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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.

SYRAHS FROM THE HAWKES BAY HOT RED ROADSHOW AND ELSEWHERE,  AUSTRALIA,  AND FRANCE


This year has been exciting for syrah fans in New Zealand,  with the release of many interesting wines.  Now that we have a fair sample of the more aromatic and fractionally cooler wines of the 2004 Hawkes Bay vintage (relative to the slightly too warm 2002 vintage),  there can be no doubt of the marvellous convergence our best wines are showing with the better wines of the northern Rhone.  By best I mean wines ripened (but not over-ripened) to full expression of syrah varietal character (not shiraz),  and cropped at a rate compatible with grand cru wines of France,  namely a rate to give not only physiological and flavour maturity but also dry extracts of the order of 30 g/L in the finished wine.  Not all of our winemakers have yet appreciated this key parameter of quality wine.  And by northern Rhone I mean our very best wines can bear some comparison with Hermitage itself,  and Cote Rotie.  St Joseph is a worthy goal too,  whereas matching Crozes-Hermitage  is more easily achieved.

And then for those whose horizons extend beyond local shores,  there has been the release of 2003 Jaboulet la Chapelle,  the wine which used to be the most famous syrah in the world,  but since the death of Gerard Jaboulet has sadly lost its way.  Would the great 2003 year in Europe help restore its fortunes ?  A blind tasting of some of the wines below answers that.

For now we must concentrate on the syrahs of the 2004 vintage,  though it is worth noting that keen Hawkes Bay syrah producers are already talking excitedly about the best 2005s surpassing them,  and maybe 2006,  too.  In a review of the very new 2004 vintage made after attending the 2004 Hawkes Bay Winemakers Vintage Review in 0ctober that year,  and published on this site 29 Oct 2004,  I observed for the syrah class that:  the top wines in 2004 appear to display the enhanced aromatics which characterise the vintage, compared with 2002.  Since then I was fortunate to judge the large syrah class in the 2005 New Zealand Easter Show,  and have attended several syrah tastings since.  Glengarry Wines,  for example,  organised a tasting of some well-regarded 2003 syrahs from the Rhone Valley,  in comparison with some of the top 2004 Hawkes Bay wines.

And now in May we have had the 2006 Hawkes Bay Winemakers Hot Red Roadshow,  displaying more than 100 red wines from the district,  many of them 2004s.  The syrahs from that tasting were immediately set up in a separate blind tasting,  along with several wines added because they were not part of the Roadshow.  That exercise forms the basis of this review,  along with an excellent tasting of Hawkes Bay syrahs under $45 organised by Raymond Chan in the Regional Wines & Spirits tasting programme in Wellington.  I have spliced in other odd syrah notes from recent months,  because in most instances there have been wines in common,  or fragments to hand,  allowing calibration.

And the conclusion can only be that the top New Zealand syrahs of 2004 are indeed wonderful,  exactly fulfilling that expectation earlier expressed for Hawkes Bay.  It is too early to say exactly which will be the top wines of the vintage,  for Trinity Hill’s Homage is not yet released,  the status of Unison and Kingsley syrah wines is not clear,  and there may be other premium wines still hiding in the woodwork,  such as the Vidal wine reported on here as a result of a lucky preview.

As a result of the mostly blind tastings reported on in this review,  however,  it is certain that 2004 Craggy Range Syrah le Sol,  the 2004 Vidal Syrah ‘yet-to-be-released’ and 2004 Te Mata Syrah Bullnose will be among the top syrahs of the vintage,  in Hawkes Bay.  And the exciting feature of those three is they differ considerably in style,  even though they are all Hawkes Bay wines.  They and several others are of a quality which match or surpass many highly-regarded recent wines from the northern Rhone Valley.  This has been implicit since the large review of the 2002 Hawkes Bay syrahs organised by Dr Rod Bonfiglioli was completed in June 2005 (and written up on this site 15 June 2005),  and it is great to have ample confirmation in the preparation of this review.  

The introduction to the Bonfiglioli review provides an overview of the performance of syrah in New Zealand,  and is not repeated here.  The most important additional point to note is the emergence of much more convincing floral and Rhone-specific varietal characters in wines containing the new clone 470,  when compared with the existing mainstream New Zealand ‘Te Kauwhata’ clone.  And the emergence of highly varietal wines from the Ngatarawa Triangle raises the interesting thought that if the Gimblett Gravels are systematically warmer than adjoining sites,  the latter may have advantages in seasons when the Gravels are becoming a little too hot and Australian in their winestyles.  Quality in syrah is very temperature-sensitive.  The key issue for quality here is the adoption elsewhere of cropping rates similar to the best operators on the Gravels.

Some may wonder what qualifications I bring,  to be making such assertions about the performance of syrah in New Zealand.  In addition to the Author Profile on this site,  I have been studying shiraz since the 1964 vintage in Australia,  and with the purchase of a case of Jaboulet’s 1969 Syrah la Chapelle I became captivated by the variety as syrah,  rather more than as shiraz.  I still retain wines in cellar from those vintages,  and many subsequent,  so have some feeling for the evolution of the variety in bottle.  And to watch the evolution of syrah in New Zealand,  from a first taste of experimental bottlings in 1986,  has been a great pleasure.

Acknowledgements:  in some cases where information was not obtainable from websites,  Raymond Chan kindly provided winemaking details he obtained for several wines in his May tasting.  Thanks are due to Rod McDonald for the opportunity to assess the as yet un-released Syrah from the Vidal stable.  

SYRAH

2002  Babich Pinotage Winemakers Reserve
2004  Babich Syrah Winemakers Reserve
2004  Bilancia Syrah / Viognier
2005  Bridge Pa Syrah
2004  Bridge Pa Syrah Louis Reserve
2004  Brookfields Syrah Hillside
2004  Church Road Syrah Cuve Series
2004  Corbans Syrah Hawkes Bay Private Bin
2004  Craggy Range Syrah Block 14
2004  Craggy Range Syrah le Sol
2004  Crossroads Syrah Destination Series
2004  Esk Valley Syrah Black Label
2004  Forrest Syrah John Forrest Collection
2003  Four Sisters Shiraz
2004  Gunn Estate Syrah Silistria Hawkes Bay
2004  Hatton Syrah Estate
2003  Howard Park Shiraz Leston
2003  Howard Park Shiraz Scotsdale
2003  Jaboulet Hermitage la Chapelle
2001  Jaboulet Hermitage la Chapelle
2003  Laroche Syrah
2003  Logan Shiraz / Viognier Weemala
2002  MadFish Shiraz
2004  Manara Rock Shiraz
2004  Matariki Syrah Aspire
2001  Matariki Syrah Reserve
2004  Matua Valley Syrah Matheson
2004  Mills Reef Syrah Elspeth
2004  Mills Reef Syrah Reserve
2005  Mission Syrah Hawkes Bay
2004  Mission Syrah Reserve
  2003  Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz Billi Billi
2004  Ngatarawa Syrah Silks
2004  Pask Syrah Declaration
2004  Pask Syrah Gimblett Road
2003  Pierre Gaillard St Joseph les Pierres
2004  Red Rock Syrah The Underarm Gimblett Gravels
2001  Rostaing Cote Rotie Cote Blonde
2005  Sacred Hill Syrah
2004  Sacred Hill Syrah Deerstalkers
2004  Sileni Syrah Cellar Selection
2004  Squawking Magpie Syrah The Stoned Crow
2004  Stonecroft Syrah Serine
2004  Stonecroft Syrah Young Vine
2002  Tahbilk Shiraz
2003  Te Awa Pinotage
2004  Te Awa Syrah
2004  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose
2004  Te Mata Syrah / Viognier Woodthorpe
2004  Trinity Hill Shiraz Hawkes Bay
2004  Trinity Hill Syrah Gimblett Gravels
2005  Vidal Syrah ‘barrel sample,  potential Soler'
2004  Vidal Syrah Hawkes Bay
2004  Vidal Syrah ‘not-yet-released’
2004  Vidal Syrah Soler
2004  Villa  Maria Syrah Cellar Selection Hawkes Bay
2004  Villa Maria Syrah Private Bin
2004  Villa Maria Syrah / Viognier Cellar Selection
2003  les Vins de Vienne Cote Rotie les Essartailles
2003  Wishart Syrah Alluvion
2004  Xabregas Shiraz
2004  Xabregas Shiraz Show Reserve


2004  Vidal Syrah ‘not-yet-released’   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels mostly,  some Tutaekuri Valley,  New Zealand:  13.75%;  $ –    [ screwcap;  release late ’06;  hand-harvested;  not on website yet;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby carmine and velvet,  a super colour and one of the deepest,  just below ’04 le Sol.  Bouquet shows a stunning quality of syrah,  with the complete spectrum of varietal aromas – florals,  black peppercorn,  cassis and darkest plums – needed to define top-quality syrah.  The floral notes include beautiful pinot-like boronia scents with suggestions of carnations and darkest roses,  melding into a depth of cassis and richness of berryfruit on bouquet which is breathtaking.  It is not quite as powerful as le Sol,  but it is fresher and more floral.  In mouth the berry richness is clearly deeper and denser than the ’04 Soler Syrah,  the berry aromatics are greater,  and the total oak is both less and finer.  I would not be surprised if the ratio of new oak (all French) were higher than Soler,  too.  The aftertaste is essence of syrah,  truly fine Hermitage quality.  This wine is the equal of ’04 le Sol in richness,  and though it is not as powerful,  nor is it so alcoholic.  And the blending-in of fruit from a cooler vineyard has optimised the bouquet and hence the varietal delicacy of bouquet,  vis-a-vis le Sol,  giving not only a greater floral component important in characterising the best syrah wines,  but importantly a lower alcohol.  This too is one of New Zealand's greatest reds so far,  the match of le Sol.  It will cellar 5 – 15 years,  maybe 20.  GK 05/06

2004  Craggy Range Syrah le Sol   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $85   [ cork;  Sy 100% cropped @ c. 2.75 t/ac;  hand-harvested,  95% de-stemmed;  fermented in open oak cuves with wild yeast;  21 months in 65% new French oak,  no fining,  minimal filtration;  release date 1 June ’06;  '04 not on website yet;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a little denser and older (more oak-influenced) than the Block 14,  twice the density of the ‘04 Bullnose,  the deepest syrah in both tastings,  matched only by the Hatton.  Bouquet is quite simply magnificent,  rich,  ripe but not too over-ripe,  vibrantly aromatic Gimblett Gravels syrah.  There is a very dark floral component hinting at violets and darkest roses,  on a spread of fully ripe cassis and darkest tree-ripened black doris plums,  all enlivened by a hint of cracked black peppercorns.  The high alcohol seems well-hidden.  Palate is exactly the same except the peppercorns are now more apparent in aromatic berryfruit,  all ripe,  sustained,  lingering beautifully.  Heaven knows the palate of the Block 14 is superb,  yet this is richer still,  and made more aromatic by a higher percentage of new oak,  and for three months longer.  I earlier criticised the huge 2002 le Sol for being much too over-ripe and too brawny,  implying the wine saw itself as competing with Australian shirazes.  This wine marks a welcome retreat to a more vibrant,  aromatic,  and exciting style,  which competes head-on with Hermitage proper.  It is not as big as the 2002,  which may disappoint quantitative tasters,  but it is a much finer wine.  It outclasses 2003 Jaboulet la Chapelle (tasted blind alongside it) easily.  How will the 2004 Trinity Hill Homage compare,  I wonder ?  This 2004 le Sol gives the impression of being technically perfect (though the 14.5% alcohol confirms that more attention to building-in an enhanced floral component is still needed – Bullnose is ahead in that).  This le Sol is in the top handful of New Zealand red wines so far made (since Prohibition).   Worth tracking down,  from discriminating wine merchants only.  It will cellar for 10 – 20 + years,  easily.  GK 05/06

2004  Craggy Range Syrah Block 14   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $33   [ cork;  Sy 100% cropped @ c. 3.5 t/ac,  hand-harvested,  95% destemmed;  17 months in French oak 40% new;  ’04 not on website yet;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  well above midway in depth of colour.  Bouquet benefits from decanting or a good swirl in the glass.  It is richer and riper than Bullnose,  and consequently offers less floral complexity and more plummy depth – blackest plums picked sun-warmed.  This is a much more refined and elegant approach to syrah than the 2003 Block 14.   Bouquet is glorious darkest cassis and plum with elusive suggestions of darkest florals (violets),  thus converging to a degree with good merlot.  Peppercorn spice is not explicit on bouquet at this stage,  but once one knows the label,  it is easily found.  Palate likewise is richer than Bullnose,  just as complex and black peppercorny,  seemingly more youthful and oaky and therefore less finesse at this stage.  It is potentially velvety,  showing superb dark berry richness.  Comparison with the more floral Bullnose is inevitable,  for both excel in 2004.  That the Craggy wine can be put in the same line-up with that Rhone-styled wine,  and create confusion in the blind tasting,  shows how much more finessed the 2004 is.  The ratio of fruit to oak is exemplary,  and the whole wine is beautifully balanced for cellaring.  Like le Sol,  it is directly in an Hermitage style.  This and Bullnose make a marvellous pair,  which should be represented in all serious wine enthusiasts’ cellars.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  maybe 20.  GK 05/06

2004  Villa Maria Syrah / Viognier Cellar Selection   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $32   [ screwcap;  Sy 97,  Vi 3;  hand-harvested,  co-fermented;  cuvaison  >15 days;  MLF in barrel;  15 months in oak;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  above midway in depth of colour.  This wine is from a small batch,  for this season available only at the winery at Mangere.  Total style and weight are similar to the straight Syrah Cellar Selection.  Colour is minutely lighter,  bouquet is more floral and berry-complexed and less oaky,  with florals ranging from dianthus to violets.  Palate shows wonderful berryfruit and is more mellow and softer than the standard wine.  The whole style is so close to Cote Rotie as to be startling.  This is not a bravura wine in the le Sol style,  but it is a winning demonstration of the beauty of syrah varietal character in New Zealand.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose   18 ½ +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $42   [ cork;  Sy 100% from a single vineyard,  oldest vines planted 1990;  includes clone 470 for first time,  hand-harvested,  de-stemmed;  extended cuvaison 3 + weeks,  followed by 16 months in French oak 40-ish %  new;  superb website;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  above midway for depth of colour.  Bouquet on this wine is sensational,  showing precise syrah varietal complexity as found in the northern Rhone – dianthus and rose florals,  cassis and dark plum berry,  freshly cracked black peppers,  and subtle complementary oak.  Palate continues perfectly,  the fruit velvety yet spicy throughout,  the flavours lingering wonderfully.  It is a little more floral and fragrant than the Craggy Range Block 14 Syrah or le Sol,  but slightly less rich.  This is the third time this wine has been reported on in these notes since release,  and it looks better and better – it is not a big wine,  it could be described as understated,  but it has complexity and depth and intrinsic quality.  Earlier reports are 10/05 and 11/05.  Bullnose is undoubtedly Te Mata’s greatest achievement for the 2004 vintage.  It shows a finesse,  ripeness and style comparable to that achieved in the 2002 Trinity Hill Homage Syrah (though I have not seen them alongside).  These wines really challenge the Rhone,  and Hermitage specifically.  2004 Bullnose will cellar for 5 – 15 years,  and be a great food wine.  Highly recommended.  GK 05/06

2003  Te Awa Pinotage   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $30   [ cork;  cuvaison > 12 days;  14 months in French oak 15% new;  www.teawa.com ]
Ruby,  a little velvet,  not as bright as the syrahs but the depth of colour competing well,  in the middle.  This is that wonderful thing,  a New Zealand pinotage that smells ripe,  berry-rich,  and fragrant.  The grape seems to have a very narrow climatic and cropping-rate slot in which to find optimum ripeness and complexity.  So many are either stalky / green / under-ripe,  or dully plummy / porty.  The actual berry character is always hard to describe,  but includes elements of black olives as well as rasp / boysenberry.  In this example there is an intriguing floral lift,  reminding of the pinot noir parent in the crossbreed.  Palate shows lovely berry ripeness,  a mix of boysenberry and damsons,  beautifully balanced and oaked.  This is a very good pinotage indeed.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Villa  Maria Syrah Cellar Selection Hawkes Bay   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $32   [ screwcap;  wine not on website;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  above midway in depth of colour and also one of the freshest,  as if less oak-influenced  than for example the Vidal or the Bullnose.  Bouquet is very youthful,  with tremendous depth of both dark florals and cassis confuseable with cabernet sauvignon,  plus great purity.  Palate likewise is taut and youthful,  but there is beautiful dark berry richness adding blueberry flavours,  and superbly subtle (French,  I assume) oak,  beautifully balanced,  in what is emerging as the Cellar Selection style.  The absolute quality in this wine is exciting,  and a surprise when the labels were revealed – it has come together dramatically in the last couple of months.  In two years' time this elegant concentrated wine with its lovely soft finish might just be scooping the pool – buy as much as you can afford.  A pity Villa have exploited the current trendyness of syrah,  in pricing this wine out of the $20s,  and hence away from the market.  Cellar Selection initially seemed to offer wonderful quality for the price.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Xabregas Shiraz Show Reserve   18 ½  ()
Mt Barker,  Western Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $ –    [ cork;  price low $30s;  made at the Porongurup contract winery,  using Ganimede Italian fermenters which cycle the juice over the skins using the CO2 produced in fermentation.  Their reputation is to produce more colour and a softer and more aromatic wine - www.porongurup-winery.com.au;   Xabregas is the volume label of Traolach;  www.xabregas.com.au ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the deepest colours.  This is a wonderfully enveloping blueberry version of syrah,  with potentially cedary and also slightly charry / dark chocolate oak,  plus some florals ranging from buddleia to darkest roses.  In mouth,  there is a hint of mint,  but this is probably noticeable only when the wine is run among a dominance of New Zealand (or French) syrahs.  Berry is rich,  spanning blueberry to suggestions of boysenberry,  with faint cracked black peppercorns.  In terms of varietal expression,  it is not much hotter in climatic origin than some of the bigger 2002 Gimblett Gravels wines.  It has more syrah character than many South Australian examples of the grape,  and will therefore be a first-rate example of Australian shiraz to include in New Zealand comparative tastings.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Forrest Syrah John Forrest Collection   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $50   [ screwcap;  release date for the Collection July 2006,  nothing on the website yet about them;  www.forrest.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a good colour,  above midway in depth.  Freshly poured,  this wine is a bit angular – it benefits from decanting and breathing for an hour or two – not for any defect,  just to open up and soften.  It then reveals a very ripe cassisy and slightly oaky version of syrah,  a little over-ripe maybe for retaining optimal floral complexity,  but with hints of peppercorn complexity made aromatic by the oak.  Palate is very rich,  again beautifully cassisy,  plus blackest plums and blueberry,  but more oaky than classically-styled syrah needs.  It is therefore a bigger and brasher wine than the 2004 Vidal Soler,  and needs a year or so more to harmonise.  A finer wine could be created via a subtler approach,  as has been previously discussed for ’02 le Sol.  Cellar to 15 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Vidal Syrah Soler   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $42   [ screwcap;  1% viognier;  hand-harvested;  80% whole berry in fermentation,  MLF in barrel,  16  months in French oak;  wine filed under Estate Syrah on website;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  midway in depth.  Bouquet is intensely plummy and nearly blueberry,  with a cassis and black peppercorn edge making it clearly syrah,  plus spicy oak adding appeal.  Palate is mouthfilling and rich,  wonderful berry,  almost lush,  with great length of flavour in which the berry pretty well dominates the oak – unlike earlier Vidal’s syrahs.  It is a little oakier than Block 14,  but as rich.  This is very ripe Hawkes Bay syrah,  so ripe it is almost in danger of losing some varietal complexity (though the oak adds to the aromatics,  in lieu).  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Church Road Syrah Cuve Series   18 ½  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ cork;  hand-harvested and sorted;  3 weeks cuvaison;  new and 1-year French oak;  website access has changed so many times lately as to be tiresome,  but is now as shown,  or @ www.churchroad.co.nz;  these sites differ,  and neither is up to date,  this wine is not yet listed;  www.pernod-ricard-nz.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  above midway in depth.  Bouquet is withdrawn when initially opened,  but gradually opens to complex dark aromas ranging from violets florals to cassis and darkest plums,  plus attractive oak with a slight hint of dark chocolate,  plus savoury notes.  Palate is immediately black peppercorn and cassis,  rich and complex,  very dry,  some brett (+ve),  all very European.  This too is great New Zealand syrah,  though technocrats won’t agree.  Well worth decanting.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Te Awa Syrah   18 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $30   [ cork;  cuvaison > 14 days;  MLF in barrel;  12 months in French oak 20% new;  no specific info on hard-to-use website;  www.teawa.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  a little older than some of the 2004s,  in the middle for colour depth.  Immediate impressions on bouquet are of varietal black peppercorn in cassisy berry,  lovely.  Palate adds blueberry flavours to the cassis,  and in the mouth dark rose florals emanate from the wine too.  Palate is very dry and spicy,  and might seem austere,  but it is in fact reasonably rich in terms of dry extract and needs to mellow in cellar.  This wine too is remarkably European,  somewhere between Crozes-Hermitage and Hermitage in style.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Te Mata Syrah / Viognier Woodthorpe   18 +  ()
Tutaekuri Valley,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $24   [ screwcap;  Sy 95%,  Vi 5,  co-fermented even though Vi then super-ripe;  extended cuvaison 3 + weeks,  followed by 15 months in French oak 25% new;  superb website;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and some velvet,  above midway for depth of colour.  Bouquet on this wine is sensational,  comparable only with the Bullnose,  but lighter and sweeter with a deeply floral perfume hinting at wild ginger blossom and (the best side of) Christmas lilies.  It is no surprise to find there is viognier in this wine.  Palate is succulent,  less tannin and oak than Bullnose,  Cote Rotie to Bullnose's Hermitage,  earlier maturing,  wonderfully varietal,  minutely leafy on this occasion.  Though I must admit that in this blind tasting,  even Bullnose looked Cote Rotie to Le Sol’s Hermitage.  Such comparisons highlight how good these wines are,  in international terms.  Already reported on 10/05.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  VALUE  GK 05/06

2004  Red Rock Syrah The Underarm Gimblett Gravels   18 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $23   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% hand-picked @ c. 4 t/ac;  de-stemmed;  wild yeast fermentation;  15 months in French oak with nil new (NB);  subsidiary of Craggy Range;  www.wildrockwine.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  about midway in depth.  In some ways this is the benchmark wine of the set,  showing superb varietal character in a plump,  fully ripe wine.  There are attractive dark florals,  cassis and darkest plums through bouquet and palate,  with wonderful fruit richness and spicy peppercorn developing on the late palate.  The magical thing about this wine is the display of great varietal fruit character against superbly clean oak,  but none of it new.  A study wine for many winemakers,  I think.  Don't fall into the trap of thinking this is merely a commercial red – as the marks show,  it is one of the top syrahs in the country.  The soft yet dry finish is very attractive,  showing beautiful tannins.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  VALUE  GK 05/06

2004  Pask Syrah Declaration   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.9%;  $55   [ ProCork;  machine harvested;  11 days cuvaison,  tail-end BF in 100% new French oak,  followed by 16 months in barrel;  www.cjpask.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  more the density of the Vidal.  This wine presents a good volume of cassis-influenced syrah character in the blind tasting,  but it is also more oak-influenced than the top wines.  Thus it is hard to pin down any varietal floral notes,  but it is very aromatic.  Palate brings up the fruit richness relative to the oak,  with the cassis component to the fore,  beautifully flavoured.  Finish is a little short at this youthful stage though,  the oak looming larger than the berry.  It matches the Vins de Vienne quite well on palate (apart from the lack of florals),  and the oak is cleaner.  This is another promising 2004 Syrah which will be great to follow in cellar,  for 5 – 15 years.  GK 04/06

2003  Howard Park Shiraz Scotsdale   18  ()
Great Southern,  Western Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $41   [ screwcap;  intensive vineyard management to optimise flavour,  picking based on flavour,  not analysis;  18 months in French oak 60% new;  www.howardparkwines.com.au ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet,  nearly as deep as the Xabregas.  There is light eucalyptus character in this wine,  a bit strong to be called mint,  on cassis and blueberry fruit.  Palate is berry-rich and juicy,  faint  peppercorn,  moreso than the Xabregas Reserve a little hotter in climatic style than Hawkes Bay and hence more boysenberry,  more shiraz than syrah.  Nonetheless it is an attractively aromatic juicy rich yet dry example of the grape,  let down only slightly by the euc.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Bridge Pa Syrah Louis Reserve   18  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $45   [ supercritical cork;  made by Unison;  12 months in French and American oak;  www.bridgepa.co.nz ]
Ruby,  velvet and some carmine,  towards the deeper end of the range.  Bouquet however is different,  with good berry fruit showing a degree of ripeness that hints at Australia (boysenberry),  and more oak,  plus some buttery softness.  Palate is rich and juicy,  much richer and softer than the standard wine,  with perhaps some American oak,  on sustained cassis and boysenberry flavours.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Esk Valley Syrah Black Label   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $32   [ screwcap;  18 months in French oak;  wine not on website;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  above midway in depth of colour.  In the blind tasting,   this wine reminded me of the Pask Declaration,  with vibrant cassis and dark plum,  and aromatic oak.  Palate is not quite as rich and supple as the top examples,  the oak creeping up on the late palate,  but the length of cassis fruit is excellent.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 05/06

2003  les Vins de Vienne Cote Rotie les Essartailles   18  ()
Cote Rotie,  northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $100   [ cork;  les Vins de Vienne is a partnership between three established northern Rhone winemakers Yves Cuilleron,  Pierre Gaillard and Francois Villard;  The wine is matured in French barriques 25% new;  website difficult to secure;  www.vinsdevienne.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  brighter than the Gaillard.  Like the Gaillard,  this stands out in the blind tasting for the wonderful dianthus and dark rose florals,  the former specific to syrah,  which the best New Zealand wines only hint at but do not capture so beautifully,  and most Australian versions have had baked out of them.  Below the florals are cassis and dark plum fruits,  and a curious oak-related complexity note (-ve),  as sometimes seen in the Alpha syrahs from Chile.  Palate is not quite as pure as the Gaillard,  but nor is it is acid,  so combined with the greater richness,  the nett impression is better,  let down only by that daisy-family aroma on the oak.  This should cellar for 10 – 15 years,  at least.  Being modern in style,  it will be interesting to see how it keeps relative to the New Zealand versions.  GK 04/06

2004  Corbans Syrah Hawkes Bay Private Bin   17 ½ +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $24   [ screwcap;  release July ’06;  French oak;  www.corbans.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  in the middle for weight.  Bouquet is unequivocally syrah,  clearly floral with suggestions of buddleia and undertones of honey (a very characteristic feature of good northern Rhone syrah),  clear cassis and red fruits,  some peppercorn.  Palate is similar,  slightly stalkier than first thought,  but that will mellow into complexity with time in cellar.  Not as rich as the top wines,  totally Crozes-Hermitage in style,  some brett making it very Rhone-like,  attractive.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 05/06

2003  Jaboulet Hermitage la Chapelle   17 ½ +  ()
Hermitage,  northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $199   [ cork;  hand-picking commenced 26 August,  matched only by 1947 in recent years;  yield just under 1 t/ac in ‘03;  de-stemmed,  temperature-controlled cuvaison 3 – 4 weeks;  acid-adjusted in ’03;  c. 18 months in oak;  www.jaboulet.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  close to both the Vidal Soler and Pask syrahs in density,  but brighter,  less oak-influenced.  Bouquet is modern syrah,  in a slightly unusual style,  clearly varietal but not clearly Rhone like the other two French in this batch.  The oddest feature is the still-infantile estery character,  reminiscent of a fresh-cut sturmer apple,  on cassisy fruit.  Palate is all cassis on older oak than the other two Rhones or most of the New Zealand wines,  with attractive flesh on the finish.  In my mind there is a caveat on the unknit youthfulness of the wine,  which makes it look unfinished and clumsy alongside Bullnose or le Sol.  I hope (but am not completely convinced) this 2003 la Chapelle is a great improvement on the 1999 or the 2001,  both of which have aged prematurely.  It certainly does not,  however,  mark a return to the standard of the 80s,  despite the good vintage.  It is not,  for example,  as complete a syrah as the 2004 Red Rock ($20).  Let us hope the new owners completely resurrect this once-famous label.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 04/06

2004  Xabregas Shiraz   17 ½  ()
Mt Barker,  Western Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $ –    [ screwcap;  price in the $20s;  made at the Porongurup contract winery,  using Ganimede Italian fermenters which cycle the juice over the skins using the CO2 produced in fermentation.  Their reputation is to produce more colour and a softer and more aromatic wine - www.porongurup-winery.com.au;   Xabregas is the volume label of Traolach;  www.xabregas.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine,  above midway in depth.  Bouquet is a little congested at first,  with farmyard suggestions on blueberry fruit.  It clears quickly with decanting,  to some red floral suggestions in good berryfruit,  with some charry oak maybe.  Palate is juicy and slightly stalky blueberry,  some dark chocolate undertones,  not the weight and mellowness of the Reserve,  yet one can see the relationship.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 05/06

2002  Tahbilk Shiraz   17 ½  ()
Nagambie Lakes,  Central Victoria,  Australia:  13.5%;  $21   [ cork;  lack of wine detail on website;  www.tahbilk.com.au ]
Ruby,  velvet and some carmine,  older than ’04 Hawkes Bay wines.  Initially opened,  this wine is not as euc'y as the sibling Cabernet,  it rather showing acceptable mint and aromatics reminiscent of touriga as well as syrah.  Palate shows rich berry not unduly influenced by new oak,  with excellent mouthfeel and length.  It is more in the classic Tahbilk style than the Cabernet Sauvignon.  The mint is there throughout,  but it is pleasing rather than obtrusive.  The berry-dominant nature of this wine reminds me of the fragrant 1966 Tahbilk Shiraz,  though there is more new oak in this.  The earlier wine cellared well,  as will this,  5 – 20 years.  GK 03/06

2003  Pierre Gaillard St Joseph les Pierres   17 ½  ()
St Joseph,  northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $67   [ cork;  some info on the website given;  www.bkwine.com/wine_pictures/south_france/rhone/gaillard/index.htm ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is gorgeous syrah,  with violets,  dianthus and dark rose florals grading through to fresh cracked peppercorns,  on cassis and dark berry fruit.  Palate is very vibrant and fresh,  lots of berry flavour and character,  but not as rich as one would wish,  and higher acid than would be expected for the year (added ?),  plus some new oak.  This wine is new world in style,  but the floral varietal definition is totally Rhone,  and marvellous.  Not a big wine,  but should cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 04/06

2005  Bridge Pa Syrah   17 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $28   [ supercritical cork;  made by Unison;  American and French oak;  www.bridgepa.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  below midway in depth.  Initially opened,  the wine is just a little clogged,  and benefits from decanting.  It opens to a fragrant expression of syrah,  with both florals and cracked black peppercorn,  on cassis and darkest plum fruit.  Palate is in a lighter style,  beautifully balanced,  the peppercorn spicing throughout.  This will mellow into an attractive wine,  in a good Crozes-Hermitage style.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Gunn Estate Syrah Silistria Hawkes Bay   17 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $30   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  c. 30 days cuvaison;  French oak barriques for 12 months;  www.gunnestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  towards the deeper end in colour.  Given a swirl or two,  this wine quickly opens to dense black plum fruit with emerging peppercorn complexity.  Palate is still very youthful on new oak,  and the flavours are reticent at this stage,  but the actual fruit is clearly varietal,  rich and good.  I'm looking forward to checking this in five years,  for it should marry up into a more pleasing richness and complexity.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 04/06

2004  Vidal Syrah Hawkes Bay   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $28   [ screwcap;  hand-picked;  ’04 not on website but ’03 was 75% of grapes whole-berry in fermentation;  14 months in French oak;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  midway in depth,  not quite as bright as the Soler.  Bouquet is ripe and fleshy,  showing beautiful berryfruit tending to the blueberry spectrum of syrah,  with a hint of boysenberry.  There is not quite as vibrant cassis and peppercorn as the Soler,  though there are suggestions.  Palate is juicy,  lots of blueberry,  gently oaked in older oak,  seemingly as rich as the Soler,  but nowhere near as oaky.  It thus seems simpler,  but it is still an attractive and quite weighty syrah in its own right.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Mission Syrah Reserve   17 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $23   [ supercritical cork;  13-year vines,  bunch-thinned;  cuvaison > 10 days;  6 – 8 months in French oak 60% new;  this wine a barrel-selection;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  a little velvet,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is soft and sweet on this edition of the Mission Reserve Syrah,  a little more Australian in style than some have been,  with fruit ripened almost to the boysenberry stage.  Palate is juicy,  with attractively balanced oak including a hint of cedar.  Varietal specifics such as peppercorn are less apparent,  and the wine tastes a little like attractive Victorian shiraz.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Trinity Hill Syrah Gimblett Gravels   17 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $30   [ cork;  Sy 97%,  Vi 3;  hand-picked,  co-fermented,  extended cuvaison and MLF in tank;  14 months in French and American oak some new;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  bright,  in the middle for depth.  Bouquet is intensely floral and fragrant,  as if there is some whole berry fermentation in this.  Once one knows there is a small viognier component,  one can imagine florals akin to wild ginger,  but that was not apparent blind.  Berry character includes cassis and red cherries.  Palate is a little less,  slightly stalky,  but with lovely peppercorn varietal characters in the cassis and red plummy fruits,  all subtly oaked.  This has attractive acid balance and will soften in cellar,  to be good food wine.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Manara Rock Shiraz   17 +  ()
Barossa Valley,  Australia:  14%;  $14   [ screwcap,  bottled in NZ by Villa Maria group;  not on website ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  This wine has a delightful fresh highly varietal shiraz bouquet,  showing good ripeness not overdone,  and lovely aromatics not drowned in oak.  It hints at floral and peppercorn in complexity,  but is more rasp / boysenberry.  Palate is remarkably rich and concentrated for a wine at this pricepoint,  immaculately clean,  surprisingly dry but perhaps not bone dry – hard to tell at this fruit level.  In fact,  this is a great taste of shiraz Aussie style,  not mucked up with oak.  Like the cabernet,  perhaps it only met some chips,  in a mainly stainless steel evolution.  If so,  it was very well done.  This will cellar 5 – 10 years, and will probably surprise at the end of that time.  If Villa Maria can keep up this fruit quality in bulk shirazes from Australia,  they have a winner.  2004 was a good vintage,  however,  so that could be difficult.  VALUE  GK 03/06

2004  Mills Reef Syrah Elspeth   17 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $37   [ cork;  100% hand-harvested,  destemmed;  50% fermented in s/s and 50% in French oak,  plus 18 months in French oak;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Older than most wines of the age class,  midway in depth.  This is a hard wine to score,  for though the fruit quality is good,  with some floral components tying in with Bullnose and taking it more towards a Rhone style,  the VA level is too high for comfort.  Palate shows less oak than Elspeth traditionally has,  and that is a worthwhile step forward.  And the cassisy berry on palate is super.  Would have scored higher,  with less obvious VA.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 05/06

2003  Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz Billi Billi   17 +  ()
Victoria,  Australia:   – %;  $18   [ screwcap;  website hopelessly out of date;  www.langi.com.au ]
Ruby,  some velvet.  After all the drama associated with a blind tasting containing several of New Zealand's top syrahs not shown in wine judgings,  plus the current New Zealand Trophy syrah,  and three good French wines from the exciting 2003 vintage in the northern Rhone,  smelling this wine is like coming home – if you've been around Aussie shiraz for 40 years.  It smells ripe and aromatic with fresh boysenberries and raspberries,  plus a hint of cassis and mint (but not euc),  and even peppercorn maybe,  but no florals in the Rhone sense.  Palate is roundly fruity,  nicely balanced to older oak,  absolutely mainstream Victorian shiraz in the best traditional style,  not quite as rich as the Tahbilk.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  VALUE  GK 04/06

2004  Pask Syrah Gimblett Road   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $24   [ screwcap; 7 months in new and two year old French and American oak;  www.cjpaskwinery.co.nz ]
Ruby,  below midway in depth of colour.  Bouquet is sweetly floral and reminding of dusky roses and violets maybe,  with ripe berry and plum suggestions.  Palate is cassisy and aromatic on spicy oak,  which has the slightest hint of nutmeg.  I think there is some whole-berry component to this,  also complexing the bouquet.  The balance of flavours and mouthfeel is pleasantly European,  in this wine.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Sacred Hill Syrah Deerstalkers   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  extended cuvaison followed by 18 months in French oak;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Colour is older and more oak-influenced than the Gunn Silistria,  more just ruby and velvet,  but it is one of the deepest.  This wine is a worry to me.  Each time I see it,  I rate it differently.  Since it is bottled under screwcap,  there is no easy explanation.  On this occasion it opened reductive,  and the rating at various times may therefore depend on how long the glass has been poured before assessment.  Once aerated,  it seems to be a much riper wine than Silistria,  with over-ripe components including ample boysenberry notes,  which might be fine for shiraz,  but detract from good syrah.  The wine also seems richer and more oaky than the Silistria,  but is displaying less exact varietal definition than the syrahs rated more highly.  Perhaps the reductive tendency springs from extended time on yeast lees,  not aerated quite enough.  It does not seem as exciting as the ‘02 Deerstalkers,  but I do not have them side-by-side.  This would score more highly in an Australian-oriented batch of shiraz / syrahs,  but in this tasting the quest is for syrah varietal beauty rather more than size.  Comparison with the Gunn Silistria version arises from Gunn Estate and Sacred Hill being linked.  Given the richness,  I think this wine will clear with extended time in cellar,  5 – 15 years.  GK 04/06

2004  Mills Reef Syrah Reserve   17  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $20   [ screwcap;  some Gimblett Gravels fruit;  destemmed;  whole-berry ferment in s/s then 9 months in French oak;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby,  one of the lighter ones.  Bouquet is the odd-man-out in the set,  with exactly the same kind of crushed chrysanthemum note in the oak that Chilean red wines sometimes show.  Behind that is attractive ripe berry,  red currants,  blackcurrants and blueberry,  and a delightfully gentle palate which is pleasantly oaked.  This will be very drinkable,  though it is a lighter wine.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Stonecroft Syrah Young Vine   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $19   [ supercritical cork;  worthwhile % of the new clone 470;  14 months in older French oak;  www.stonecroft.co.nz ]
Good youthful ruby.  This is an exciting bouquet for New Zealand syrah,  showing the same kind of enhanced florals and black peppercorn spice that the new French clone 470 showed in the Te Mata Bullnose ‘04.  On inquiry,  this wine too includes significant clone 470.  It is much more clearly syrah,  and much closer to modern Rhone in style than the average of the mainstream New Zealand Te Kauwhata clone.  Palate is cassis and spicy plum plus black pepper,  not a big wine,  quite firm acid,  subtle oak,  but a super flavour.  It should mature into a very pleasing and complex food wine,  in a Crozes-Hermitage style.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  VALUE  GK 02/06

2001  Rostaing Cote Rotie Cote Blonde   17  ()
Cote Rotie,  northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $115   [ cork ]
Older ruby,  lighter than the ‘01 la Chapelle.  Bouquet is syrah in a modest Rhone style,  lightly floral and redfruits,  and slightly savoury on old oak which contains a similar Chilean note to the Vins de Vienne.  Palate is distressingly mature for such a young wine,  slightly acid,  and appears to be running out of fruit.  Disappointing both for the label and the price,  and suited only to short-term cellaring,  perhaps 3 – 6 years at the most.  GK 04/06

2001  Matariki Syrah Reserve   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $30   [ cork;  hand-harvested;  cuvaison c. 20 days,  17 months in mostly French oak 39% new;  www.matarikiwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  one of the lightest and older ones,  reasonably enough.  This is one of the more distinctive wines in the blind tasting,  not only by being older.  Since it is still on sale,  it is reported on here.  It is a remarkably European-styled red on bouquet,  with savoury maturing fruit making one think of dark rich casseroles.    Palate is varietal in a dry black peppercorn and browning berry way,  the premature drying fitting in with the savoury = brett characters on bouquet.  Not a wine for high-tech winemakers,  but very good with appropriate foods.  Cellar 3 – 5 years,  drying all the while.  GK 05/06

2003  Howard Park Shiraz Leston   17  ()
Margaret River,  Western Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $41   [ screwcap;  18 months in French oak 60% new,  balance 1-year;  www.howardparkwines.com.au ]
Good ruby,  carmine and velvet, above halfway in density.  This is a big bouquet,  with an aromatic euc'y edge on rich blueberry and blackberry fruit,  plus some oak.  Palate brings up the boysenberry component,  giving an almost too juicy flavour,  and hence the wine seems simple.  Plenty of fruit,  though,  and balanced oak.  In a New Zealand syrah tasting,  it lacks complexity,  and is a bit euc'y.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Hatton Syrah Estate    17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $53   [ cork;   no detail on website;  www.hattonestate.com ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet,  as dark as le Sol,  a marvellous colour.  Initially opened,  this wine is too reductive.  It needs splashy pouring from jug to jug,  back and forth.  Thus aerated,  it retains some broody characters,  but opens sufficiently to reveal dense Crozes-Hermitage-styled dark syrah in much the same mould as Belle’s Louis Belle (which is reductive some years) but richer,  with darkest cassis and plum hiding below.  Palate is very rich and concentrated,  very dry,  but austere on the retained sulphur.  The opportunity for a great wine has just been missed,  here.  It will be rated more highly by those insensitive to sulphide,  but this could have been so much better.  The high mark (for a reductive wine) rewards the richness,  for it will cellar 10 – 15,  maybe 20 years,  perhaps to blossom in the later stages.  GK 05/06

2004  Stonecroft Syrah Serine   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $26   [ supercritical cork;  Te Kauwhata clone;  www.stonecroft.co.nz ]
Lightish ruby.  This is an intriguing wine,  standing a little to one side.  There is a fresh cherry-berry and red plum quality to it reminiscent of good valpolicella,  and the palate has an almondy and fleshy cherry flavour-complexity to it,  which meshes with that idea neatly.  Oak is low,  but the acid is a little higher than the Young Vines,  making the wine seem a little austere.  Fruit weight is good though,  and the flavours are ripe.  It needs several years to fill out,  to maybe develop more bouquet on that crisp acid.  This is not dramatic syrah,  but being ripe in flavour it will be very pleasant Italian-styled red with food.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 05/06

2001  Jaboulet Hermitage la Chapelle   16 ½ +  ()
Hermitage,  northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $180   [ cork;  hand-picked last week of Sept.;  yield usually 1.5 – 2 t/ac;  de-stemmed,  temperature-controlled cuvaison 3 – 4 weeks;  c. 18 months in oak;  www.jaboulet.com ]
Older ruby,  some velvet.  Initially opened,  this wine shows an old cooperage odour which is slightly skunky and bretty,  like old-fashioned shippers’ Bordeaux.  Below is a maturing cassis berry,  richer than the Rostaing.  Palate is noticeably richer,  but it is similarly ageing more rapidly than one would hope.  Well aerated via decanting,  this is a more pleasurable prematurely old Rhone than the Rostaing,  and better than the 1999,  but it is a far cry from classical la Chapelle.  Cellar 5 – 8 years only.  GK 04/06

2005  Mission Syrah Hawkes Bay   16 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $18   [ supercritical cork;  cuvaison > 10 days;  6 – 8 months in French oak;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Colour is ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is in a lighter and more floral style,  with florals including both dianthus and buddleia,  and even salvia – delightful,  on cassis and plummy  berry.  Palate is lighter,  fresher and stalkier than the bouquet suggests,  very lightly oaked and slightly acid in balance,  with a delightful suggestion of bush honey through both bouquet and palate.  As noted for another wine,  this character is particularly characteristic of northern Rhone syrah.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 05/06

2003  Wishart Syrah Alluvion   16 ½  ()
Bay View,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $29   [ screwcap;  website not up to date;  www.wishartwinery.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  towards the light end of the colour range.  Bouquet is a little mixed in character,  with stalky suggestions in berry which touches on blueberry,  boysenberry and pinotage – including a hint of black olives.  Palate is the same,  reasonable berry,  lightly oaked,  some brett,  a little stalky / oaky.  Cellar 3 – 8 years,  to mellow.  GK 05/06

2003  Four Sisters Shiraz   16 ½  ()
Australia:  14%;  $14   [ screwcap;  this 'restaurant' label originated at Mount Langi Ghiran,  but is now understood to be a joint venture between them and Tahbilk.  Fruit is drawn from Victoria and McLaren Vale at least;  information is scarce;  no website found ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  to the lighter end.  Bouquet is clean and fresh mainstream Victorian shiraz,  some raspberry and boysenberry,  older oak,  lightly minty but not euc'y,  well made in a more traditional medium-weight style.  Palate is much the same,  a lighter wine but attractive fresh aromatic berry,  not a lot of complexity beyond the mint,  slightly stalky rather than peppercorn,  easy drinking.  This will cellar attractively for 5 – 8 years,  in its lighter style.  VALUE  GK 05/06

2004  Sileni Syrah Cellar Selection   16 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $25   [ screwcap;  Cellar Selection is the basic range for Sileni,  in contrast to Villa Maria;  website not up to date;  www.sileni.co.nz ]
Ruby,  below midway in depth.  This is a lightly floral and fragrant blueberry kind of syrah,  with almost sweet-pea florals.  There is also a suggestion of reddest rhubarb stalks (cooked,  +ve).  Palate is soft,  very blueberry,  almost fleshy though the wine is lightish,  finishing well.  This will be great QDR syrah in a couple of years,  and will cellar 4 – 6.  GK 05/06

2004  Brookfields Syrah Hillside   16 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $40   [ cork;  wine not on website;  www.brookfieldsvineyards.co.nz ]
Ruby and some velvet,  older than most of the Hawkes Bay ‘04s.  Bouquet is strongly stylised,  quite rich,  but with a lot of (what seems like) US oak drowning varietal delicacy.  Palate is very oaky,  with rich almost sweet slightly caramel fruit not tasting much of syrah at this stage,  and the oak showing almost a ‘carbolic’ bite.  This wine makes the Pask Declaration look quite reasonably balanced.  The fruit flavours are more Australian boysenberry shiraz than New Zealand or French cassisy syrah.  It needs time in cellar to soften,  but I suspect it will remain big and clumsy.  Cellar for 5 – 15 years.  GK 04/06

2002  Babich Pinotage Winemakers Reserve   16 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $25   [ cork;  12 months in American oak some new;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  towards the light end of the syrahs in colour.  Bouquet in this wine is absolutely commercial pinotage,  that curious mix of rasp / boysenberry and green and black olives,  with less fruit and relatively more oak than the Te Awa.  Palate continues that trend,  the fruit seeming a little dilute and under-ripe,  and the oak flavours substituting.  Straightforward wine,  more for the short-term.  Cellar 2 – 5 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Villa Maria Syrah Private Bin   16 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels 40% and nearby Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $23   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested,   destemmed;  ferment in s/s and 21 days cuvaison,  then MLF and 15 months in oak;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  slight velvet,  midway in depth.  This is another wine that surprised in this tasting,  not looking at all how it seemed a couple of months ago.  Bouquet is fragrant,  but this time instead of ample berry and florals springing to mind,  there is instead a leafy fragrance in the fruit,  in a styling more akin to Crozes-Hermitage.  Palate shows very fresh but modest berry in the red currant and inclining to cassis and blueberry range,  markedly lighter and more acid than the Cellar Selection,  and slightly leafy.  Finish is berry dominant more than oak,  leaving overly-fresh cassisy flavours in the mouth.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 05/06

2003  Logan Shiraz / Viognier Weemala   16 +  ()
Orange & Mudgee,  NSW,  Australia:  13.5%;  $15   [ screwcap;  Weemala the second tier wines;  2 days cold soak,  14 days cuvaison;  15 months 2 – 4 year French oak;  www.loganwines.com.au ]
Good ruby,  a hint of velvet.  Bouquet is oaky to a fault,  quite drowning the variety,  but the whole wine is clean and fragrant in a straightforward Aussie red way.  Palate is slightly euc'y as well as oaky,  simple plummy fruit,  scarcely varietal,  slightly stalky,  reasonable concentration,  just well-made sound QDR,  wearing a trendy label.  At least it is dry.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 03/06

2005  Sacred Hill Syrah   16 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $20   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  MLF in barrel and 3 – 4 months on lees,  racked off then up to 10 months in oak ]
Ruby,  a little velvet,  below midway.  Bouquet is very different from the Deerstalkers,  a fresh slightly estery syrah with red fruits and cassis,  and stewed plums (+ve).  Palate follows logically,  a little hard,  like sucking red plum stones,  slightly peppery,  lightly oaked,  a bit acid,  but good fruit.  Cellar 5 – 8 years,  to mellow.  GK 05/06

2004  Bilancia Syrah / Viognier   16  ()
Gimblett Gravels 80% and balance adjacent,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $31.50   [ screwcap;  Sy 98,  Vi 2; hand-harvested;  Vi skins only co-fermented with Sy;  MLF and 16 months in French oak 40% new;  www.bilancia.co.nz ]
Ruby,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is clearly leafy / stalky in a cool-year Crozes-Hermitage style,  with some floral and berry components.  Palate has good berryfruit,  but red fruits only,  and some peppercorn,  all tending stalky and a little acid.  Beautifully made,  the oak subtle and stylish,  but the fruit not ripe enough.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Matariki Syrah Aspire   15 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $20   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  2 days cold soak;  cuvaison > 10 days,  13 months in French oak 20% new;  www.matarikiwines.co.nz ]
Bright light ruby,  amongst the lightest.  Bouquet is light too,  more a QDR with indeterminate red fruits,  and just a hint of pepper to give a varietal clue,  plus trace brett.  Palate is light,  crisp and juicy,  faintly stalky,  maybe not totally bone dry,  pleasantly straightforward QDR syrah which could be cellared 2 – 6 years.  GK 05/06

2002  MadFish Shiraz   15 ½  ()
Western Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $20   [ cork;  12 months in French oak some new;  www.madfishwines.com.au ]
Colour is medium ruby,  one of the lightest.  Bouquet is very euc'y,  detracting from its varietal character.  Palate shows fair berry and fruit in a soft medium-weight wine,  with some blueberry and boysenberry flesh around the euc'y aromatics.  Finish is a bit hard and acid adjusted.  This too is QDR syrah,  very Australian in style,  and would probably be marked more favourably in a eucalyptus-tolerant milieu.  Cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Squawking Magpie Syrah The Stoned Crow   15  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $40   [ screwcap ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  in the middle for depth of colour.  This is an old-fashioned wine,  with some reductive and some organic characters,  which benefits from splashy decanting.  It opens to a quite rich and European style,  soft,  with browning plummy flavours,  and suggestions of pepper.  It is the kind of wine which scores poorly in a formal judging,  but by virtue of being richer than for example the Babich Syrah or Mad Fish Shiraz,  it is still pleasant drinking with food.  Cellar 2 – 5 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Babich Syrah Winemakers Reserve   15  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $25   [ cork;  a trace of viognier,  co-fermented with wild yeast;  22 days cuvaison;  11 months in American and French oak some new;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Bright light ruby,  the lightest of all the wines.  Bouquet is light,  clean and fragrant,  with both buddleia florals and clear cracked peppercorn.  Palate has some cassisy suggestions in red plummy fruit,  but all tending acid and stalky / peppery,  and clearly lacking concentration / dry extract.  This suggests over-cropping,  relative to the average quality being achieved in syrah in New Zealand.  More a dry QDR syrah,  but could be cellared 2 – 5 years at the most.  GK 05/06

2004  Trinity Hill Shiraz Hawkes Bay   14 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.7%;  $20   [ supercritical cork; de-stemmed; cuvaison >14 days; some of the wine spent 12 months in French oak;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby,  towards the light end.  Bouquet on this one is quite strong,  but due more to the fragrance of leafy / under-ripe berries.  Flavours follow on,  with reasonable weight of red and slightly cassisy fruit,  but all too green,  like a very cool-year Crozes-Hermitage.  Cellar 3 – 5 years,  though marginally worthwhile.  GK 05/06

2004  Crossroads Syrah Destination Series   14 ½  ()
Mostly Dartmoor Valley,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $18   [ cork;  machine-picked;  10 months in French & American oak 20% new;  www.crossroadswinery.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is leafy first and foremost,  and in the blind tasting fits in with the cabernet / merlots.  Below is stalky cassis and lightly plummy fruit,  with faint cracked pepper.  The wine improves somewhat with breathing.  Palate is leafy too,  with reasonable red fruits,  but it is youthful and lacking ripeness,  another wine seeming over-cropped.  It will soften and become fragrant cool climate QDR in a couple of years,  maybe showing more syrah character in a minor Crozes-Hermitage way.  Cellar 3 – 5 years.  GK 03/06

2004  Ngatarawa Syrah Silks   14 ½  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $20   [ screwcap;  12 months in oak;  www.ngatarawa.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  in the middle for depth of colour.  This is the oddest bouquet in the field,  smelling strongly of less than ideally ripe Cape gooseberries.  Palate shows the wine has been carefully oaked with attractive potentially cedary wood,  but the fruit is acid and stalky,  with only slight suggestions of appropriate berry character,  such as cassis.  More ripeness needed here.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 05/06

2004  Matua Valley Syrah Matheson   14  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $29   [ screwcap;  matured in oak some new;  no wine-making info on site;  www.matua.co.nz ]
Ruby,  among the lightest.  Initially this wine is a little farty and old-fashioned,  and needs vigorous decanting back and forth,  jug to jug.  Breathed,  it still tends to farmyard complexities (plus some brett),  on plain fruit which is hard to pin down as to variety.  Flavours are modest,  wholesome enough,  showing some very old cooperage.  More QDR than varietal,  not worth cellaring.  GK 05/06

2003  Laroche Syrah   13  ()
Vin de Pays d’Oc,  France:  13.5%;  $20   [ screwcap;  hard-to-use website;  www.larochewines.com ]
Older ruby,  but better than the matching Laroche Merlot.  Bouquet is estery / volatile,  as if still fermenting,  and the flavours are of boiled prunes and severely over-ripe plums almost rotting.  Palate is soft and ripe,  but very plain,  even as QDR or vin de pays.  GK 04/06

2005  Vidal Syrah ‘barrel sample,  potential Soler'
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:   – %;  $ –    [ indicative mark 18.5 + ]
Carmine,  ruby and velvet,  very bright and dense at this stage.  This syrah has at this stage captured more precise Rhone and syrah varietal florals (dianthus,  carnations) on bouquet,  than any syrah so far released in New Zealand.  It would be magical if they could be conserved through to bottle.  Below is vibrant cassis,  equally enchanting.  Palate is very peppercorny,  great berryfruit,  a level of oaking which at this moment seems to me perfect,  more Rhone in balance than New Zealand.  If this wine continues on its present track,  it will be unequivocal gold-medal syrah,  totally Hermitage in style,  and fulfilling all the expectations Hawkes Bay winemakers have expressed about the 2005 vintage reds in their district.  A 2006 sample is remarkably similar,  allowing for incomplete malo etc.  Exciting.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/06