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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.
WORTH CELLARING TASTING 28 NOVEMBER  2019,  at REGIONAL WINES,  WELLINGTON

NEW ZEALAND WILL BECOME FAMOUS FOR ITS  SYRAH WINES ...


Geoff Kelly,  MSc Hons

John Livingstone-Learmonth,  2005:  Syrah lies at the heart of the Northern Rhone, a variety that finds a natural habitat in the temperate climes of this region. As with Pinot Noir in Burgundy, it grows here towards the northern extremes of its ripening, and it is a misconception to consider it is a hot-weather variety. Finesse, integration of flavours, and complexity are achievable if the wine is not subjected to excess heat day and night.


Conclusions from the tasting:
It has long been fashionable for United Kingdom-based wine-writers to rather patronise New Zealand syrah.  On a good day,  a New Zealand syrah might be compared with a better Crozes-Hermitage,  for example.  Virtually never is comparison with Hermitage or Cote Rotie invoked.  The likely cause for this blind-spot seems to be,  that very rarely if ever do United Kingdom wine-writers set up properly objective blind tastings of wines from several countries,  where the candidate wines are seen totally anonymously.  Thus in their reviews,  these people approach any tasting and review of a New Zealand syrah with mental baggage:  that everybody knows the definitive examples come from Hermitage, maybe Cote Rotie,  occasionally Cornas,  so the issue becomes the extent to which any New Zealand wine measures up to their (sometimes unfocussed) ideals for the wines of those places.  And naturally,  these are the winestyles with which they are familiar,  which adds to the subconscious bias.  

Such an approach needless to say poses a very different question from facing up to a line-up of 12 unknown wines,  though you know two are French,  and appraising the varietal accuracy and syrah quality each wine may show.  Thus it is hard for any New Zealand syrah to score much above 18 / just into the 90s,  in these British evaluations.

In contrast to the British approach,  in this Wellington tasting designed for the benefit of keen customers of Regional Wines,  the goal was to assess which current New Zealand syrahs were ‘Worth Cellaring’.  Two reputable labels from the Northern Rhone Valley,  one from Hermitage,  and one from Cornas,  were included to (hopefully) calibrate the tasting.  The wines were presented totally blind.  21 tasters (some pretty experienced) were presented with 12 syrah wines in total,  all out at once.  The tasters’ task was to determine which wine best expressed the essential character of syrah the grape.  Tasters were also asked to nominate a second-favourite wine,  and their least wine.  And then consider the question,  for each wine,  might this wine be from France.

The results were interesting,  in that they highlighted exactly how closely these better New Zealand syrahs match wines from Cote Rotie,  Cornas or Hermitage,  in style.  They matched on bouquet,  they matched in  flavour,  and now that finally,  after a long struggle,  leading New Zealand producers are cropping at rates comparable with AOC guidelines,  several of the wines matched on palate weight / dry extract.  This was not the case even 10 years ago.  And the other great advance revealed by the tasting is,  many New Zealand syrah producers have now registered that syrah,  like pinot noir,  does not benefit from noticeable new oak.  I acknowledge there are some notable exceptions,  but there is a tendency for those wines to conform to a house style,  rather than being first and foremost an expression of syrah’s exquisite varietal character.  The goal in New Zealand must be to make fine syrah winestyles,  not shiraz.

For the 12 wines,  the highest vote in response to the question:  might this be a French wine,  was seven  tasters – and this wine did turn out to be the Cornas.  The next in line with six votes was the Elephant Hill Syrah Airavata,  perhaps due to its class-leading dry extract,  plus a whole-bunch component.  Next in line was the Man O’War at five votes,  for reasons I simply cannot explain,  the dilemma being further complicated by it being the least-liked wine.  It was followed by two wines receiving four votes:  the Greystone,  which displayed quite a Jamet-like quality (despite no whole-bunch),  and the Hermitage proper.  With 42 possible votes for the French candidates,  yet the actual French wines only achieving 11 votes in total,  there is a fair indication that tasters found it difficult to tell which wines were French,  and which New Zealand.  

These results indicate how exciting the average quality of these current better New Zealand syrahs is.  There seems little doubt that one day New Zealand will become famous for the floral and aromatic qualities of its temperate-climate syrahs.  In style they contrast vividly with most of the syrah / shiraz wines from Australia and North America,  instead sharing much with the famous appellations of the Northern Rhone Valley.  Individual wines mimic some of the most famous.  The top Elephant Hill syrahs for example can remind of Hermitage,  as the Airavata did in this tasting.  A surprising number of the wines in this tasting joined Te Mata Bullnose in being reminiscent of Cote Rotie.  And in other wines,  there are reminders of Saint-Joseph and the afore-mentioned Crozes-Hermitage,  if oaking in the New Zealand wines is restrained.  And as in the Northern Rhone Valley,  but on a much more geographically spread-out scale,  we have the potential to develop distinctive regional syrah styles.  

In the warmer,  drier  years (again,  just like the Northern Rhone Valley) syrah in New Zealand is already producing pleasingly ripe and varietal wines over a latitudinal range of 8 degrees,  from the Karikari  Peninsula and Ahipara in the north,  through drier pockets of North Auckland and Waiheke Island,  down to Hawkes Bay (the epicentre for syrah quality in New Zealand,  where the greatest potential for the variety is  found),  and from there southwards in scattered very favoured sites in the Wairarapa to Waipara in the South Island.  Even Central Otago a full 2 degrees further south can on exceptional sites and in exceptional years ripen the variety appropriately,  if France be the reference point,  and likewise Marlborough and Nelson.  The latter two districts are more on the latitude of the Wairarapa.  For most years,  in terms of achieved winestyle,  the latter three districts bear much the same relationship to Hawkes Bay,  as the upland Les Collines Rhodaniennes appellation does to Cote Rotie or Cornas.

All the wines in this tasting need cellaring,  in some cases for a number of years,  if they are to be enjoyed at their most complex and satisfying best.  New Zealand being such a young wine country,  sadly the concept of cellaring wine is still almost unknown among a majority of consumers,  and indeed most wine-writers and winemakers … to judge from what they write about them.  Time is needed … but the outlook for syrah in New Zealand is exciting indeed.

The six wines rated gold-medal level in this tasting.  From the left:  2016 Te Awanga Syrah Trademark,  a more floral Cote Rotie styling of New Zealand syrah,  pretty but not as deep as some of the other wines, 18.5;  2015 Church Road Tom,  a big wine which must be rewarded for its richness and depth,  but is over-oaked by Northern Rhone standards, 18.5;  2016 Alain Voge Cornas,  a totally modern and floral Cornas,  beautiful and classic syrah,  clearly recognised as a Northern Rhone wine by tasters, 18.5 +;  2016 Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol,  one of the most floral and beautiful syrahs thus far made on the Gimblett Gravels, 18.5 +;  2015 Elephant Hill Syrah Airavata,  a deeper and richer Hermitage-like syrah for long-term cellaring, 19;  and the benchmark wine in the tasting,  2015 Gilles Robin Hermitage,  a magical wine combining power and beauty,  exquisite purity,  and midnight-deep dusky florals, 19 +.


Background information for tasters:  Syrah – the grape and the wine:
Syrah,  says John Livingstone-Learmonth,  lies at the heart of the Northern Rhone, a variety that finds a natural habitat in the temperate climes of this region. As with Pinot Noir in Burgundy, it grows here towards the northern extremes of its ripening, and it is a misconception to consider it is a hot-weather variety. Finesse, integration of flavours, and complexity are achievable if the wine is not subjected to excess heat day and night.

J. L-L goes on to comment that after many years of romantic interpretations of the origin of syrah,  DNA finger-printing reveals it is a natural cross-breed between two obscure Northern Rhone varieties,  Dureza and Mondeuse.  He further  comments that the post-war interest in clonal selection and new clones has in general dented the reputation of Syrah,  and there is much to be said for the older / original forms of the grape,  known as Serine in Cote Rotie,  and Petite Syrah in Hermitage.  

This is where the New Zealand (and Australian) forms of syrah become interesting,  for it is now clear that the main New Zealand clone MS  (= mass selection,  which in effect includes the Limmer clone) is an old high-quality clone of syrah perhaps from Hermitage itself,  brought by James Busby to Australia in the late 1830s.  Further detail is available from Gerald Atkinson,  undated,  on the Stonecroft website.

The hill-slope above the village of Hermitage in the Northern Rhone Valley is the absolute spiritual homeland of the world's greatest syrahs,  but the area is tiny.  Many people are not familiar with Hermitage the wine,  therefore.  But understanding these wines is essential,  if New Zealand winemakers are to more generally move New Zealand syrah into the world of fine wines.  Syrah grown in a temperate climate such as the northern Rhone Valley,  or Hawkes Bay or Waiheke Island  (in both of which places the grape excels,  but it is thriving in a number of other places in New Zealand too),  is a wonderfully fragrant and aromatic grape.  

 At varying points in its ripening profile it shares aromas and tastes with pinot noir (florals),  cabernet sauvignon (cassis and dusky florals),  and merlot (plummy fruit) … but then syrah adds its own distinctive spice,  including white pepper in slightly less-ripe examples,  and black pepper in properly ripe wines.  In warmer climates,  or when over-ripened / left out to hang too long,  syrah loses both florals and spice.  Hence Australian shiraz.  Good syrah (when not over-oaked) can even be described as pinot noir on steroids.

The range of styles which are legitimate has however led to both debate and confusion as to the real nature of the grape. And our view in New Zealand was until recently distorted by the sheer weight of numbers of shiraz wines from Australia,  wines which usually are so over-ripe (and often over-oaked) as to bear little relation to carefully-made syrah wines.  Our tasting includes both a wine from Hermitage proper,  as a reference wine,  and one from Cornas,  the wines from which (when vinified in a modern way) produce the closest match in style to Hermitage.  The syrahs from Cote Rotie are at best more floral than most New Zealand syrahs – though over the years,  the richer years of Te Mata Syrah Bullnose have rather consistently showed some Cote Rotie styling.

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

The Invitation:
Regional Wine’s last formal tasting for 2019 puts to the test the $220 Church Road 2015 Tom Syrah against current vintages of all the big names in NZ syrah,  one less than a fifth that price:  Trinity Hill Homage,  Craggy Range Le Sol,  Elephant Hill Airavata,  Te Mata Bullnose,  and 5 others.  Our New Zealand wines range from Waiheke Island in the north,  via mostly Hawkes Bay,  and extend to Greystone (in Waipara) in the south.  This reflects grapes grown in  districts spanning some 6° of latitude,  in contrast to the less than a quarter of a degree the Northern Rhone viticultural districts span.  Yet all the New Zealand wines bear some relation to the French model,  for the best wines particularly,  in their latent florality and spice.  To add objectivity to our assessment of the wines,  we have two well-rated French syrahs from famous appellations:  2015 Gilles Robin Hermitage (Dunnuck:  “serious, 94-96”),  and 2016 Alain Voge Cornas Vieilles Vignes (Czerwinski:  “another huge success, 93”.   Will we be able to recognise the French wines,  from such definitive addresses,  is the question ?  And if it is not easy to recognise them,  that rather gives the lie to the conventional wisdom of the British winewriters.  

This assemblage of top syrahs should make for a remarkable assessment of the state of syrah achievements in New Zealand today.  It should be a first-rate tasting to close the year.  

Acknowledgements:
New Zealand winemakers were asked to supply technical details for each wine,  to a standard request list.  It is a delight to record that all winemakers responded,  though one or two were shy about some details.  Your help in making this tasting well-documented for participants is very much appreciated,  thank you.

References:
Livingstone-Learmonth,  John 2005:   The Wines of the Northern Rhone.  University of California Press,  704 p.
Atkinson,  Gerald,  undated:  https://stonecroft.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Atkinson.pdf
www.drinkrhone.com  =  John Livingstone-Learmonth … subscription needed for detail  
www.robertparker.com  =  Robert Parker and increasingly the associates  (subscription needed for reviews)    
www.jancisrobinson.com  =  Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding (subscription needed for reviews)  
#  assorted sites on the Net,  for individual reviews below




THE WINES REVIEWED – SYRAH:
Participants in the tasting were provided with a detailed Tabulation summarising technical information gleaned from winemakers.  This was not suited to website reproduction,  so the contents are summarised in the ‘admin’ section for each review,  below.  Information as at November 2019.

2015  Church Road Syrah Tom
2016  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol
2015  Elephant Hill Syrah Airavata
2016  Greystone Syrah
2016  Man O’War Syrah Dreadnought
2015  Gilles Robin Hermitage
  2015  Sacred Hill Syrah Deerstalkers
2015  Smith & Sheth Cru Syrah Omahu
2016  [ Rod McDonald ] Te Awanga Syrah Trademark
2016  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose
2015  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage
2016  Alain Voge Cornas Les Vieilles Vignes


Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $125   [ cork,  50mm;  Sy hand-harvested from the Les Bessards lieu-dit @ c.5.1 t/ha = 2.1 t/ac,  from vines  averaging 43 years age;  no whole bunch component,  wild-yeast ferments with around 30 days cuvaison / days on skins;  MLF in barrel;  24 months in French oak perhaps 10% new;  thought to be sterile-filtered to bottle,  dry extract not available;  production c.250 x 9-litre cases;  weight bottle and closure:  577 g;  J.L-L, 2016:  The bouquet is inky, holds very dark small berry fruits with oak-vanilla and coffee beans airs thrusting forward. The palate has a cool, mineral glint ... freshness ... has iron in its soul, is an interesting, highly stylish and intricate wine that will unfurl gradually, carrying multiple nuances. There is real granite ping on the close, a spearmint style clack of freshness, to 2035, *****;  J. Dunnuck,  2016:  … a big, fleshy, gorgeously layered and sexy red that has lots of tannin, full-bodied richness, tons of cassis, black raspberry and graphite aromatics, with a finish that won't quit. It’s a dead serious Hermitage that’s going to require patience, 94-96;  www.gillesrobin.com ]
Magenta,  ruby and velvet,  the deepest and inkiest of the 12 wines,  magnificent.  Bouquet is not the most demonstrative  in the set,  but it has exquisite purity and midnight-deep dusky florals,  darkest roses,  on quietly aromatic and spicy cassisy berry.  Oak is almost invisible,  on bouquet.  This is very beautiful syrah.  Palate has a varietal accuracy and focus which is amazing,  the oak now detectable as a shaping influence only,  the flavour lingering delightfully on deep cassisy berry,  grape tannins as much as oak,  and a hint of black pepper.  Richness is in the better half of the set.  A magical example of Hermitage,  to cellar 20 – 30 years.  Six people rated this their top example of syrah,  by far the clearest vote on the night,  while four thought it French.  GK 11/19

Gimblett Gravels 67% and 33% Te Awanga,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $117   [ cork 50mm;  Sy 98.5%,  MS clone 85%,  clone 470 15,  plus 1.5% viognier co-fermented,  planted at an average 2,525 vines per hectare and average age 14 years,  all hand-picked at 3.3 t/ha = 1.4 t/ac);  four days cold soak,  cultured yeast ferments,  16 – 18 days cuvaison;  MLF later in barrel;  25 months in French oak 45% new,  plus 4 months in tank post-assembly before bottling;  RS nil:  sterile-filtered to bottle;  note the dry extract at 30.9 g/L cracks the 30 g/L barrier:  will we be able to taste this ?  Production c.285 x 9-litre cases;  weight bottle and closure:  707 g;  R. Campbell:  Big, dense and very ripe red that is both elegant and a blockbuster with pepper, plum, berry, coffee and mocha flavours. A concentrated wine that's built to last. Drink 2019 - 2025, 96;  JC@RP, 2019:  a wine of dark-fruited ripeness and complexity. Plum and blueberry notes pick up hints of cracked pepper and violets, while the medium to full-bodied palate is dense and concentrated yet silky, finishing with hints of vanilla and lingering richness, to 2025, 94;  www.elephanthill.co.nz ]
Magenta,  ruby and velvet,  well above midway in depth.  Bouquet is a little different on this syrah,  with a deeper duskier note hinting at black olives as sometimes found in the Jamet whole-bunch approach,  on deeply cassisy berry,  dark bottled plums,  and cedar.  On palate the richness of the liquid is immediately  palpable,  as confirmed by the class-leading 30.9 g/L dry extract,  with a gorgeous texture.  New oak with suggestions of cedar creeps in,  and extends the flavour greatly.  It is not quite as floral and fragrant as Le Sol,  but is longer and deeper in flavour,  reminiscent now more of Hermitage proper.  This will be a long-term cellar prospect,  20 – 30 years.  Tasters liked the wine greatly,  three first places,  four second-favourites,  and six thought it French,  second only to the Cornas.  GK 11/19

Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $145   [ cork,  49mm;  Sy 100%  clone MS,  planted at an average 6,200 vines per hectare and average age 12 years,  all hand-picked at 5.5 t/ha = 2.2 t/ac);  three days cold soak,  all wild-yeast ferments,  18 days cuvaison;  MLF later in barrel;  14 months in French oak 40% new,  plus 4 months post-assembly;  RS nil:  coarse filtration only;  dry extract withheld;  production c.500 x 9-litre cases;  weight bottle and closure:  993 g;  R. Campbell,  2018:  Elegant, high energy syrah with a wonderfully perfumed aroma. Subtle power. Should develop very well indeed, 98;  JC@RP,  2019:  The 2016 Le Sol is perhaps the most confident, self-assured expression of Syrah to yet emerge from this benchmark producer. I say that because it no longer relies on weight, power and extraction for its impressiveness, but rather on its wonderful fragrance and elegance. Perfumed notes of violets and cracked pepper lead the way, backed by anise and black cherries. It's medium to full-bodied, with a rich, velvety mouthfeel and tremendous length, echoing with hints of clove, cinnamon and sassafras, to 2028, 94;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Carmine,  ruby and velvet,  a great colour,  the third deepest wine.  How different this Le Sol is from the wines of 7 – 14 years ago.  The bouquet is unusually floral for a Gravels wine – nearly wallflower.  I wonder if there were sequential picks.  Incidentally,  it is now the conventional wisdom on the Net to say that the Gimblett Gravels are most famous for their syrahs.  This represents a blinkered and non-thinking approach to syrah.  Great syrah is floral,  a concept virtually unknown to Australian and American wine-writers … and rather many elsewhere too.  And in the warmer years,  the most floral syrahs in New Zealand come from the Triangle,  and maybe other Hawkes Bay sites fractionally less warm than the Gravels.  Early Le Sols were much too much influenced by the over-ripe and hence non-floral syrahs of the Napa Valley,  and Washington.  Le Sol then was made in an heroic wine style.  Now it is much more fragrant,  floral,  supple,  understated,  and beautiful.  There is nearly a suggestion of dianthus / pinks florals on a dusky red rose component,  akin to the Robin but more floral.  Behind that is dramatic cassis,  the subtlest oak,  and imperceptible alcohol.  Flavour is remarkable too:  after those first burly wines,  Le Sol went through a lighter phase matching most New Zealand reds:  that is,  lacking dry extract by AOC standards.  This 2016 Le Sol however is remarkable.  Craggy Range are  reluctant to advise a dry extract number,  but the wine tastes as if it is approaching 28 – 29 g/L.  The ratio of  berry to oak is delightful:  a function of good dry extract mopping up the 40% new oak.  Three tasters rated Le Sol as their top or second-favourite wine.  It can be cellared for at least 20 years,  with total confidence.  GK 11/19

Cornas,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $110   [ cork 50mm;  Sy hand-harvested @ c. 5.8 t/ha = 2.4 t/ac,  from vines  averaging 60 years age;  20% whole bunch component,  wild-yeast ferments with around 21 days cuvaison / days on skins;  MLF in barrel;  20 – 22 months in French oak perhaps 15% new;  thought to be sterile-filtered to bottle,  dry extract not available;  production c.1,200 x 9-litre cases;  weight bottle and closure:  579 g;  RH@JR:  More oak spice on the nose makes this a more user-friendly, approachable style than their Les Chailles. Rather delicious crunchy red fruit and yielding tannin that is drinkable now. Smooth, sophisticated, spicy finish, 17 +;   JC@RP,  2018:  In almost every vintage, it's worth the price difference to step up to Voge's Vieilles Vignes bottling. Certainly, the 2016 Cornas Vieilles Vignes is another huge success, with hints of cracked pepper and briars accenting red plums and then picking up licorice on the long, softly dusty finish. Full-bodied, concentrated and supple, it's approachable now yet looks sure to evolve gracefully for at least a decade, to 2030, 93;   www.alain-voge.com ]
Carmine,  ruby and velvet,  midway in depth.  Like the Airavata,  this wine too has a clear whole-bunch complexity note in its lovely roses and even violets florals,  beautiful aromatic cassis and other dark fruits,  and no new oak recognisable on bouquet.  Palate is reminiscent of the Hermitage,  this wonderful pure deep dark berry,  with not quite the lushness of fruit the top New Zealand wines show.  Some oak shows on the palate,  shaping and lengthening the flavours,  but it tastes more of big or older oak,  rather than new.  This Cornas is more floral than the Hermitage,  but then the palate is in a sense more straightforward,  and not quite as rich.  This wine too was well received,  two top places,  two second-favourites,  and the clearest vote of the 12 for it being a  French syrah – seven people.  A beautiful and classic wine,  to cellar 15 – 25 years.  GK 11/19

Triangle 83%,  balance Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $220   [ cork 49mm;  Sy 100%  mostly clone 470,  some 174,  some MS,  planted at an average 4,500 vines per hectare and average age 10 years,  intensively hand-managed in the vineyard to optimise a reduced crop;  the fruit all now machine (Selectiv) harvested (so no whole-bunch component),  followed by optical sorting of individual berries;  approximate cropping rate in previous years c.6 t/ha (= 2.4 t/ac);  no cold soak,  inoculated yeast,  21 days cuvaison;  MLF later in barrel;  20 months in French small oak 42% new,  with racking to both aerate and clarify the wine;  RS < 1 g/L fermentable sugars:  not fined,  coarse filtration only;  dry extract withheld;  production c.300 x 9-litre cases;  weight bottle and closure:  832 g;  M. Cooper,  2019:  a highly fragrant, floral bouquet. A very elegant, supple, youthful and harmonious red, it is densely packed, with concentrated plum, spice and black pepper flavours, a hint of liquorice, and a long, refined finish. Already dangerously drinkable, it's well worth cellaring to at least 2022, *****;  R. Campbell,  2019:  Superbly elegant and fragrant syrah with violet, cranberry, plum and a suggestion of mocha among the more prominent flavours. An elegant wine with a silken and ethereal texture. Should develop well but surprisingly approachable now. Drink 2019 - 2025 +, 96;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Carmine,  ruby and velvet,  a very deep,  dense colour,  the second darkest wire.  Bouquet is different from the other 12,  showing a lot of new oak,  so much so you immediately think at the blind stage:  uh-uhh … someone copying the Penfolds approach.  But below the vanillin and cedar,  there is rich cassis,  though the oak-related top-notes drown any floral analogies.  Palate is rich,  aromatic and vibrant on the still-very-noticeable oak,  with a depth of fruit approaching 29 – 30 g/L … I’d estimate.  Pernod-Ricard too are shy about admitting to dry extract analyses,  but this wine does show grand cru qualities.  The saturation of cassisy berry flavours and relatively big new oak makes for a bold wine,  so for those who respond well to new oak,  this wine was a favourite:  two top places and five second.  Worth noting that only one person thought it could be French,  though.  This will cellar for 20 – 30 years,  maybe longer,  but at the price,  few will do so.  Pernod-Ricard seemed to be hell-hell bent on capturing some of the marketing pizzazz of the Grange concept in their aggressive pricing,  but curiously,  thus far relatively little has been exported.  In European terms,  it would be a better wine with less new oak – but maybe China is the long-term target market.  GK 11/19

Havelock North Hills and Tukituki Valley,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $76   [ cork 49mm;  price to $110 in some locations;  Sy 100%  from the closely-allied Limmer and MS clones,  planted at an average 4,165 vines per hectare in two sites,  one south of Havelock North,  one in the Tukituki Valley.  Both sites are hillsides,  and have a calcareous component in the SPMs,  adding great interest to the range of soil types represented in our tasting.  One site the vines are 6 years age,  the other 15 +,  all hand-picked at an average 4.5 t/ha = 1.8 t/ac;  no whole-bunches retained,  but all whole-berry,  with mostly wild-yeast ferments,   supplemented by cultured;  three to eight days cold-soak,  20 days on-skins / cuvaison in total,  MLF in barrel the following spring;  10 months in French oak 60% new pre-assembly,  then a further 10 months post-assembly;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  dry extract 28.4 g/L;  production 290 x 9-litre cases;  weight bottle and closure:  990g;  no reviews local or overseas found,  so winemaker’s profile:  For all its ripeness, the wine has retained a vibrancy and great complexity on the nose. The palate is plush with typical violet, spice, black cherry and subtle white pepper notes. Supple chalky tannins provide a structure that promise time in bottle will be rewarded.  Reference to white pepper interesting,  this character usually being seen as indicating sub-optimal ripeness;  https://teawangaestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  just below midway in depth.  Bouquet is highly floral on this wine,  with a lighter component linking exactly to the dianthus / carnations and wallflowers spectrum of florals which typifies fine syrah.  Below is aromatic cassis,  beautifully pure dark berries,  and cedary oak.  There are reminders of  Cote Rotie here.  Palate reveals a good sensation of berry flesh,  and quite good richness,  with somewhat lighter fruit flavours,  not as darkly cassisy as the Hermitage.  This will become a very pretty wine in cellar,  as the berry and oak marry up,  with reminders of a richer year of Te Mata Bullnose.  Tasters were not as keen on this wine as I was,  one second place.  It will cellar for 10 – 20 years.  GK 11/19

Waipara,  North Canterbury,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $46   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%  clone 470 (the only one in the tasting),  planted at an average 2,500 vines per hectare and average age 11 years,  all hand-picked at 5.5 t/ha = 2.2 t/ac);  no whole-bunches retained,  seven days cold soak,  all wild-yeast ferments;  36 days cuvaison,  pressed to barrel still with trace residual sugar,  so a small barrel-ferment component to add complexity;  MLF later in barrel;  15 months in French oak none new,  all 2nd year,  then 1 month in tank post-assembly;  RS < 1 g/L:  coarse filtration only;  dry extract 29.9 g/L;  production c.300 x 9-litre cases;  weight bottle and closure:  547 g;  no reviews found,  none on Greystone site;  www.greystonewines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  well below midway in depth.  Bouquet is fragrant and distinctive in this wine,  another with suggestions of the Jamet black olives / whole-bunch approach.  The only problem here is,  the wine has no whole-bunch component,  so we must be smelling whole berries plus the cooler climate.  Below the near-floral notes there is some cassis,  and a bottled plum like omega,  with its distinctive aromatics rather different from Black Doris.  In flavour the wine is rich,  confirmed by the dry extract figure,  more Cote Rotie in styling than Hermitage,  with considerable syrah presence augmented by exquisite oaking,  but also perhaps just a hint of stalk.  I don't have them alongside,  but my impression is,  this 2016 is less ripe than the magical Greystone 2015 Syrah.  Tasters were less attracted to this wine than I was,  no favourites,  and four least votes.  A wine to try before you buy six,  therefore,  though the style is well within the ambit of Northern Rhone syrah.  It will cellar  well,  on its richness,  15 – 25 years.  GK 11/19

Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.2%;  $60   [ cork 50mm;  Sy 100%  MS clone planted at an average 3,000 vines per hectare,  and average age 20 years at harvest,  all hand-picked at 5 t/ha = 2 t/ac;  30% whole-bunches retained,  no cold soak,  cultured-yeast ferments;  20 days cuvaison,  MLF in tank;  16 months in French oak,  30% new;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  dry extract withheld;  production 49 x 9-litre cases;  weight bottle and closure:  698 g;  M. Cooper,  2019:  Built for cellaring, this old-vine Gimblett Gravels red was barrique-matured. Deep and bright in colour, with a fragrant, plummy, peppery bouquet, it is a full-bodied, clearly varietal wine that is concentrated, savoury, complex and structured, *****;  www.smithandsheth.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  below midway in depth.  In one sense this wine smells like a mini-Le Sol,  showing similar sweet floral notes on cassisy fruit,  with a touch of (also sweet) black pepper,  but all a size smaller.  It is quite uncanny.  Palate follows appropriately,  but whereas Le Sol hints at the inky  depths of the Gilles Robin,  this wine is appreciably lighter and softer.  In some ways it reminds also of the Trademark wine,  but is not as floral or rich on palate.  Oaking is subtle.  This is another wine to closely match good Cote Rotie (English wine-writers notwithstanding):  it should be marvellously accessible,  and good with food.  Again tasters did not warm to this lighter,  more fragrant,  syrah variant as much as I did,  so no favourite votes.  Clearly I need to present more Cote Rotie Library Tastings.  Cellar 10 – 15 maybe 20 years.  GK 11/19

Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $56   [ cork 50mm;  Sy 100%  MS clone planted at an average 2,775 vines per hectare,  and average age 14 years at harvest,  all hand-picked at 6 t/ha = 2.4 t/ac;  30% whole-bunches retained,  5 – 7 days cold soak,  both wild-yeast and cultured ferments;  25 – 30 days cuvaison,  MLF in tank;  6 months in French oak,  30% new,  before assembly,  then 8 + months in barrel afterwards;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  dry extract withheld;  production 490 x 9-litre cases;  weight bottle and closure:  702 g;  JR@JR,  2017:  Pale mulberry colour. Pale rim. Full and almost bloody on the nose. Very round with light peppery notes. Dry tannins on the end. Definitely needs food! Could do with just a little more freshness, to 2021,  16;  JC@RP,  2019:  Sun-warmed stones, peppercorns and cedar all feature on the nose of the 2015 Deerstalkers Syrah. Sourced from the Gimblett Gravels, this is a medium-bodied but ripe example, with smooth, supple tannins and slightly plummy blueberry flavors that linger on the silky finish, to 2028, 92;  R. Chan,  2017:  The nose is very full and softly voluminous with very ripe fruit aromas of blackberries with notes of black plums and suggestions of boysenberries, along with a very fine amalgam of liquorice, spices and cedary oak. The array of aromatics is spectacular. Medium-full bodied, the palate possesses intensely rich and vibrant, concentrated flavours of blackberries, dark raspberries and black plums, with nuances of blue fruits and liquorice. The mouthfeel has vitality and the sweet fruit is enhanced by fresh acidity, and supported by fine-grained tannin structure and extract, providing fine textures and grip. The fruit has soft and refined density and linearity, and carries to a very long and sustained finish of black fruits and spices. This is a stunning and sweetly rich, vibrant and fully-structured Syrah with an array ripe fruit flavours and cedary oak complexity, to 2027, 19.5;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Magenta and velvet,  midway in depth.  Bouquet is complex,  dusky dark rose florals but lifted with a touch of  dianthus,  some sweet black pepper,  and good dark berry the exact character of which is somewhat obscured by rather a lot of nearly cedary oak.  Oak becomes more noticeable on palate,  but the depth of cassisy berry is quite good,  and nearly carries it.  Compared with the Deerstalkers Syrahs of 10 years ago,  this is a much more appropriate styling of syrah,  the wine much more grape-dominant.  This trend could desirably be continued.  As always however,  (New World) tasters like oak,  two first places,  three second.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 11/19

Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.1%;  $133   [ cork 50mm;   Sy 100% from three sites within the Gravels,  69% clone MS,  27% clone 174,  and three others,  hand-picked from on average 14-year old vines (oldest 20),   planted at an average of 3,385 vines / ha;  cropped @ 5 t/ha = 2 t/ac;  no cold-soak,  cuvaison averaged 25 days (but Trinity Hill like to experiment,  one batch 50 days) with cultured yeast;  25% on average whole-bunches retained (but one batch 100%);  MLF mostly in tank,  some in barrel;  60% of the wine matured 15 months in French small-oak 60% new,  medium toast,  balance in foudre;  three months post-assembly in tank before bottling;  RS 0.46 g/L;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  dry extract 28.5 g/L;  production 540 x 9-L cases;  weight bottle and closure:  1,054 g;  R. Campbell,  2017:  I was impressed ... Intense fruit, floral and spice flavours are supported by ripe, round tannins that suggest good cellaring potential. It’s a classic Homage style. [no score in article];  JH@JR,  2018:  Incredibly peppery and scented dark-red fruit. Dry, charry but fresh. Fine-boned and compact in texture, layers of paper. Really peppery on the long finish. Real finesse, to 2028, 17;  J. Suckling,  2017:  ... staggeringly great wine from a producer who is chasing down those elusive one-percent margins of the finest quality and nearing perfection. It’s an immaculately fresh and alluringly spicy syrah that holds a mirror to the first division of the world’s greatest producers of the variety, dripping with intense, mind-bending flavors. The finest New Zealand syrah we’ve tasted, it very much deserves the title New Zealand Wine of the Year 2017. ... a beacon for the future. [no score in article];  JC@RP, 2018:  not a huge, blockbuster year for Homage, instead showing a suppler, gentler side …, to 2028, 93;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  just above midway in depth.  Bouquet is one of the more integrated and harmonious in the set,  but it is hard to tease out which are the floral,  and which are the berry,  components.  The wine is certainly fragrant,  nearly suggestions of pinks,  hints of pepper and cedar,  and good berry but not as deep as cassis – unusual.  Palate is one of the smaller in the set,  fine-grained,  softly oaked,  but nearly white pepper now.  This seems a smaller Homage relative to earlier offerings.  It attracted one first place vote,  but otherwise no comment.  It will cellar for 10 – 20 years,  on the basis of this bottle,  but I wonder if it may not be an ideal bottle of 2015 Homage.  I look forward to seeing it in another blind tasting.  GK 11/19

The Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $76   [ cork 46mm;  Sy 100% from a single vineyard,  oldest vines planted 1990,  average age 20;  clonal detail withheld but presumably based on MS &/or Limmer clone,  plus (at least) some clone 470,  all hand-harvested at c. 7 t/ha = 2.8 t/ac,  fruit all de-stemmed,  no cold-soak;  cultured-yeast fermentations,  cuvaison averages 21 days with MLF in tank;  c.7 months in French oak,  35% new,  before assembly,  then 8 months in barrel afterwards;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  RS nil;  dry extract withheld;  production withheld;  weight bottle and closure:  566 g;  C. Douglas,  2019:  Quite intensely fruity then a layer of spice and oak emerges showing both pepper and baking spices, smoke and dry stone, violets, blackcurrant, dark raspberry and five spice. Dry and very youthful on the palate with an intense, warm and salivating palate. No mistaking the tannins, spice and backbone of acidity. Long youthful finish. Should be in the cellar till at least 2024 before trying again, 95;  JC@RP,  2019:  Wonderfully fragrant—almost perfumed—the 2016 Bullnose Syrah is loaded with violets and peppery spice notes. Never the biggest Hawke's Bay Syrah, the 2016 shows just enough red cherry and raspberry fruit to support those other elements, some silky tannins and a ripe, mouthwatering, licorice-tinged finish. Drink this vintage over the near term, to 2022, 9I;  two bottles made available for this tasting by the winery – appreciated;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and some velvet,  the second to lightest wine.  Bouquet is wonderfully floral,  absolute dianthus,  carnations and wallflower so characteristic of temperate-climate syrah,  backed by nearly cassisy berry,  but with hints of white pepper as well as black.  Palate is markedly smaller-scale than the wines marked more highly,  fragrant red berries but tending stalky and acid,  with white pepper notes.  This is very much in a cool-year Cote Rotie styling,  or some of the upland Les Collines Rhodaniennes syrahs.  In this set,  this is the wine you would think the South Island example of syrah.  Being so fragrant,  I set it as wine one,  to reinforce the concept of florality as a key issue in temperate-climate syrah,  whether French or New Zealand.  The palate however is lacking ideal ripeness,  body,  and dry extract.  It will be good with food though – refreshing.  One second-place vote.  Cellar 7 – 15 years.  GK 11/19

Eastern Waiheke Island,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%  mainly clones 174 and 470,  planted at an average 5,820 vines per hectare and average age 12 years at harvest,  all hand-picked at 6 t/ha = 2.4 t/ac);  15% whole-bunches retained,  five days cold soak,  all wild-yeast ferments;  30 days cuvaison;  MLF later in barrel;  18 months in French oak,  35% new,  RS nil:  sterile-filtered to bottle;  dry extract withheld;  production 1,666 x 9-litre cases;  weight bottle and closure:  550 g;  JC@RP, 2019:  Assembled from six different parcels of hillside-grown fruit, the 2016 Dreadnought continues this cuvée's run of successes. Violets, peppery spices and mulberry notes appear on the nose, while the medium to full-bodied palate adds flavors of raspberries, espresso and chocolate. Silky and immediately approachable, it doesn't have the richness or concentration of the best vintages, and it should be consumed over the next 5-6 years, 92;  no local reviews found;  www.manowarvineyards.co.nz ]
Ruby,  the lightest wine.  Bouquet is different on this wine, some thoughts of whole-bunch / Jamet  characters,  fragrant but not exactly floral,  fair berry but not as dark as aromatic cassis,  a suggestion of  black olives.  Several tasters also found rubbery notes.  Palate is the most distinctive in the set,  plummy berry a little richer than Bullnose,  suggestions of black pepper,  but then a markedly briny / saline quality to the finish,  which makes the flavours savoury (in one sense),  and perhaps good with food,  but is dubious for French / New Zealand syrah (though not all Australian shiraz).  Two people rated this their second-favourite wine,  but six their least,  the clearest statement on this facet of the twelve wines.  You only need to look at the Man O'War website,  and the map,  to see why salt load is inescapable in this most scenic site – a factor shared with the Karikari Peninsula to the north.  Whereas in Hawkes Bay the prevailing wind is from the landward.  Cellar 7 – 15 years.  GK 11/19