always needing decanting.  GK 06/04

2001  Fox Creek Shiraz Reserve   17 ½  ()
McLaren Vale,  South Australia:  14.5%;  $81   [ 8 days cuvaison;  40% BF in 80% new US oak,  20 French;  15 months in new and 1-year US  barrels;  www.foxcreekwines.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  half the weight of le Sol.  This opens up as stock-standard Fox Creek,  showing big fresh boysenberry,  blueberry,  and plummy shiraz fruit,  in soft sweet aromatic oak.  Palate is identical,  boysenberry and blackest plum,  sweetly fruited but dry,  finishing on as yet unintegrated,  fragrant,  sweetly vanillin oak.  The great merit of this wine is the lack of euc'y overtones.  The drawback is it seems one-dimensional.   Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 06/04

2001  Leeuwin Estate Shiraz Art Series   17 ½  ()
Margaret River,  West Australia:  14%;  $38   [ French oak;  www.leeuwinestate.com.au ]
Ruby, carmine and velvet.  In a blind tasting of French,  Australian and New Zealand syrahs,  this wine presents an interesting balance between the rich boysenberries and aromatic spicy oak of so many South Australian wines,  and the dry florals and cassis of France.  Bouquet is blueberries,  slightly raisined cassis and dark plums,  with a hint of oak.  On palate there is some black pepper and clear blackberry added to the mix,  to give a dry aromatic nutmeggy body of good fruit length,  not dominated by oak.  All a bit distinctive and different,  though had there been more Hawkes Bay syrahs in the batch,  it would have had closer company.  It should cellar for 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/04

2000  d’Arenberg Shiraz The Dead Arm   17  ()
McLaren Vale,  South Australia:  14.5%;  $64   [ seventh vintage;  partial  BF in mainly new French and US oak,  and 22 months in barrel;  not filtered;  www.darenberg.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet.  Bouquet is vast,  rich,  and unequivocal  –  just a simple caricature of rich boysenberry and  mulberry with American oak shavings.  Palate has the sweet rich fruit to pretty well cover the timber, and ensure the wine will cellar for many years,  giving it time to integrate and mellow.  It is not overtly euc'y,  but if the Fox Creek is oaky,  this is ridiculously so  –  an anti-food wine.  It is only fair to note this was the most popular wine in a blind tasting,  as overtly oaky wines often are in tastings and judgings.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 06/04

2000  Henschke Shiraz Mount Edelstone   17  ()
Eden Valley,  South Australia:  14%;  $91   [ www.henschke.com.au ]
Ruby,  scarcely deeper than the Cote Blonde.  Another wine with a voluminous bouquet,  but the flowering mint here is becoming undeniably euc'y,  making it hard to appreciate the floral and redfruits grapeyness.  Palate is fine-grained,  the fruit supple,  subtle and long, but again the  intrusion of eucalyptus makes it hard to separate cause and effect.  It would be beautiful without the medicinal euc.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/04

2001  Peter Lehmann Shiraz Futures   17  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australian:  14%;  $30   [ French & US oak 18 months;  www.peterlehmannwines.com.au ]
Ruby.  A pleasant light berry bouquet leads into a bigger boysenberry-like palate than expected,  clearly shiraz,  reasonable oak,  quite sweetly fruited and long-flavoured in a monolithic berry style.  The role of this label relative to the others is not clear.  It does not seem as interesting.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 06/04

2000  Yalumba [ Shiraz ] The Octavius   17  ()
Eden Valley mostly,  some Barossa Valley,  South Australia:  13.5%;  $122   [ US oak mostly,  some French;  www.yalumba.com ]
Ruby and velvet.  Bouquet shows a better balance of big shiraz to excess oak than the 1999,  but the whole wine is still pretty massive verging on oppressive and  unwiney.  The oaking is contemporary in style,  with barrel ferment and chocolate characters praised by some commentators.  Rich plummy  shiraz is certainly apparent amidst the oak,  but this is still a wine made to whack you into submission and acceptance,  rather than charm you with the beauties shiraz can display when grown,  harvested,  and vinified as syrah.  Have these winemakers never tasted classical Cote Rotie or Hermitage,  let alone assessed their beauty with food ? This 2000 will cellar for 40 years,  in its style – to judge from some Aussie '64s opened recently.  GK 07/04

2000  Yalumba Shiraz / Viognier   17  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia:  13.5%;  $38   [ Sy 92% co-fermented with 8% Vi;   20 months in French oak;  www.yalumba.com ]
Older ruby and velvet.  This latest edition of the supposedly more fragrant Yalumba Shiraz / Viognier blend continues to miss the point.  On bouquet,  the wine is just a big soft Barossa shiraz,  boysenberry and darkest plums all slightly leathery,  too heavy,  and a bit dull.  It shows better on palate,  with big fruit richness in a popular style,  but any floral and fragrant magic such as the McRae Wood shows is beyond it.  Cellar 10 – 15 years.  GK 06/04

2001  Rostaing Cote Rotie la Landonne   16 ½  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $115   [ Sy 100%;  18 – 24 months in two barrel sizes,  10% new; ]
Ruby.  A mixed bouquet,  combining some of the beauty of syrah (carnation florals,  potential bush honey complexity,  mixed red and black berries) with a veil of H2S-related odours.  These are nowhere near as severe as in the Cuvee Classique.  Vigorous splashy decanting is therefore recommended.  So treated,  fruit on palate is attractive,  showing cassis,  blueberry and raspberry,  but all much softer and silkier than the stern Vins de Vienne Cornas.  One would imagine there is viognier in this wine,  but not so according to Parker.   As this Cote Rotie matures,  it will probably develop the elusive beeswax / bush-honey complexity which certain northern Rhone syrah vintages show  –  for example 1982 la Chapelle right now.  Such wines are wonderful with food.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  but needing vigorous decanting.  GK 06/04

2002  Vasse Felix Shiraz   16  ()
Margaret River,  West Australia:  14%;  $39   [ Sy 92%,  CS 4,  Ma 3,  Me 1;  partial BF in French and US oak;  www.vassefelix.com.au ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a lovely colour.   A huge bouquet,  but another one suffering from the Australian love affair with excess oak.  On the fruit side,  there is good blueberry and boysenberry,  but the oak is so resiny and fresh-sawn,  it reminds of chopping firewood  –  gum.   Palate is juicy berry,  but also intensely aromatic on the oak,  mint and euc.   It is not as saturated with oak as the Octavius,  and may level out somewhat.  Hard to see it being other than coarse,  though.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/04

1999  Yalumba [ Shiraz ] The Octavius   16  ()
Barossa and Eden Valleys,  South Australia:  14.5%;  $126   [ US oak;  www.yalumba.com ]
Older ruby and velvet.  Bouquet is first and foremost new oak and vanilla biscuits,  then a suggestion of eucalyptus.  It is not winey at all,  by any standards except Australian (and some American).  In mouth,  likewise  the first impression is of excessive new oak,  lubricated by very rich browning boysenberry juice and alcohol.  This is simply ridiculous,  a caricature of wine as any accompaniment to food,  or as a thing of beauty in its own right.   It is indubitably rich, and it will cellar for up to 35 years,  but unless one collects icons,  there is little point.  Will it ever complement food,  with that burning oaky finish ?  GK 06/04

2002  Jim Barry Shiraz Lodge Hill   15 ½  ()
Clare Valley,  South Australia:  15.5%;  $20   [ mostly US oak ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is intensely minty and euc'y,  and with the bizarre alcohol,  it is getting pretty un-winey.  Palate has rich boysenberry fruit right through to the seemingly sweet finish,  but the whole impression in mouth is more medicinal (e.g. liniment) than pleasurable.  Would cellar 10 – 15 years,  but unlikely to be worth the effort.  GK 06/04

2001  d'Arenberg Shiraz Footbolt   13 ½  ()
McLaren Vale,  South Australia:  14.5%;  $23   [ 12 months in older French & US oak;  www.darenberg.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet.  An old-fashioned wine made dull by H2S-related odours.  Palate likewise has a reductive grey blanket over it,  obscuring the flavours of otherwise good fruit,  and introducing a bitterness to the finish.  Not worth cellaring.   GK 6/04  GK 06/04

2001  Rostaing Cote Rotie Cuvee Classique   13 ½  ()
Cote Rotie,  northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $86
Lightest ruby.  Initially opened,  the wine is very reductive.   Even with vigorous decanting and pouring to and fro,  it remains reductive.  So there is no bouquet.  Fruit richness is quite good,  some red fruits,  but any floral or savoury complexities are lost in the grey fog of sulphide,  which introduces a bitterness to the finish.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 06/04