There are still many producers that I feel do not have the seriousness or ambition ...
Mardi Roberts [ Ridgeview ] used a phrase that caught my attention. "We are never
resting." That is exactly what the industry needs: growers that never rest on their
laurels and constantly question their modus operandi, seeking ways in which to improve.
Background to both Library Tastings:
In June 2017, I presented two 2013 vintage review Library Tastings in Auckland, at Villa Maria winery, Mangere. The first covered cabernet / merlot and related wines, the second syrah. The goal was to compare the best New Zealand wines with carefully selected overseas wines of comparable high quality, in a totally blind tasting, to both establish and illuminate the international quality of the New Zealand wines, in one of our better vintages. The two tastings are reported on in this one article, first the cabernet / merlots and related, then (scroll down) the syrahs.
SCOPE OF THE TASTINGS – THE WINES IN THE TWO PARTS:
| CABERNET / MERLOT, Tuesday June 20:|
2013 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River
2013 Moueix Dominus, Napa Valley
2013 Ch Leoville Barton, Saint-Julien
2013 Babich 100-Years Cabernet Sauvignon, Gimblett Gravels
2013 Church Road Cabernet / Merlot Tom, Hawkes Bay
2013 Elephant Hill Hieronymus, Hawkes Bay
2013 Esk Valley The Terraces, Bay View
2013 Puriri Hills Pope, Clevedon
2013 Sacred Hill Brokenstone, Gimblett Gravels
2013 Stonyridge Larose, Waiheke Island
2013 Te Mata Coleraine, Havelock Hills
2013 Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon Ngakirikiri, Gimblett Gravels
2013 Craggy Range Sophia, Gimblett Gravels
2013 Mills Reef Elspeth One, Gimblett Gravels
SYRAH, Thursday June 22: ( scroll down )
2013 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz Langi, Grampians, Victoria
2013 Yann Chave Hermitage, Northern Rhone Valley
2013 Bilancia Syrah La Collina, Roy's Hill
2013 Church Road Syrah Tom, Hawkes Bay
2013 Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol, Hawkes Bay
2013 Elephant Hill Syrah Airavata, Hawkes Bay
2013 Expatrius Syrah, Waiheke Island
2013 Sacred Hill Syrah Deerstalkers, Gimblett Gravels
2013 Te Mata Syrah Bullnose, The Triangle
2013 Trinity Hill Syrah Homage, Gimblett Gravels
2013 Villa Maria Syrah Reserve, Gimblett Gravels
2013 Wairau River Syrah Reserve, Marlborough
2013 Coopers Creek Syrah Reserve, Hawkes Bay
2013 Matua Syrah Matheson Vineyard, The Triangle
General Conclusions from the Two Tastings:
When it comes to New Zealand red wines (other than pinot noir) of international calibre, and thinking mainly of Hawkes Bay and Waiheke Island, a good number of New Zealand winemakers consider 2013 the pre-eminent quality vintage so far, in the re-birth of the New Zealand wine industry. Yes, 2014 may have some better syrah wines, and there are certainly fine 2015 wines in the wings, which will need to be taken seriously, but for now, 2013 is the most exciting red-wine vintage we have had in New Zealand, in the modern era.
It is surprising therefore, that when these two detailed and carefully selected tastings of the best 2013 vintage red wines in New Zealand were offered in Auckland recently, along with equally carefully selected 2013 vintage overseas wines from the districts which would be most relevant to benchmarking the achievements of the New Zealand wines, not one single person from the New Zealand wine industry 'Establishment' (formerly The Wine Institute of New Zealand, now New Zealand WineGrowers), or its principal publicity vehicle, New Zealand WineGrower magazine, had any interest in attending, and seeing and documenting exactly how these New Zealand wines measured up. Several of the wines offered are never seen in industry judgings, are rare at the best of times, and the $400 Babich commemorative wine has never before been offered for public tasting in New Zealand. If WineGrowers staff were not interested in the significance to the industry of the results of this tasting, you would think there would at least be somebody employed in the upper echelons of the industry establishment who actually liked tasting good wine for its own sake, and talking about it. But apparently not, despite being notified.
Adding value: For decades now, at least since the United Kingdom joined the EEC in 1973, primary producers in New Zealand have been exhorted to add value before exporting goods. The principle is well-established. WineGrowers Annual report each year makes much of this concept by implication, as part of its Vision for New Zealand wine to be renowned around the world. As a practical expression of that goal, the immediate objective is to continue the year-on-year increase in the value of exported New Zealand wine to $2 billion by the year 2020. They note that there has been an increase in the value of wine exports every single year for the last 21 years.
Though the industry makes much of what it refers to as our cool-climate winestyles (surely temperate-climate would be a more positive concept), nonetheless the actual significance of our climate does not seem to be intrinsically understood. The New Zealand viticultural climate is near-unique in world terms. Due to our latitude, and our lack of a large landmass creating extremes of climate, we have a temperate climate which in nett taste terms very closely matches the finest classical wine districts on Earth. People will argue for ever as to which places constitute fine and classical wine districts, and some countries are notably bellicose in advancing their claims in this matter, no matter how spurious they may be. But for the purposes of this discussion, and thinking mostly (but not entirely) of red wines, the great, classical, temperate-climate wine districts which provide the benchmarks for the world are still found in France including Alsace, and (a little to one side) Germany. New Zealand, perhaps more than any country on Earth, can mimic and to a degree match these places. And not only in beverage wine, but in fine wine. Fine wine would be the ultimate value-added product in the whole viticultural sector, worth tens of American dollars per bottle.
But all too often, as the above disinterest in these critical New Zealand fine wine tastings indicates, wine industry leaders appear to be much too preoccupied with bulk wine exports, where 'bulk' can mean vast container-size bladders (up to 24,000 litres in capacity) of beverage-quality supermarket sauvignon blanc selling to an insatiable market in the United Kingdom initially, and latterly and progressively, Australia and America, the latter now being our principal export market. These wines are basic quality, relative to the best sauvignon blanc New Zealand can now produce,
but even our basic-quality sauvignon blanc just happens to be better than anybody else's. Why ? Our climate, primarily, and to a degree, our technology. And because of the extraordinary subtlety of our climate, industry leaders now have their eyes set on repeating this near-lowest-common-denominator approach, and making New Zealand pinot noir, the most fickle of red grapes, the supermarket basic red wine of choice in these same markets. Why ? More because affordable pinot noir is seen as the stepping-stone wine to weaning wine-drinkers off white wines, and into discovering red wines, rather than the challenge of capturing the intrinsic beauty and complexity of fine pinot noir. Matching the red wines of Burgundy has long been the goal for winemakers in fact interested in wine.
The latest New Zealand WineGrowers Annual Report (2016) shows that 85.6% of all wine exports leaving New Zealand is sauvignon blanc, half of all wine exports are in bulk, and the average price received for bulk white wine exports is is $NZ4.30 per litre (i.e. $3.23 per 750ml bottle equivalent), FoB, and free of all taxes and duties. When you think what the average $NZ10 (retail) bottled sauvignon tastes like, these are pretty straightforward wines. Conversely, the average price received for bottled wine exports is $NZ8.81 (i.e. $NZ6.61 per 750 ml bottle equivalent) so once again, the kinds of wine that the industry makes so much noise about is for the most part inclining to the sound and straightforward. As noted, though, it happens to be as good as or better than the competition. The Wine Economist website notes that once again in 2016, for bottled wine New Zealand enjoys the highest average price per bottle among 11 countries, in the United Kingdom (mainly supermarket) wine market: at ₤4.31 / litre (₤3.20 per 750 ml for 24,600,000 litres sold. This is more than twice the price of the lowest (₤1.75 / litre for Spain). The point of this discussion is to highlight that though the wine industry establishment's pride in the growing value of New Zealand wine exports is understandable, its emphasis on the lower end should be seen more as providing the broad initial commercial foundation for future New Zealand wine exports, rather than the goal in itself.
And harking back to the lack of industry interest in the tastings reported on below, you have to think that if the management of New Zealand WineGrower considers that its readership has no interest in knowing how New Zealand's first $400 red wine measures up in a rigorously blind tasting in comparison with both New Zealand's best wines, and some highly relevant overseas wines, then the industry does in fact have a problem. Perhaps the mindset towards wine-as-a-commodity export is more deeply rooted than even the numbers suggest.
On the plus side, the exciting component of these facts is: firstly, New Zealand bulk sauvignon overseas is already better than the quality sought by the lowest common denominator sector of the wine market, thus eliminating consumers who are driven solely by price. The implication is therefore, that our overseas customers are a little bit interested in quality, even if in only the simplest way. It does not take much study of New Zealand domestic sauvignon blanc, to know that raising the quality of New Zealand export sauvignon blanc will be both easy, and on-going for many, many years, for those winemakers who are prepared to taste more widely, and learn more about wine quality. But secondly, it also follows, that for that market above the lowest common denominator consumer, once a person gets a taste for wine, the chances are that gradually they will seek better wine. Hence the scope for progressively meeting an ever more informed market, and thus exporting better New Zealand wine, may be almost unlimited, if only more of our winemakers (and wine judges and winewriters too) would make more effort to learn exactly what comprises 'better' wine. The fact that stalky and under-ripe wines, and sometimes thin wines, are still being rewarded with high praise in New Zealand domestic wine circles shows how far we have to go. In this context it is worth noting that apart from Michael Cooper, with whom these Library Tastings were planned, not one New Zealand winewriter was interested enough in the present standard of New Zealand red wine to attend either of these tastings, notwithstanding that at the time of the tasting, there was no record of any person (outside the winery) having ever tasted the Babich $400 cabernet either on its own, or more importantly, blind with comparable wines. That way lies parochialism. [ Post-publication: It transpires that two senior winewriters were overseas, at the time of the tastings.]
Confidence, and the imperative need to taste widely: I have been presenting tastings of New Zealand and imported wines for 40 years now. In recent years I have taken carefully structured tastings of New Zealand and imported wines to Auckland, Hawkes Bay, Marlborough and Otago, having notified all winemakers and wine industry people within a 350 km radius, on each occasion. Even though there are now around 675 wineries in New Zealand, it continues to bewilder me how few New Zealand winemakers have a practical interest in learning about absolute wine quality and wine standards, in tasting why French wine is at best so good, and why the French Appellation d'Origine regulations with their emphasis on yield (and hence dry extract in the finished wine) are so critically important to New Zealand wine practice. In each district, it is only the leading winemakers who participate in such tastings. It is surprising how often you get the impression that many winemakers do not in fact particularly like wine, in the way the true amateur of wine does. To too many, it is a job, not a passion.
Yet as outlined, our temperate viticultural climate can at best approximate to the climate of the leading wine-producing districts of France. Almost uniquely in the world, New Zealand has the potential to match nearly all the classic wines of mid and northern France (at a practical market level, not the prestige wines driven by other factors), if only we would learn to study those wines more closely, and have a much clearer understanding of the viticultural and winemaking goals we need to pursue, to achieve that goal. I am not the first to say this. The most critical such evaluation came from Steven Spurrier (a vastly experienced claret man) in 2006, in Decanter magazine (United Kingdom), when he said quite explicitly, that of all the wine places on Earth, Hawkes Bay cabernet / merlot and related wines possessed the greatest affinity with the fine wines of Bordeaux, in terms of delicacy and style. Fine Bordeaux remains the yardstick, in the cabernet /merlot class. The corollary to that observation is: it is critical for us in New Zealand to register that because of the over-riding influence of climate on wine style, we can learn very little from Australia or the USA, in seeking the highest level of quality in New Zealand red wine. Those countries can teach us about wine technology, but not wine style. And the key point there is, in practical terms it is nett wine taste (or wine style) that matters to the customer, not wine technology.
It is no coincidence that in New Zealand, those producers who have been trail-blazers and standard setters are notorious for the extent to which they regularly taste and tune-up on imported wines. Think Te Mata Estate, or latterly, Felton Road. Whereas my experience in presenting tastings suited to learning about French wine standards is, many New Zealand winemakers could not care less. How far therefore the industry as a whole has to go, and how relevant to New Zealand too is the introductory quote from Neal Martin, when referring to United Kingdom sparkling producers.
Likewise, how disappointing it is that industry leaders in Auckland show so little interest in learning about wine quality for themselves. But the corollary is immensely empowering: with a more enlightened approach, there is almost unlimited scope for New Zealand wine to improve in world terms, and for export wine to move incrementally to an increasing ratio of higher-priced bottles, building on the wonderfully broad commercial base that is now established. This fits in exactly with WineGrowers' vision for New Zealand wine. Few countries have such exciting wine export prospects ahead of them. So there is a continuing challenge lying ahead for New Zealand wine, both commercial wine, and more particularly fine wine, which for the latter we are not thinking about sufficiently.
Kumeu River has already shown what can be achieved by committed New Zealand wine producers making wine to international standards, with on-going success for many years now in Wine Spectator (including featuring in the magazine's Top 100 Wines for the Year) and the USA generally, where their chardonnay sells for up to $US49. Latterly they have added to that, in the extraordinary, even exhilarating, results of a comparative tasting set up by Farr Vintners, London: An Amazing Blind Tasting - Kumeu River triumphs over top white Burgundies. And Trinity Hill amongst others has been testing even higher prices in the USA, with their syrah Homage having been available there since the 2010 vintage, at up to $US100 per bottle. Felton Road is further down this track, with their pinot noir on allocation to the USA, where the wines meet good demand at prices up to US$85 per bottle. Felton Road has been exporting to 35 countries worldwide for 10 years now.
But sadly, if industry leaders are not interested in either tasting New Zealand's finest wines blind with comparable imported wines, or observing how an informed audience responds to these wines, or in promulgating the results of such a tasting, how can they they effectively represent the full diversity of New Zealand wine producers ? There is much more to New Zealand wine than beverage sauvignon blanc. The unfortunate fact is, too many of our industry leaders still suffer from one thus-far insurmountable handicap. Whereas in so much of New Zealand life, in literature, the performing arts, some aspects of horticulture, farming, technical innovation and education (and of course sport) there is now a quiet confidence in our achievements, and a secure feeling of New Zealand nationhood, in the wine industry too many of its leaders remain pathetically prey to 'the New Zealand cultural cringe', expressed via the insatiable need for overseas endorsement.
The wine industry still spends appreciable sums of money every year, flying in overseas commentators to assess and report on our wines. By virtue of their complimentary air tickets and accommodation, these people are compromised. Will they say anything their generous hosts don't want to hear ? Human nature makes that unlikely – or very rare. Are these people exposed to carefully structured blind tastings where equal numbers of New Zealand wines and comparable-quality and matching overseas benchmark wines are presented to them in a non-confronting way, with the goal of establishing exactly how the New Zealand wines measure up ? Very rarely. When these people visit us to participate in judgings, they see only New Zealand wines, to exhaustion. If they are guest speakers at Conferences, usually the imported wines are seen in a separate session. And sometimes the wines are not well-chosen. The opportunity to see the actual achievements of New Zealand fine wine revealed in an unambiguous benchmarking format is lost. Thus New Zealand Winegrowers' vision for New Zealand wine is not advanced as well as it could be, even though the Annual Report makes much of the role of these overseas visitors in promoting New Zealand wine. In 2017, this whole state of affairs is really most extraordinary.
Benchmarking tastings: Hence if we wish to obtain a more objective assessment of the level of achievement in New Zealand fine wine, and if we want New Zealand winemakers to think more critically about the quality of wine they need to make to export fine wine successfully, it is important to set up rigorously blind tastings in New Zealand, with wines agreed to be the best New Zealand can produce, alongside agreed standard-bearer overseas wines from the key grape varieties and the key wine districts. In practical terms this means France, since nobody is likely to get rich trying to export New Zealand riesling, no matter how good it is. This was the goal of these two Library Tastings, at Villa Maria winery, Mangere. And the results from these two tastings showed completely unequivocally that the best New Zealand wines are of totally international fine-wine quality, and are competing at the level of imported wines of $60, $90, and up to $120 domestic value. In my view it is vainglorious to set up such comparative tastings at the level of the Bordeaux First Growths, etc, as Hawkes Bay producers did a few years ago. Step by step, starting realistically small, is the answer. And not only should industry leaders be setting up these tastings.
It is the results from tastings such as these that New Zealand WineGrowers should be promulgating. And once they have gained experience in presenting such tastings seamlessly in New Zealand, and writing them up and publishing the results in New Zealand WineGrower, they should be doing exactly the same presentations in London, Washington, San Francisco, Sydney and Melbourne ... ad lib ... and The East in due course. The key will be a tasting format which succeeds in attracting respected and opinion-leading winewriters to attend the tastings, and report on them in a more neutral context than as a result of a free trip. Therefore the quality of the tastings will be paramount, since winewriters grow weary of marketing presentations. There seems very little evidence that overseas winewriters ever set-up rigorously blind, cross-country, wine evaluations, in the way we do in New Zealand, so in this, too, we could be standard-setters. The Farr Vintners exercise mentioned earlier is rare.
Marketing hype: a caveat: In any discussion of wine quality, price, and what constitutes 'fine wine', consumers must constantly be on guard against believing the utterances of wine marketers. In 2000 the Winemakers' Federation of Australia set out suggested price guidelines for tiers of wine quality, using the following terminology: Basic, < AU$5; Premium, AU$5 – $9.99; Super-Premium, AU$10 – $14.99; Ultra-Premium: AU$15 – $49.99; Icon, AU$50 and up. Applying the Reserve Bank Inflation Calculator to those numbers, a 50% increase suffices, to achieve 2017 values. In plain English, the notion of a $15 – $22 wine being 'super-premium' in quality is a laughable (or contemptible) devaluing of the language. But that is the way wine marketers think.
The importance of 'Presentation' for fine wines: The winemakers covered in this article are presumably striving to not only make fine wine by New Zealand standards, but also by international standards. To this end, the majority of the bottles were cork-closed, not screwcap – in 2017, a surprise at first sight. If makers seek to create an impression of quality by using cork closures, it is imperative they get the detail right, in the sense of a bottle finished to fine French wine standards, namely:
# a 49mm cork at least;
# the cork clearly showing the winery name spelled out, not just an icon;
# the cork clearly showing the vintage.
One wine astonishingly had not one of these attributes correct, two in each tasting did not give the winery, three in each tasting were not vintage-dated. You cannot help wondering, just how many French quality bottles do New Zealand winemakers in fact open ? This ties in with the discussion above, on the ever-present need to taste widely, if New Zealand is to succeed in the export of fine wine.
Results from the Auckland Tastings: For these two comparative tastings in Auckland, specifically, both sold out, to keen wine people. In contrast to the lack of interest from industry leaders, there was good interest from a younger (or newer) generation of winemakers from Waiheke Island, Clevedon and Matakana, as well as wine-lovers more generally. As a measure of the kind of interest in wine I am talking about in this review, one taster flew up from Wellington, for the cabernet / merlots. And the results were clear-cut, in both the cabernet-style wines and the syrahs. The New Zealand wines more than matched the well-regarded French and Australian (and even one famous Californian) wines also included as foils. They matched them in taste terms, and the best matched them in technical terms such as dry extract (even though this factor could not be physically measured on this occasion), a key parameter of wine quality which our winemakers are still reluctant to come to grips with, and understand. The best of the cabernet / merlot wines raise New Zealand bordeaux-style reds to a new level. They are clearly of better classed growth standard (noting that some of the Fifth Growths now rank with the Second Growths). Similarly, the better syrahs unequivocally match good wines from Hermitage or Cote Rotie, depending on style. For both evenings, the most popular wine was a New Zealand one, not an overseas wine. This would have been unthinkable, 20 years ago. Note that the reports below schedule the wines in my ranking, which differs from the group ranking.
Acknowledgements: I appreciated discussions with: Adam Hazeldine, chief winemaker at Babich Wines; John Hancock, formerly chief winemaker at Trinity Hill Wines; Lindsay Spilman, formerly co-owner of Obsidian Vineyard, Waiheke Island; Martin Pickering, chief winemaker, Stonyridge Vineyard, Waiheke Island; and Nick Picone, chief winemaker, Villa Maria Wines. The staff at Villa Maria winery, Mangere, made these tastings in Auckland possible, thanks to the good offices of Ian Clark and Sir George Fistonich. Acknowledgement does not in any way imply that these people agree with or endorse the contents of this review.
References for both Tastings:
Cooper, Michael, successive years: Buyer's Guide to New Zealand Wines. Various publishers.
Kelly, Geoff, 2015: Dry Extract and the 2013 red vintage in Hawkes Bay: www.geoffkellywinereviews.co.nz/index.php?ArticleID=234
Livingstone-Learmonth, John, 2005: The Wines of the Northern Rhone. University of California Press, 704 p.
New Zealand WineGrowers Annual Report 2016, 41 p.
Parker, Robert M., 2003: Bordeaux, Fourth Edition.
Simon & Schuster, New York, 1244 p.
www.robertparker.com various authors (subscription needed)
www.winecompanion.com.au James Halliday mainly (subscription needed)
www.winespectator.com various authors (subscription needed)
Introductory material provided for tasters:
Two years ago I reported on two Worth Cellaring tastings covering the 2013 vintage in Hawkes Bay, presented in Wellington. There the goal was much the same as for our two tastings this week, to get a clear impression of the quality of the 2013 vintage, though not at the elevated level with overseas foils we have now. In summing up the two tastings I reported:
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 some 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.
From the winery viewpoint, Craggy Range in May 2015 described the 2013 vintage as the: ... vintage of a generation, one that may only be experienced once every 25 years. Te Mata Estate, along with Mission Estate the longest-established premium winery in Hawkes Bay, has this to say on their website: The 2013 growing season was the driest in recent memory. Water stress in the vineyard is one of the factors leading to wine quality, particularly with red grapes. The other main quality factor is heat. The 2013 season in Hawkes Bay was exactly average in heat summation. ... Flavours, tannins and colours develop steadily to the best potential instead of the headlong rush which can happen in hotter climates.
The British wine magazine Decanter had a news report on the quality of the 2013 vintage in Hawkes Bay in their May 2013 issue. They quoted Tony Bish, speaking as chairman of the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowers Association (and chief winemaker at Sacred Hill) as saying: 2013 is the best in living memory ... the stuff legends are made of. He also said: ... the quality of the fruit is just terrific, the best in my 32 years, a great Merlot year.
In my review of the 2014 Hawkes Bay Winegrowers Hot Red Expo ... my notes for the 2013 vintage across the whole district included: A remarkably good long summer, and not unduly hot. El Nino early summer, La Nina later didn't help the April 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. ... Some reports of delayed physiological maturity and syrahs and cabernets running out of warmth ...
One interesting detail concerns cabernet sauvignon. There is some difference of opinion as to whether 2013 was an excellent cabernet year. Some felt the variety did not quite achieve perfection. Craggy Range for example did not make their cabernet-led The Quarry in 2013. Babich however did make their $400 100 Year Cabernet Sauvignon, which implies they were clearly happy with the variety. Villa Maria likewise made a completely new wine, their $150 Ngakirikiri Cabernet Sauvignon. Steve Skinner at Elephant Hill has also expressed total confidence in the variety that year. And Chris Scott at the Church Road winery, producer of the famous Tom Cabernet / Merlot, simply says: 2013 was an exceptional year for the Bordeaux red varieties in Hawkes Bay.
So, all things considered, we have the makings of two exciting tastings. And unlike the previous two in Wellington, this time we have some quite famous overseas wines in the blind tasting. They will help calibrate the extent to which near-perfect ripening was attained in cabernet sauvignon. In particular, Ch Leoville-Barton may provide a sub-optimal yardstick, since the 2013 vintage in Bordeaux was modest, rated 81 points by Parker, and 84 points by Wine Spectator, the latter noting: Reds are light and easy. At the other extreme, we have 2013 Dominus ($US250), the highly regarded Moueix Napa Valley Cabernet. The 2013 is widely regarded as one of the top 12 wines of the vintage, for all California. And Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River, West Australia, is rated quite simply as one of the best cabernets in Australia.
[ The handout then scheduled the wines, with information for each. That detail is now included in the 'admin' section for each wine, below:]
TASTING 1 – THE CABERNET / MERLOT WINES REVIEWED:
# Values given are current from wine-searcher, original price given later in the text, where available:
The wines best illustrating variations on the cabernet / merlot (or bordeaux winestyle) theme, and thus setting the standard for New Zealand winemakers: From the left: 2013 Puriri Hills Pope, fragrant red fruits, cedary oak still to marry up, 18.5; 2013 Church Road Tom, rich wine near-Californian in style, 18.5 +; 2013 Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon Ngakirikiri, powerful youthful wine, 19; 2013 Elephant Hill Hieronymus, vibrant berry quality, 19; 2013 Stonyridge Larose, complete and complex bordeaux-style, 19 +; 2013 Babich 100 Years Cabernet Sauvignon, sensational temperate-climate pure cabernet, 19 +.
Dense ruby, carmine to a degree, and velvet, a little more age showing than some, the fourth deepest. Bouquet is simply exhilarating. It is like a laser-beam illuminating the concepts of violets, cassis and cabernet sauvignon, the whole aroma one of crystalline purity. There have been odd bordeaux like this for me over the years, but the vibrancy, precision and mouthwatering purity of this bouquet is of a quality rarely encountered. Palate follows harmoniously to a degree that is unbelievable. Normally straight cabernet sauvignon is characterised by its great bouquet and aromatics, but then the palate lacking a little, crying out for softer plummy merlot to flesh it out. Not this wine. The quality of vibrant berry on palate is both long and sufficiently wide, and the depth of cassisy flavour supported by beautiful cedary oak is exquisite. Acid and tannin balances are superb. For those who understand classical Bordeaux, this is is an extraordinary and revelatory New Zealand wine. For those brought up on the writings of New World winewriters, with their preference for big, over-ripe and over-oaked wines they simply will not get it. This wine epitomises the beauty achievable in cabernet sauvignon in temperate-climate viticultural regions analogous with Bordeaux, in a near-perfect year. Reference to the 100-point Dominus in this tasting, a very highly-rated Californian cabernet, but hot-climate by comparison with the Babich, amply confirms the point. This wine sets a new standard for cabernet-dominated wines in New Zealand. Since it also commemorates a remarkable achievement for a winery in a young wine country, and since there is so little of it, it would be carping to comment on the price, other than to note it is unlikely to be sustained. One person rated the Babich the top wine in the tasting, two their second, so it wasn't a stand-out for the group. My advice is, bide your time, watch out for this wine coming up at auction: it is a fair bet people won't pay the release price. Cellar 10 40 years, maybe longer. GK 06/17
Ruby, carmine and velvet, the second deepest wine, and one of the freshest, a glorious colour. Freshly opened this wine is infantile. Open and decant it hours ahead of using it. It opens up to present a wonderfully vibrant aromatic cassisy version of the concept bordeaux style. In with the cassis are perfectly ripe blackberries in the sun, enticing. In mouth the berry flavours are vibrant and fresh, even firm, not the singular focus of the Babich 100-Years wine, a more complex array of berry flavours reflecting the more complex cepage. Texture, richness and body in the wine are absolutely of classed growth Bordeaux standards, as the dry extract confirms, with the fruit superbly matched to cedary oak. Acid and tannin balances are exemplary. This is a wine to match and in fact easily surpass the quality of 1987 Stonyridge Larose, which I reported on at the time in National Business Review as being the finest red wine in New Zealand, from the 1987 vintage. The 1987 is still superb today, as fully mature wine, so it follows: cellar this wine for 10 40 years, probably 50. For the group, two people rated this their top wine, one their second. In my view, this 2013 wine confirms Stonyridges ranking, as one of the top two or three vineyards in New Zealand. This position can only be augmented by winemaker Martin Pickering advising that from the 2016 vintage, Stonyridge will be bottling Larose with leading-edge M A Silva premium One-by-One corks. Finally a cork company (this one based in Sonoma County) has solved the technical difficulties of assessing each and every cork by gas phase spectroscopy, and guaranteeing every cork is free from TCA. At a cost of roughly $1.50 per cork, 40% more than a standard 49mm cork, this is the consumers ultimate safeguard. Great news. GK 06/17
Ruby, carmine and velvet, in the middle for depth of colour, one of the freshest. Right from opening, this wine has an exhilarating floral component evoking violets and darkest roses, as well as cassis and berry. This is another wine to be so fresh and vibrant as to be mouth-watering on the berry quality. Wines from hotter climates simply cannot achieve this magical aromatic berry quality. This is why the best Hawkes Bay and Waiheke Island reds will have the capability to match the fine classed growths of Bordeaux. On palate despite the risky percentage of malbec (if absolute elegance is the goal, compare with The Terraces) the beauty of perfectly ripe berry-fruit continues, with supporting oak never dominating. Tannins are ripe, acid fractionally soft maybe. The wine is still very youthful, like the Larose, but is on track to become a wonderful bottle of wine, Medoc-style. Two people rated this their top wine of the evening, and three their second. Cellar 10 40 years. GK 06/17
Ruby, carmine and velvet, the deepest and densest colour, and one of the freshest. Bouquet right from the outset doesn't quite capture the crystalline purity of cassis that the Babich 100 Years wine shows. To me the difference is the quality of the oak, this wine showing the more familiar dry hessian notes of standard French oak, vs the magical cedary notes one or two of these wines show. But that aside (and it may be merely youth), the volume of the cassis-led bouquet here is wonderful, with great berry purity. On bouquet you also think there is more plummy merlot than the cepage allows. Flavour likewise is a little softer and wider than the Babich, belying the 97% cabernet sauvignon, but the oak has a lot more marrying away to do. The intensity and richness of this wine is such that will cellar for at least 40 years, more likely 50 under screwcap, and thus it has ample opportunity to become ever more harmonious. It is richer than the Babich wine, as is Hieronymus. Dry extract tells. Two people rated this their top wine, and one their second. Since it is still available, this is a wine to buy by the case, for twenty-first anniversaries and other events even further in the future. GK 06/17
Ruby, carmine and velvet, midway in depth. This wine has a voluminous bouquet, lots of berry, lots of oak, lots of alcohol, very big and very ripe, a real crowd-pleaser. Digging deeper, there are still cassis aromatics, but it is touch and go for the level of ripeness, there not being the freshness some of the more highly-marked wines show. Palate follows exactly from the bouquet, big, rich, soft and velvety (if you ignore the alcohol) but the flavours are all tending just a little brown and over-ripe, by classical Bordeaux standards. It is a wine moving towards a hotter-climate wine style, reminiscent of a year in Bordeaux like 2003, where sur-maturité was a widely-acknowledged problem. So Church Road has a dilemma, particularly so since we sit next door to a hot-climate wine country: do you strive to make the most popular fine wine, in a market where most consumers adore / are seduced by oak (and alcohol) ? Or do you strive to make the greatest wine by classical Bordeaux wine standards that our very special viticultural climate can uniquely produce. Noting that the French abhor sur-maturité. Tasters liked this wine, five rating it their top wine, three their second. Interestingly, five thought it from California: that is certainly the style the wine achieves. Cellar 10 35 years, maybe longer. GK 06/17
Ruby, the second-lightest wine in depth of colour. This wine stands out in the tasting for exactly the same reason that Ch Cheval-Blanc stands out in a line-up of Medocs and Pomerols. There is an extraordinary fragrance and freshness of bouquet centred on red fruits, almost red currant and raspberry, as if the wine were cabernet franc dominant. Heaven knows exactly what carmenere character is like in New Zealand, but those two varieties are about 10% each, and merlot 70%. Red fruits are backed up by oak of dazzling cedary quality, vastly different from and finer than the oak in Ngakirikiri. In mouth the wine is hard to judge, at this stage. There is a bit much oak for the weight of fruit, interfering with sensory estimation of both total acid and dry extract. It is not one of the richest wines, but it is probably richer than 2013 Coleraine. As the score indicates, I'm giving the wine the benefit of the doubt. At the moment it is the quality of bouquet that is commanding. The proprietor's goal is to make a great East Bank / Saint Emilion winestyle in New Zealand. The 2010s and now this 2013 wine show that they are well on track. Two people rated this their top wine, two their second. The contrast in style vis-a-vis the other wines was noted, six people thinking this might be the Californian wine. Cellar 10 35 years. GK 06/17
Ruby and velvet, the third deepest, older-looking than some. This wine stood out in the tasting for several reasons. It was so different it had to be positioned as wine 12 in the sequence, to not interfere with other wines. The bouquet smells first and foremost of alcohol, saturated with quite different fruit aromas to the other wines. There is no fresh aromatic berry component at all, but instead aromas evocative of cooked blueberries, canned guavas, glacé figs, and 8 10-year-old bottled black doris plums. Those who have old bottled fruit in their pantry will know they are perfectly enjoyable, but all the gloriously vibrant and fresh red-fruit characters are lost over the years, to be replaced by browning and softer fruity aromas and flavours. Good cassis / fresh bottled blackcurrants aroma is a key component of fine temperate-climate cabernet, and fine Bordeaux, but on that attribute this wine simply misses the boat, through considerable sur-maturité. In flavour and mouthfeel terms, it is most closely allied with the Church Road Tom, velvety rich and soft but no fresh red fruits at all, a large quantity of oak to give tannin backbone, but on the swallow it all finishes with an alcohol burn, a hint of prunes and tar, and oak. Just compare this impression with the Babich 100-Years: they are light years apart, even though Dominus is richer. It is almost inconceivable this Dominus could come from Bordeaux: 2003 Ch Pavie (from Saint-Emilion, and severely castigated as a young wine by Jancis Robinson, for being hopelessly over-ripe) is delicate in comparison. So therefore you would assume only hot-climate tasters, that is, those habituated to hot-climate wines, would rate this Dominus 100 points. Parker is well known and well-understood to like this kind of big wine; Decanters new Californian taster William Kelley would appear to be falling into the same trap; but how do we explain the views of the vastly experienced and eminently down-to-earth Andrew Jefford, from England ? Note his words: dark / earth / black / bitter (I am being selective) and he ends up with 99. Perhaps he was on location. So interesting, an experience since it is obviously an enormously serious wine but ultimately a disappointment, in the fresh vibrant company of the day. A bit like Grange, a monument of a wine, not to be dissected. Cellar 15 50 years. Two people rated Dominus their top wine, two their second favourite, and four thought it Californian. GK 06/17
Ruby, some carmine and velvet, just above midway in depth. This is a hard wine to report on, it being in two parts. Whereas some others in the tasting have enchanting bouquets, and then the palate falls away, this is the reverse. Initial bouquet is raw and edgy, quite strong, showing all the hard tannins and lack of charm young malbec is famous for. There are no sweet florals here, and little enchantment of cassis. But it is beautifully pure, the oak seems appropriate (just), and maybe there is dark plummy fruit behind. The flavour however is quite different: immediately there is a generosity of bottled omega plum fruit, firm cedary oak, and considerable length and breadth. You therefore wonder if the lack of bouquet merely reflects its infantile state, and it shouldn't be tasted for 10 years. The palate richness is very good indeed, though there is no dry extract rating available for the wine, I would not be surprised if it achieves 30g / litre. On balance the palate is exciting, but will the whole wine end up being beautiful, or just rich and sustaining like best Argentinian malbec ? I must admit the later palate and aftertaste is totally berry-dominant, delightful, boding well. One taster rated it their top wine, and three their second favourite. Cellar 10 40 + years. GK 06/17
Ruby, a flush of carmine and velvet, below midway in depth. This wine has an enchanting bouquet, tending to red fruits like the Puriri Hills, exquisite purity, subtle oak, understated, in fact not a big bouquet, you have to work at it. Flavour however is a little less: there are attractive berry flavours well balanced to oak, but basically the wine lacks stuffing, and there is just a hint of austerity on the later palate. You couldnt say it was stalky, but after the bouquet, you wish for more amplitude. Curious that none of the reviews touch on this aspect of the wine. Te Mata have shown with Coleraine that wines with this set of attributes in fact cellar remarkably well, so the advice is simple: don't touch a bottle until the traditional Bordeaux maxim for quality wines is met 2023. Being merlot-led, it may well end up more a Saint-Emilion style to Coleraines Margaux / Saint-Julien, but both will be fragrant and food-friendly wines, of similar weight. Sophia snuck into the tasting as first reserve, the 2013 Coleraine in the original line-up being TCA-affected. Nobody rated this their top wine, but four had it as their second-favourite. Cellar 10 25 years. GK 06/17
Ruby and velvet, older than some, below midway in depth. One sniff and this is Pomerol in style, darkly plummy / bottled black doris aromas and oak, much deeper and quieter than most of the wines. Nonetheless it is wonderfully pure. Palate is almost too black in flavour at this point, a lack of red-fruits freshness raising a doubt about sur-maturité here too, though the given alcohol tends to contradict that. There is a certain dryness to the palate at the moment, which may be just a stage in its evolution, but again the thought of austerity. This wine was very much in the middle for tasters, having no votes for first or second place. Cellar 10 30 years: once it loses some tannins a gentler side should emerge. GK 06/17
Ruby, some velvet, the third to lightest wine. Bouquet is fresh and fragrant, in a way similar to the Craggy Range Sophia. When you put them right alongside, the Moss Wood has a slight aromatic lift, but you couldn't even go as far as saying a suggestion of mint. For cabernet sauvignon, the berry character though wonderfully pure lacks precision and excitement: it is more blueberry and bottled red plums, and takes a long time to open up. There is very little cassis vibrancy and charm, even though it does smell berry-rich. Initial palate is attractive, juicy berry-fruits, subtle and fine oak, a similar weight to the Craggy Range, but whereas the Craggy has a beautiful natural-acid finish tapering away to nothing, the Moss Wood goes spikey in the mouth, finishing up on angular tartaric acid which exacerbates the oak impression. It is intriguing reading the Australian wine commentary, that their wine people are unable to smell eucalyptus, or taste tartaric acid. I have rated this wine more highly on an earlier occasion: as the wise mentor Harry Waugh said so often: any wine rating has validity only in reference to the other wines tasted on the day. In this remarkable set of wines, even a top-rated Australian cabernet is up against sheer quality, in international terms. This wine attracted no votes, as to place: interesting given both the calibre of attendees, and the reputation of the wine. Cellar 10 30 years. GK 06/17
Ruby, the lightest wine by a wide margin. Bouquet is delightful, fresh, lively red and darker berries, a suggestion of cassis, dark plums, and subtle oak to balance, forthcoming from the moment it is opened, totally pure. Palate is markedly less, the fruit petite and just ripe, red plums more than black, happily avoiding any methoxypyrazine notes but nonetheless a hint of stalk is evident, and total acid is up. Given the modest year climatically in Bordeaux, the wine is charming and complete, but decidedly small-scale. In terms of dry extract, because it was a lesser year in Bordeaux, the wine reminds of Hawkes Bay Cabernet / Merlots from about the year 2000, except the New Zealand wines were then much too oaky, whereas this Leoville-Barton is perfectly judged. One person rated it their second favourite wine, but tellingly, seven rated it the least wine of the evening the only wine with a clear vote for this attribute. A certain class of food-writer would describe this as a delightful luncheon wine. Cellar 5 18 years. GK 06/17
Introductory material provided for tasters:
[ The handout for the second Library Tasting had the same Introduction to the 2103 vintage as for the first cabernet / merlot one, as above, apart from the concluding two paragraphs: ]
In the Introduction to the cabernet / merlot tasting, I mentioned that there was some debate as to whether 2013 was a 'perfect' cabernet sauvignon year. For syrah, there is the thought that though 2013 was excellent for the grape, for some producers 2014 may have been even better, specifically for syrah. And looking ahead, the same debate may arise for 2015. The main conclusion to be drawn is that Hawkes Bay has had three remarkable years in succession, but not equally so for all three main grapes, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah. The topic will provide much interest for structured tastings, for years to come.
So, all things considered, we have the makings of two exciting tastings. And unlike the previous two in Wellington, this time we have two highly-rated overseas wines in the blind tasting. In particular the cool-climate 2013 Langi Ghiran Shiraz Langi from the Grampians district of Victoria is considered one of Australia's best shirazes (in the non-heroic style), and will thus illuminate our syrahs, and the syrah from Hermitage proper will clarify whether our best syrahs can in fact approximate to the absolute French benchmark district for the variety.
[ The handout then scheduled the wines, with information for each. That detail is now included in the 'admin' section for each wine, below:]
TASTING 2 – THE SYRAH WINES REVIEWED:
# Values given are current from wine-searcher, original price given later in the text, where available:
The wines best illustrating syrah (in the sense of Northern Rhone Valley) quality, and thus setting the standard for New Zealand syrah winemakers: From the left: 2013 Church Road Tom, ripe, deep and powerful, 18.5; 2013 Yann Chave Hermitage textbook syrah florals all-through, tanniny, 18.5 +; 2013 Villa Maria Syrah Reserve, amazingly youthful, total Hermitage in style, 19; 2013 Te Mata Estate Syrah Bullnose, supremely fragrant and Cote-Rotie-like, 19 +; 2013 Elephant Hill Syrah Airavata, by far the most popular wine, beautifully varietal, 19 +.
Ruby and velvet, nearly carmine, not as young as some, the third deepest colour. Bouquet shows wonderful purity of dusky rose florals on cassisy dark berry and dark plum fruit, all with added zing from subtle black pepper. This bouquet is a near-perfect expression of optimal syrah varietal quality, the grapes ripened to the aromatic fragrant cassis point on my syrah ripening curve. Initial palate is succulent juicy berry subtly firmed by cedary oak, the flavours rich and aromatic and berry-dominant, not interfered with by alcohol, a delight. At this stage the wine seems infantile alongside Bullnose, with its much more sophisticated elevage, but I expect complexity to increase in cellar. Some might feel the oaking fractionally underdone, and the acid and tannin balances a little soft, but give it time. It is on the late palate that the wonderful richness and texture consequent on a dry extract of 31.9 g/L is apparent: you can feel the slippery thickness, texture and body of the wine on the top of the tongue. This wine was far and away the most-preferred wine of the evening, seven people rating it their top wine, and two their second. A glorious New Zealand syrah matching fine Hermitage, or even Cote Rotie the latter comparison because of its softness. Cellar 10 30 years. GK 06/17
Ruby, some carmine and velvet, well below midway in depth of colour. But any doubts on lack of concentration are dispelled with one sniff of the bouquet. This is by far the most sensational bouquet in the set of 12 wines, showing a florality, complexity, and quality of aroma of a calibre matched by for example the best years of Guigal (village) Cote Rotie, or even their Chateau dAmpuis bottling. The point of picking is perfect to show syrah at its most gloriously floral, confirmed by the given alcohol of 13%, but then all the characteristic classical syrah grape aromas of dianthus, carnations, and old-fashioned red roses are augmented by a quality of oak elevation unmatched in the set. In mouth the wine is not as rich as (notably) Airavata and the Villa Reserve, but it is still pretty good. It is richer than 2013 Coleraine, I think, meaning the dry extract is greater. And the acid and tannin balances are superb. So this wine is a little smaller than some in the company, but it is perfectly formed, little short of exquisite. Total style achieved is Cote Rotie through and through, glorious. Three people rated this their top wine, and it is noteworthy that three thought it the French wine. One could not own too much of this wine, if absolute quality and sheer pleasure in enjoying fine wine at table is the goal of keeping a cellar. Cellar 5 20 years. GK 06/17
Ruby, carmine and velvet, clearly the deepest and freshest wine in the set. Bouquet is youthful and almost awkward alongside the Bullnose, yet all the components are there: dianthus and carnations florals, cassis and bottled black doris plums, black pepper and new French oak. It is just unknit. Impact in mouth is colossal, simply a wall of cassisy berry-fruit which saturates the tongue, black pepper again, then the oak still almost totally unintegrated. Like the Airavata, you can clearly see the wonderful dry extract rating of 31.8 g/L on the long, textured, almost thick (in the best sense) aftertaste. Like the top two wines, purity in this wine is phenomenal. I fully expect this Villa Maria Reserve to match or surpass the top two in 10 and particularly 20 years time, and unlike the top two, its styling is uncompromisingly Hermitage. The British winewriters who persist in their condescending assessment of New Zealand syrah as matching Crozes-Hermitage, obviously never set up rigorously blind tastings with both winemakers participating, and wines from the appellation to be compared alongside, in the way these two tastings were designed and executed. Two people rated the Villa their top wine of the evening, and one their second. It can be confidently cellared 10 30 years, more likely 40 years, under screwcap. GK 06/17
Rich ruby and velvet, not the freshness of some of the New Zealand wines, but the second deepest. Initially opened, the wine is a bit brooding. It opens up to textbook dianthus varietal florals on cassisy and darkly plummy berry, some black pepper, with quite a lot of oak showing, both new and old. Palate is a notch oakier again, a powerful wine, but the first thing you notice is the carnation florals permeate right through the palate, intense, lovely, and unusual. This is an attribute of the finest French wines we still have difficulty matching in New Zealand, both in syrah and pinot noir. The fruit dries more quickly on the tongue than in the top wines, largely due to the interaction with the older cooperage. The richness is not in doubt though, so I suspect this is just a phase. Once this wine crusts in bottle, I think it will be sublime. Like the Villa Reserve, this wine could only be Hermitage, with its power of dark cassisy fruit. Two tasters rated it their top wine, and three thought it the French. Cellar 10 35 years. GK 06/17
Ruby, nearly carmine and velvet, above midway in depth. One sniff and this is a big wine, sweeter, riper, deeper, more concentrated, more oaky, just pouring from the glass. It would be easy to be seduced by such opulence / magnificence. Looking at the wine more closely, the exciting lift on bouquet is more alcohol than florals, but the power of berry is impressive. It tastes as lush and dramatic as it smells, but still not exactly floral, and it is hard to feel that even fresh cassis is clearly delineated. All the fruit is very ripe, but happily it is still clearly within bounds. There is no clumsy boysenberry as characterises so much Australian shiraz. So this is a wine more in the style of 2003 or 2009 (that is, hot years) in Hermitage, years with sur-maturité unless the winemaker was scrupulously careful in picking. Chief winemaker Chris Scott is clear-cut about wanting the soft tannins of ripe fruit, but in pursuing this style, he is at risk of losing one of the particular charms of great Hermitage and Cote Rotie, the complex florals. This is a factor we can ultimately match in New Zealand, as the Bullnose already shows. Few other countries can. Tasting further through the wine, the palate is opulent, but later in the aftertaste and swallow the high alcohol consequent on this approach becomes evident. If Hermitage and Cote Rotie be the yardstick, a little less would give more, in this flagship wine. Two tasters rated Tom their first or second wine, and two thought it Australian. Tellingly, nobody thought it French. One detail re labelling. It is too confusing for people un-versed in the subtleties of bottle shape etc, to now have two very different wines both labelled on the front label, simply Church Road Tom McDonald. The striking front label needs moving up the bottle a little, to add below in red: Syrah (or Cabernet / Merlot) as the case may be. Notwithstanding the detail is on the back label. Cellar 5 30 years. GK 06/17
Ruby and velvet, clearly much older than most, below midway in depth. This wine both smells different, and it does not smell of whole-bunch fermentation in the way one has come to think of it, in New Zealand, from other syrahs adopting this approach. The aroma is both light and floral, but not as piquantly dianthus as the Yann Chave, or as sweetly roses as the Bullnose. The whole bouquet is enchanting, but lighter in the sense of almost red fruits rather than black, meaning cassis, and there is some white pepper as well as black. In short, a puzzle ! In mouth the wine is clearer: in some ways a balance akin to the Chave, and like the Chave you feel it is the older oak you can taste, not the new. Length of flavour and cassisy / darkly plummy berry is good, but there is a suggestion of stalk. On balance there is a quality in the flavour akin more to Cote Rotie charm than Hermitage power. This is a real study wine, with its so-different 100% whole bunch fermentation. Four tasters rated the Bilancia their second wine, but no first places, suggesting I am not alone in finding the wine hard to characterise. Interestingly, three thought it French. Cellar 5 20 years. GK 06/17
Ruby, carmine and velvet, midway in depth. Initially opened, and right through the tasting, the bouquet was reluctant on this bottle of Homage. It smelt much less varietal than La Collina. 24 hours later it had blossomed: a clear dusky pinks / dianthus and carnations florality on dark cassis, and black pepper. It also smells of malbec, at this stage. Palate is another matter altogether: right from the outset, rich darkly plummy fruit, aromatic black pepper, a suggestion of black olives and nutmeg as has characterised Homage for several years, which until this tasting I had assumed was part of the whole-bunch component approach. But the Bilancia is 100% whole bunch, and does not show this character at all. As so often in wine tasting, back to the drawing board. Fruit richness and ripeness seems greater than La Collina, and on palate the wine is much more of a piece. Some might say, one-dimensional. I suspect it is just in a very awkward phase. I acknowledge that it is a cop-out to score Homage and La Collina the same on this occasion, but they are such different wines, each with detracting points. That is how they seem today, noting that on reflection I suspect the bouquet on this bottle may be slightly scalped. Future tastings of the two will be full of interest. Curiously, four people rated Homage their second wine, but just as for La Collina, nobody was captivated, no first places. Cellar 10 35 years. GK 06/17
Ruby, carmine and velvet, above midway in depth. This is a fragrant wine, but the smells are not quite varietal. The florals are attractive though, and the wine smells as if it has a significant whole bunch component, though none is admitted to. There is bright red berry fruit, almost red currant and loganberry, as well as red and black plum. Palate is fresh, reasonable richness, not exactly cassis though, and there is a hint of stalks hard to separate from white and black pepper, with elegant oak. This wine seems the polar opposite of Tom, as if fractionally more ripeness before picking would have achieved more accurate floral, berry, and varietal rendition. One person rated Le Sol their favourite wine, three their second, none thought it French, and interestingly, seven, by far the highest vote, thought it the 100% whole bunch wine. It certainly shares characteristics with La Collina, but is not as rich. Cellar 5 15 years. GK 06/17
Ruby and velvet, clearly the oldest-looking wine, and the second lightest. Bouquet is as different from the set of syrahs as the colour. The wine is very fragrant, and mercifully devoid of coarse euc'y taints, just a hint of Australian flowering mint (Prostanthera) fragrance, on blueberry fruit. Mingled with the blueberry is loganberry. So the bouquet is quite light and lifted in character, and attractive. Palate is different, very good fruit richness, subtle oak, great length of flavour resting on blueberry more than oak, tapering away elegantly still on fruit. It is as if in this location, tartaric adjustment is not needed. Alcohol is less obtrusive than Tom. Blueberry is part of my syrah ripening curve, just past the optimal point of cassis, so this is both an attractive syrah, and an interesting demonstration / teaching wine. Four people rated the Langi the top wine of the evening, and three their second. Eight thought it Australian interesting ... in the sense it was specifically bought as an un-Australian shiraz. Cellar 10 25, maybe 30 years. GK 06/17
Ruby, some carmine and velvet, below midway in depth. Bouquet is fresh and pure, with suggestions of varietal dianthus and rose florals, and rather more black pepper, on cassisy berry. Palate immediately brings in more oak than the apparent fruit weight can comfortably carry, but the pure cassis and black pepper flavours are almost textbook varietal. It is hard to disentangle the acid from the oak, on palate: the wine is tending firm. Though not one of the rich wines, this will cellar well, and become more fragrant and lissom with time. One person had Deerstalkers as their second favourite. Cellar 5 25 years. GK 06/17
Ruby, some velvet, older than many, the lightest wine. Bouquet is soft, sweetly fragrant and and inclining to Ribero del Duero in style, high vanillin and some pink hedge-rose florals, with a berry character tending to blueberry, but with some cassis and red plums too. Palate is seductive in a manner similar to the Tom wine, a powerful integration of ripe fruit and sweet oak giving good richness and length, with almost a hint of sweetness to the finish. Astute tasters noted (correctly) that there was an American white oak component here, and marked the wine down for that. I can imagine this wine giving much pleasure at table, in 10 years time, but in a technical tasting focussing on concept syrah (as opposed to shiraz), some felt it a bit wayward. One taster rated Expatrius their favourite wine, and three had it in second place. Five rated it the least wine of the set, and seven thought it Australian. It certainly stands to one side in the New Zealand syrahs, due to its blueberry dominance, like the Langi. Cellar 10 25 years. GK 06/17
Ruby, some velvet, one of the older-looking wines, the third to lightest. This wine has an interesting bouquet. With reference to the Brits and their disparaging comments on New Zealand syrah, this wine does smell much more like Crozes-Hermitage. It is clearly varietal, but the dianthus florals are slightly leafy / stalky, with red fruits as much as black on bouquet, and white pepper more than black. Palate fits in perfectly, the wine showing not quite the purity of most in the field, red currants and red plums mainly with only suggestions of cassis, good fruit weight, but total acid a little elevated. Oak is beautifully balanced to the fruit character. It is markedly richer and riper than some Collines Rhodaniennes wines, however. Tasters sussed this wine quickly, with six least places. In this company, as in the cabernet / merlot where Ch Leoville-Barton trailed the field, to be least is no disgrace. Cellar 5 15 years. GK 06/17