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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.
SOME SYRAH,  CABERNET / MERLOT AND VIOGNIER WINES FROM CALIFORNIA,  WASHINGTON,  FRANCE,  AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND


The love affair with syrah continues,  this time in new territories.  On his latest visit to New Zealand to participate in harvest for Blake Family Vineyards (introduced in a review on this site 30 Nov. '06) in Hawkes Bay,  proprietor Mark Blake presented a sensational blind tasting of syrahs from California,  Washington,  France,  New Zealand and Australia.  I have read so much over the years about first Californian then Washington syrahs,  that this was like the fulfillment of a dream.  Participants included winemakers from California and Hawkes Bay,  plus Raymond Chan and Geoff Kelly from Wellington.

Format for the tasting was a few viogniers by way of conversation wines on arrival,  then a formal sit-down blind tasting of 16 syrahs,  served in two flights divided by age.  They were followed by a meal with a few cabernet / merlots deceptively casually served,  but in fact world-class.  As the syrahs were revealed,  it became apparent that these too included famous labels,  but the exact extent to which Mark Blake had secured class-leading wines from North America was not fully apparent to me until I started on the research and web stage,  once all the wines were tasted and my reviews were written.  

This write-up likewise presents the wines in their three groups,  so the cabernet / merlots are after the syrahs (below).  My pattern of working was to assess the wines fresh out of the bottles up there,  then to bring good glass samples of each back to Wellington under ice.  To them I added one gold-medal and Trophy-winning viognier,  syrah,  and cabernet / merlot from the recent Royal Easter Show,  as some kind of external reference point from our temperate climate.  The syrahs were then set up in another formal blind tasting.

The North American syrahs ranged from the cool Santa Barbara coast nearer Los Angeles than San Francisco,  north through California to the Columbia Valley in Washington State.  They included wines from some of the most famous 'cool-climate' zones.  We did not know that at the outset,  for all the wines were bagged well beforehand.  I guess the key point of interest for me was the extent to which the newer cooler-climate growing regions in California (and maybe Washington) would approach the syrah winestyle as defined in recent reviews of syrah on this website,  as opposed to the shiraz / hotter-climate style.  It was already apparent from years of perusing Robert Parker's evaluations of these wines,  that the North American examples could be very big wines indeed.  And though Washington is further north than Oregon,  the main grape growing regions are markedly continental in climate.  

The format adopted served the wines very well indeed.  In Hawkes Bay,  the wines were presented un-decanted and hence un-breathed.  Most of them being of some size,  they in fact needed some exposure to air to open them up.  Holding them cool and examining them again back in Wellington was for some wines a revelation.  This raises the difficulty of how to score them,  for most people do not in fact sample wines decanted or aired,  but merely as they come freshly de-corked.  I have made clear in each review how the wine fared in this respect.  I can only repeat the general comment offered time and again on this site,  that virtually all wines from the youngest to the fully mature benefit immeasurably from pouring out into a decanter,  jug,  or other relatively wide-mouthed vessel.  Only with seriously old wines may this be a gamble,  seriously old meaning decades.

The scores given  in this review reflect my appraisal alone of the breathed wines.  The ranking presented here varies markedly both from the group-averaged ranking of the ten tasters on the night,  and in some cases from my own initial appraisals.  I note however that my top wine in each flight stayed the same.  Further comment in the individual wine reviews.

There seems little point in harping on in each review about the monstrous alcohols Americans and Australians are coming to regard as normal,  sadly,  when more enlightened parts of the world are on the brink of seeking lower alcohols in table wines.  This trend is all part of the recent undesirable Americanisation of world wine,  whereby bigger is better,  and simple over-ripeness is preferred to optimal ripeness and complexity.  Suffice to say,  most of the wines in this review would have been more attractive at lower alcohols,  with more attention to the viticulture needed to achieve full physiological ripeness in the fruit at lower sugars.  The Rhone has shown it is possible to achieve full flavour ripeness and complexity in syrah at potential alcohols of 13% and even less.  One of the best 2005 New Zealand / Hawkes Bay syrahs has achieved marvellous flavours at 13%,  so it can be done outside France.  But even in New Zealand,  excess alcohol is a gratuitous problem we would be better without in our reds.  Real work is needed here.

References:  as always,  the superb latest edition of the World Atlas of Wine is the first port of call,  in gaining a good feel for the location and topography of these exciting (to a New Zealander) wine regions.  Recent visitor to New Zealand Remington Norman's Rhone Renaissance covers several of the Californian producers included here,  but none of the Washington ones.
Johnson,  Hugh & Jancis Robinson,  2001:  The World Atlas of Wine.  Mitchell Beazley,  352 p.
Norman,  Remington,  1995:  Rhone Renaissance.  Mitchell Beazley,  336 p.

Acknowledgement:  it was a great pleasure to be invited to participate in this tasting presented by Mark Blake.  Some of the wines shown were rare,  and extremely difficult to secure in North America.  To have them in New Zealand is a rare treat.  To share in such generosity was a privilege.


VIOGNIER
 
2001  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Ayguets 500 ml
2004  Guigal Condrieu la Doriane
  2001  Rostaing Condrieu La Bonnette
2006  Vidal Viognier

2004  Guigal Condrieu la Doriane   18 ½ +  ()
Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  c. US$90;  35-year vines cropped @ 2.25 t/ac;  BF and MLF in new French oak,  plus 9 months LA and batonnage;  Parker 163:  "intense mineral notes intermixed with honeysuckle, peach, and floral components … tight … 93";  Spectator:  92;  Robinson:  "Deeply nutty-flavoured … 15"  [ sounds a lesser / bit oxidised bottle,  comparable with one encountered a few days previously,  at Regional Wines & Spirits,  unlike the one below – how fraught reporting on wines is ! ];  www.guigal.com ]
Lemonstraw.  Bouquet is a couple of sizes larger than the Vidal,  but with remarkable complementarity of the components.  Everything in the French wine is just delightfully more obvious – particularly the orange blossom florals,  the apricotty fruit,  and the MLF component (which is much more apparent,  perhaps beyond absolute elegance).  On palate the strength of flavour continues bold alongside the Vidal,  dramatically varietal,  and both the oak and alcohol show more,  while the acid is somewhat less.  This is unequivocal viognier,  well-balanced for a clearly-oaked one,  probably at a peak now.  Cellar a year or so – I suspect such strength of character will coarsen with age.  GK 04/07

2006  Vidal Viognier   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $32   [ screwcap,  BF in older French oak,  small % MLF;  RS 1.5 g/L;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Light lemon.  Bouquet is understated but shows fragrant yellow florals with suggestions of honeysuckle / wild ginger blossom on gentle custard-apple and light fresh ripe apricots.  Palate is elegantly balanced,  some body in the fruit but still light and refreshing,  the oak and MLF components virtually invisible,  yet both framing the wine,  and filling out the finish beautifully.  This is lovely gentle and mild international-quality viognier of great finesse,  avoiding the edginess of the Te Mata.  It is the best Vidal Viognier yet,  perhaps the best New Zealand viognier yet,  and being subtle should cellar 1 – 4 years.  GK 04/07

2001  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Ayguets 500 ml   18  ()
Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  c. US$80;  botrytised;  Wine Spectator:  "Quite sweet, this oozes with dried fruit – peach, raisins, apricots and pineapple. A full-bodied dessert wine, seductive and delicious, delivering some tobacco box and smoke on the wonderful finish. Drink now through 2015. 415 cases made.  93";  this wine not on website,  which is more an introduction to the firm;  http://www.isasite.net/cuilleron ]
Colour is a coppery light gold.  Bouquet is fragrant in a holygrass,  botrytis and fresh soft sultanas way,  ethereal and penetrating with suggestions of freshly dried apricots maybe,  but not explicitly varietal.  Palate is viscously sweet,  fresh acid,  very sultana-y (rather than raisiny),  tasting for all the world like a TBA from one of the crossbred German grapes of the 70s,  such as albalonga.  Hard to estimate how sweet the wine is,  perhaps around 150 g/L.  Finish is long,  staying fresh on the holygrass,  and continuing the sultana and apricot notes.  Already forward though,  so being viognier,  presumably no longer a cellar wine ?  GK 04/07

2001  Rostaing Condrieu La Bonnette   14  ()
Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $ –    [ cork;  c. US$65;  100% MLF;  rated well Parker 147 in 2003 @ 91;  no website found ]
Full straw.  Bouquet is vaguely in style,  but fading,  no florals,  no fresh apricot,  but a quite clear dried peach / dried apricot and old-biscuits aroma.  Palate is lesser,  a rank almost grassy quality with phenolics apparent,  tired fruit,  some signs of oak and MLF [confirmed].  Well past its prime.  GK 04/07


THE SYRAH BLIND TASTING
 
2001  Alban Vineyards Syrah Seymour's Vineyard
2004  Behrens & Hitchcock Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard Homage to Ed Oliveira
2003  Betz Family Winery Syrah la Cote Rousse
2002  Bilancia Syrah la Collina
2004  Bridge Pa Syrah Louis Vineyard
2004  Cayuse Vineyards Syrah Cailloux Vineyard
2001  Chapoutier Ermitage l'Ermite
2002  Craggy Range Syrah le Sol
2004  Dry River Syrah Lovat Vineyard
  2005  Esk Valley Reserve Syrah
2002  Giaconda Shiraz Warner Vineyard
2001  Guigal Cote Rotie la Landonne
2001  Jaboulet Hermitage la Chapelle
2002  The Ojai Vineyard Syrah Melville Vineyard
2004  Pax Syrah Walker Vine Hill Vineyard
2003  Rostaing Cote Rotie
2004  Torbreck [ Shiraz ] The Struie

2004  Pax Syrah Walker Vine Hill Vineyard   19  ()
Russian River Valley,  Northern California,  U.S.A.:  15.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  c. US$65;  85 km NNW of San Francisco;  Sy 100%,  525 cases;  matured in French oak 80% new;  from [ the elegant ] website:  "We believe that the cooler climates along the northern coast of California have the potential to produce world-class Syrah, and that is our goal. … We feel the best way to accomplish this is by utilizing Indigenous fermentations, minimal handling, unobtrusive use of the finest French oak and bottling without filtering or fining";   Parker 162 on this wine:  "A stunning effort …  tremendous intensity along with notes of creosote, blackberry liqueur, cassis, and flowers in a structured, dense, chewy style   93 – 95";  www.paxwines.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a glorious colour,  and one of the deepest.  Bouquet is remarkable,  deep and darkest berry,  intensely rich,  very ripe but still some suggestions of darkest floral complexity,  and still all reasonably fresh.  There is a lift around the dark berry like blackest plums in the sun,  in which the alcohol plays a part.  Palate is colossal,  and now one can readily imagine slightly raisined cassis,  but the dark plum component is not pruney.  The depth and purity of the fruit is great,  and the wine is not unduly tannic – just well balanced against its heroic richness.  I would love to know a dry extract for this wine,  for it is clearly richer than the 02 le Sol,  yet dry – as noted elsewhere it is hard to be sure at this concentration.  It is maybe not as varietal as best Hermitage or Hawkes Bay (little florals or spice,  and noticeable alcohol),  but as a warmer-climate extension of those districts,  in its intense darkest ripe cassis and magnificent stature,  it is clearly related,  and syrah,  not shiraz.  It is exactly the kind of massive yet varietal syrah a cooler-climate taster imagined cooler parts of California could make,  beyond the blah and all-too-common winemaking faults.  The winery in describing this wine refers to violets and chocolate-covered blueberries in the bouquet,  and goes on to say:  What starts out as a scary dark and brooding wine is balanced out by really sweet tannins and bright red fruits. A persistent finish that is clean and fresh, in spite of the enormous weight and texture of this beast.  Exciting.  This was my top wine in the younger flight,  at the unbreathed stage,  and was the second most favoured by the tasters as a whole.  Cellar 10 – 25 + years.  GK 04/07

2005  Esk Valley Reserve Syrah    18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $60   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  from the Cornerstone Vineyard,  100% de-stemmed;  c. 4 weeks cuvaison;  20 months in French oak (ex Burgundy) 50% new,  enriched by batonnage in barrel;  Trophy Syrah and Champion Wine of the recent Easter Show;  1200 bottles;  earlier reviews on this website;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine in velvet,  a little below midway in depth.  Freshly opened,  and later,  bouquet reveals exact syrah fruit characters,  with clear cassis in dark bottled plums,  a hint of cracked black peppercorns,  but at this stage a relative lack of clear florals,  due to the more prominent vanillin oak.  Florals will come.  Palate avoids many of the hazards illustrated by other wines in the group:  it is neither spirity or tannic,  certainly not heavy,  just supple and long,  with fresh berry and trace cracked pepper lingering delightfully.  The key issue about this wine,  harking back to Jancis Robinson again,  is that it is refreshing,  with obvious berry qualities on palate and finish,  and demonstrably varietal too.  More detail in previous reviews.  GK 04/07

2001  Guigal Cote Rotie la Landonne   18 ½  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $ –    [ cork;  c. US$300;  La Landonne a vineyard;  Sy 100%;  average vine age 25 years;  cropped 35 - 37 hL / ha;  fermented in s/s,  4 weeks cuvaison;  42 months in new French oak;   Parker 156:  "Extremely powerful, rich, and backward …  93 – 95";   Spectator:  96,  earlier reviews on this website;  www.guigal.com ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  older than most,  a little below midway in depth.  Bouquet stands out on this wine,  capturing all the beautiful florals and fragrance,  the wallflowers and dianthus,  the underlying berry,  which I seek in great syrah,  but on this occasion with 10 tasters,  I was alone in my enthusiasm.  Below the florals and fragrant cassis berry,  is a mouthwatering savoury note like perfectly grilled rare fillet steak,  perhaps with some truffle paste dressing.  Palate is rich yet silky,  long,  lingering,  refreshing acid,  elegant,  remarkably like somewhat tanniny grand cru Cote de Nuits Burgundy.  I thought this lovely wine,  and in speaking to the wine noted this amount of brett is pretty attractive,  and makes the wine even more food-friendly.  Other tasters including winemakers demurred.  For a wine like this,  I feel a need to refer back to the notes on Brettanomyces I included in the Syrah Symposium report (20 Feb '07),  where I suggested some moderation is needed in the new world appraisal of the brett issue (by winemakers,  understood).  This 2001 Guigal la Landonne is,  quite simply,  a beautiful wine,  and the writings of most of the wine world (to the extent one can actually search most websites for a wine score) seem to agree:  as above plus Livingstone-Learmonth  5-stars (note,  he marks out of 6 stars,  in his new book on the Northern Rhone).  Such savoury wines are sublime with food.  However,  it is only fair to record that in the older flight,  no other taster rated the wine in their top three.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 04/07

2004  Behrens & Hitchcock Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard Homage to Ed Oliveira   18  ()
Mendocino County,  California,  U.S.A.:  15.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  c. US$60;  210 km NNW San Francisco;  Sy 90%,  CS 10;  c. 300 cases;  website:  "However, the most important lesson Ed taught Les was to trust his palate; labs can be helpful, but they will not teach anyone how to make great wine";  no info on individual labels on website;  not fined or filtered;   Parker 162:  "a sensational perfume of mountain-grown black raspberries, blueberries, and flowers … wonderful structure and definition … concentrated, sweet jammy fruit and abundant glycerin … 10-12 years.  94";  www.behrensandhitchcock.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  a little carmine,  around midway in depth.  This wine too was consistent from freshly opened to well aerated,  showing attractive dark bottled plums fruit,  with some aromatic complexities suggesting cracked peppercorns.  Palate is rich,  a suggestion of balsam-like aromatics on succulent cassis and dark plum,  firmed but not dominated by good oak.  Like the la Collina,  there are suggestions of mixed ripeness,  a hint of stalks,  a thought of raisins.  Alcohol is obtrusive though,  being described by one winemaker as 'slippery' in texture.  The alcohol may have concealed a little complexing VA too,  but this is exciting Californian syrah,  not too over-ripe.  Tasters rated this the most-favoured wine in the younger flight,  at the unbreathed stage.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 04/07

2002  Craggy Range Syrah le Sol   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  15%;  $ –    [ cork;  c. US$55;  Sy 100%;  8 – 10 day cold soak,  MLF in barrel,  17 months in French oak 55% new;   Parker 155:  "All of Syrah’s characteristics – smoke, licorice, pepper, blackberries, and currants – are present in this beautifully knit, pure, concentrated 2002.  94";   Spectator:  89;  earlier reviews on this website;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Dense ruby and velvet,  still some carmine,  amongst the deepest.  Initially opened and unaired,  the wine is muted,  hot climate in style,  remarkably reminiscent of the best years of 1960s Stonyfell Metala from Langhorne Creek (back when this was absolutely the premium wine in the firm's portfolio).  It is enormously rich,  chocolatey and clearly sur-maturité,  and very tannic – obviously Californian in the first blind tasting.  Decanted a time or two,  and well aired,  it expands delightfully,  so that in the second blind tasting,  it shows slightly raisined cassis and dark plum on bouquet (but no florals),  rich dark cassis and plums again on palate,  and a dominance of somewhat spirity berry over oak.  The wine is wonderfully rich,  and will cellar for decades,  but it is not explicitly varietal on bouquet due to the sur-maturité component.  Thus,  it does not provide the best interpretation of an optimal New Zealand climatic style for syrah,  as I also implied when first reviewing it on this site 12/04.  Well aired / breathed,  however,  there is no denying it is a dramatic and impressive winestyle,  which meshes in seamlessly in a Californian tasting,  and shows finer tannins than the Pax.  For a more sensitive handling of the le Sol syrah fruit,  which better reflects a guideline for the kind of syrah we need to typically aim for in New Zealand,  look out for the 2005 vintage,  to be released June 2007.  This 2002 will cellar for 5 – 20 + years.  GK 04/07

2004  Bridge Pa Syrah Louis Vineyard   17 ½  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $45   [ supercritical cork;  made by Unison;  12 months in French and American oak;   Spectator:  "Loaded with toasty oak, cola, beef and a firm tannic structure. Tart acidity, pomegranate and mineral flavors shape the peppery finish. To 2009.  87";  earlier reviews on this website;  www.bridgepa.co.nz ]
Ruby and some velvet,  in the middle for depth.  Bouquet shows some floral notes on good berryfruit,  all offset by somewhat coarse oak with resiny notes,  as if the timber were insufficiently aged / conditioned before coopering.  Palate shows syrah ripened pretty well to optimal ripeness in a temperate climate,  attractive berry with suggestions of florals and cassis in plums and a suggestion of boysenberry,  but all finishing a bit raw and oaky.  Less and better oak would help this quality of fruit.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 04/07

2002  The Ojai Vineyard Syrah Melville Vineyard   17 ½  ()
Santa Barbara,  California,  U.S.A:  14.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  c. US$75;   the website includes an intriguing and thoughtful essay from the proprietor Adam Tolmach,  reflecting on 25 years of winemaking.  He makes some simple observations which bear repeating,  simply because they are not yet mainstream thinking in the new world:  "… 25 years of experience tells me there is an inverse relationship between quantity and quality".  And:  "The fashion of the moment is monster wines, and anything that is subtle and fine seems to get lost in the shuffle. Wine makers make excuses for the fact that they are picking riper and riper grapes. They give all sorts of reasons for doing so from global warming to new grape clones to unripe grape skin tannins,  but I think it all comes down to worries about marketing wines that don't play well to the critics".  Good stuff,  in California,  or Australasia (though there are wine critics beyond USA and Australia not so enamoured of enormous wines,  as the 2003 Ch Pavie debate discussed below reminds us).  In the vintage notes for previous vintages,  he observes for this wine:  "Melville's Santa Rita Hills vineyard site is the coolest of our syrah producers, and the climate has a profound effect on the character of this wine. You'll observe peppery, spicy and floral notes that you never see in wines from warmer vineyards";   Parker 154 likes this wine:  "a stunning perfume of crushed rocks, white flowers, blueberry and blackberry liqueur, a viscous texture, good underlying acidity that provides vibrance as well as delineation, and a spectacularly rich, multidimensional mid-palate and finish.  95";  www.ojaivineyard.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the deepest and densest of all the wines.  Initially opened,  and decanted,  this wine showed exactly the same muted syndrome as the 2002 le Sol,  but more so,  smelling almost baked and dull,  tasting huge,  tannic and closed.  And like the le Sol,  with air it is transformed,  the bouquet now showing huge plum-pie fruit of maximum ripeness and beyond,  no florals but great depth,  with some raisined cassis maybe.  Palate is enormously rich,  richer than le Sol,  the fruit raisined cassis and darkest plums of magnificent mouthfeel,  weight and dry extract,  yet dry I think.  Hard to tell,  at this body.  And with air,  the tannins fade away,  and the balance becomes almost ideal in its huge hotter-climate way – except for a suggestion of prunes.  Among the tasters as a whole,  this was the most-favoured wine in the older flight.  It will cellar for decades.  It makes 2002 le Sol look almost delicate,  and that's saying something.  GK 04/07

2002  Bilancia Syrah la Collina   17 +  ()
Roy’s Hill,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $ –    [ cork;  Roy's Hill adjoins the western sector of the Gimblett
Gravels,  but is not part of them;  earlier reviews on this website;  www.bilancia.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  older than some,  in the middle for depth.  Un-aired,  this was an awkward wine in the tasting,  showing both some stalky notes,  and some nearly baked and tending dull ones,  as if it were a hot-climate wine picked early.  Palate continued this theme,  with suggestions of raspberry and of prunes,  a hint of stalks,  and oak which had some Chilean dull qualities.  With air,  like several others,  it expanded considerably,  the tannins softening and the ripeness and richness improving,  to reflect the more mellow fruit qualities now shown in the score.  The identity came as a surprise.  In the older flight,  it was rated second equal by the group as a whole.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 04/07

2004  Cayuse Vineyards Syrah Cailloux Vineyard   17 +  ()
Columbia Valley,  Washington,  U.S.A.:  15.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  US$70;  a syrah-predominant organic vineyard,  marketing directly to a closed mailing list with a waiting list;  no info on the 2004,  the 2003 had 4% viognier co-fermented,  and was rated 87 by Parker / Rovani 164;  www.cayusevineyards.com ]
Ruby,  one of the two lightest.  Straight out of the bottle,  un-decanted,  this wine was affected by 'clean' sulphide (as H2S),  and scored poorly – say 14 (though some tasters rated it higher).  Vigorously aerated,  as in pouring it from one jug to another,  back and forth,  it is much improved.  Bouquet then shows an intriguing balsam-like aromatic on fruits more red than black,  with raspberry suggestions.  On palate it is quite rich,  slightly stalky / peppery,  aromatic and interesting in a Hawkes Bay syrah way,  and not unduly tannic.  With better winemaking,  it would be pretty interesting,  perhaps even in a broadly Cote Rotie style (alcohol aside).  Score above is for the well-aired wine.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 04/07

2001  Alban Vineyards Syrah Seymour's Vineyard   17  ()
Edna Valley,  Arroyo Grande,  California,  U.S.A:  15.8%;  $ –    [ cork;  c. US$90;  320 km SSE of San Francisco,  NW of Santa Barbara;  c.250 cases;   Parker 154:  "The pick of the best barrels … additional concentration, aromatics, and length … meaty flavors that coat the palate with blackberries, mocha, cocoa, earth, and creme de cassis. A tour de force in winemaking, it is a spectacular, rich, broad yet remarkably well-balanced wine … 10-15 years. Awesome stuff !   95";   Spectator:  "Dark, rich and concentrated, with a heady mix of beef, leather, spice, licorice and wild berry flavors that turn exotic and supple, finishing with a long, persistent aftertaste that keeps revealing extra flavor facets. To 2012.   95";  the website serves only for addresses;  www.albanvineyards.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  the second deepest syrah.  Initially opened,  bouquet is overwhelmed with an oak-related acetylene-like odour,  reminiscent of some of the Hardy Show Reserve series Cabernets of the early 70s.  Behind that is quite complex syrah-like fruit,  possibly including a floral component,  as well as brett [ intriguing how the above reviews write around this issue ].  Well decanted and breathed,  a somewhat more interesting wine emerges,  the grape more to the fore,  and the winemaking lapses less apparent.  Palate is berry-rich and savoury,  with browning dark plum,  in fact some thoughts of prunes from raisined sur-maturité,  some dark chocolate,  and massive tannins.  The total impression in mouth (once aired) is reasonably pleasing,  for a relatively hot-climate and very alcoholic winestyle,  except there is some residual sweetness.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 04/07

2004  Dry River Syrah Lovat Vineyard   17  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  was NZ$66;  earlier review on this website;  www.dryriver.co.nz ]
Ruby,  the same weight as the Cayuse,  one of the lightest.  The Dry River opens cleanly,  and stays the same for 24 hours.  Bouquet is floral and fragrant,  nearly dianthus but certainly buddleia and roses,  with clean cracked peppercorn.  Palate is one of the lightest in this tasting,  and it is debatable whether it escapes being classed as stalky.  2004 was a modest season in Martinborough,  and the district is marginal for syrah.  There are red fruits rather than black,  and white pepper as well as black.  The whole wine is fragrant and attractive but cool in style,  slightly acid like a cool-year Cote Rotie.  And like them,  it is pleasing with food,  and refreshing to drink (unless one is habituated to over-ripe high-alcohol wines).  Martinborough is 210 kilometres southwest of central Hawkes Bay.  The 2005 seen in the Syrah Symposium reflects a season just that critical bit warmer.  Cellar 3 – 8 years,  maybe 10.  GK 04/07

2004  Torbreck [ Shiraz ] The Struie   17  ()
Barossa & Eden Valleys,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  c. AU$48;  Sy 100%;  a blend of 44-year Eden Valley shiraz and 80-year Barossa Valley,  aged 18 months French oak 20% new;   Parker 167: "An exotic bouquet of blackberries and other sweet fruits is followed by a full-bodied, powerful, rich red with great purity as well as focus, a laser-like precision, huge intensity, and a blockbuster finish … two decades.   96";   Spectator:   94;  www.torbreck.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  nearly some carmine,  above midway in density.  This was one of the wines which opened up as itself,  and stayed that way over 24 hours.  Bouquet shows a light mint fragrance almost salvia-like,  grading into aniseed,  on red fruits.  Palate is both aromatic and juicy rasp / boysenberry of no great complexity,  seemingly a little stalky yet not quite dry,  made aromatic by balsam-like oak and plant aromatics.  Eucalyptus at this subtlety can be almost attractive,  but the suggestion of residual is blatantly beguiling.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 04/07

2003  Betz Family Winery Syrah la Cote Rousse   16 ½ +  ()
Red Mountain,  Columbia Valley,  Washington,  U.S.A:  14.3%;  $ –    [ cork;  c. US$45,  370 cases;  a district noted for its thick-skinned tannin-rich grapes;  ex website:  "It has the deepest black red color we've yet achieved with Syrah. There are profound blackberry, black cherry aromas, pure and penetrating. Syrah emerges as a roasted meat, violet, spice concerto that carries across to the flavor. Despite classic Red Mountain tannin levels everything is in remarkable harmony, with a fleshy, plump richness balanced by a notable spine of structure. With its concentration, verve and structure this one should do well in the cellar for many years";   Parker / Rovani 164:  "A backward wine … flavors and aromas of blackberries, black raspberries, and asphalt, medium-bodied, pure, a firm tannic backbone … to 2014.  88";  Spectator:  88;  www.betzfamilywinery.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  quite dense,  well above midway.  Bouquet is deep,  dark and mysterious – is it blackberry and charry oak,  or quite severe brett ?  Fruit is dry and 'charred steak' in character,  again dark.  Palate clarifies the wine is indeed deeply bretty,  in the dark chocolate style of the Haven's Syrah in the 2007 Syrah Symposium (associated with Pinot Noir 2007),  but there is also rich browning over-ripe fruit in the plums / prunes sector,  balanced by oak.  It would be great to see this fruit made without such intense brett,  for its richness and balance is interesting.  This too mightn't be bone dry to the finish.  Cellar 5 – 12 years,  perhaps longer.  GK 04/07

2001  Chapoutier Ermitage l'Ermite   16  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  c. US$200;  organic;  hand-harvested from 80-year vines near the top of the Hermitage Hill;  100% de-stemmed,  wild-yeast,  cuvaison 35 – 42 days including MLF;  14 – 18 months in French oak 100% new,  bottled without fining or filtration;  Parker 147:  "The black-colored 2001 Ermitage l’Ermite may be equal to the perfect 1996. Awesome levels of kirsch liqueur, licorice, and white flowers are followed by a superbly concentrated, etched, long, deep wine with multiple layers, a fabulous texture, and virtually perfect balance as well as harmony. Possessing great stature and intensity, it is a monumental achievement. To 2040.  98 – 100";  Spectator:  96;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Ruby,  below midway,  lighter than the Guigal.  This wine showed as simple syrah,  correct but modest,  out of its depth in the company.  The revealing of its label caused some consternation.  Initially I thought it a pleasant,  moderately varietal example of the grape,  from a warmer climate than Hawkes Bay – red fruits,  with slight spice complexity.  Palate followed similarly,  oak in balance,  no faults,  more pleasing QDR syrah / shiraz than cellaring wine.  Post unveiling,  the consensus amongst the winemakers present was for a 'scalped' bottle,  that is,  cork-affected,  diminished,  but not corked as such.  Certainly bears no relation to my last tasting of the wine,  so hard to comment further.  Bad luck.  GK 04/07

2002  Giaconda Shiraz Warner Vineyard   15 ½ +  ()
Beechworth,  Victoria,  Australia:  13.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  c. AU$75;  no info about the wines on the website;  Parker 161:  "… 19 months in 60% new French oak … a stunning nose of camphor, lead pencil shavings, blackberry liqueur, and incense. Fabulously concentrated and rich as well as elegant, pure, and multi-layered, this stunning Victoria Shiraz should drink well for a decade or more.  [The wines] combine the elegance and complexity of Europe, with the sensationally ripe fruit of Australia. Winemaker Rick Kinzbrunner studied at the University of California Davis and also apprenticed at Matanzas Creek, Simi, Stags Leap, and with Christian Moueix in Pomerol.  94;  www.giaconda.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet,  older than some,  in the middle for depth.  Bouquet on this wine opened with some berry and some eucalyptus,  but it became more euc'y with air,  beyond the point where the wine can be taken seriously in an international tasting.  There is good rich berry on palate,  in a simple red fruits vaguely raspberry / boysenberry way,  just straightforward shiraz with no syrah distinction.  But how can one tell,  when the euc is nearly wintergreen ?  Not worth cellaring,  though rich enough to do so for some years.  Score has to be arbitrary,  mine reflecting some intolerance of euc'y wines.  However,  for the tasting group as whole,  it was rated second equal for the older flight.  One Australian review on the web rates it 95,  with no mention of eucalyptus at all !  Each to their own.  GK 04/07

2001  Jaboulet Hermitage la Chapelle   14 ½  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  c. $US120;  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;   Parker 147: [paraphrased] "… looks to be a strong effort … a good sign after a succession of uninspiring [wines] … a sweet nose of creme de cassis intermixed with licorice and earth. Full-bodied, sweet, rich, and moderately tannic … to 2020.  90 – 92";  Spectator:  97;  previous reviews on this site;  www.jaboulet.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  old for age,  amongst the lightest.  Both initially opened,  and aired,  bouquet is dulled,  hot climate in style,  some brett,  lacking life,  a raw ox-liver quality to it.  Fruit on palate is flat / nearly dead,  baked,  brown raisiny fruits only,  almost oxidised to the finish.  It did not improve much with airing.  On revealing,  one can only shake one's head sadly,  having followed (and cellared off and on) this once-famous wine for 35 years.  I notice from previous reviews on this site,  the trend for this wine is disastrous over the few years since release.  Perhaps there was more than one bottling,  but poor bottles prevail.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 04/07

2003  Rostaing Cote Rotie   14  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  c. US$70;  the standard Cote Rotie;  Parker 163:  "… great concentration in addition to notes of melted licorice, white chocolate, bacon fat, blackberries, and cassis ... unctuously-textured, fleshy, low acid … to 2014.  93";  Spectator:  This is rich and concentrated, but remarkably elegant, with pure red plum, boysenberry and red currant fruit gliding along vanilla, mineral and lavender notes. Latent power drives the long finish. To 2016.  93;  Robinson:  "… a strong burnt rubber scent for the moment and a bit of reduction. May fill out.  16.5 + ?";  no website found. ]
Ruby,  amongst the lightest.  Initially opened this wine smells of baked fish and sulphide,  not grapes,  the cooperage like some lesser Chilean wines.  Once vigorously decanted and well aired,  things improved somewhat,  and red berries of reasonable richness peep through the congested aromas and flavours.  There is some brett in the older oak.  The wine is in some ways healthier than the 2001 la Chapelle,  but with that sulphide level the finish is bitter,  so it is not worth cellaring / hoping for a reprieve.  The American reviews are beyond belief (unless America receives privileged bottlings,  relative to the rest of the world).  GK 04/07


CABERNET / MERLOT & RELATED
 
2001  Abreu Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Madrona Ranch
2001  Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Masseto
2001  Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Ornellaia
  2004  Pask Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec Declaration
2003  Ch Pavie

2001  Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Ornellaia   19  ()
Tuscany,  Italy:  14.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  c. US$150;  CS dominant,  Me,  CF;  cuvaison 25 – 30 days,  MLF in barrel;  18 months in French oak 70% new,  balance 1-year;  a Frescobaldi / Mondavi joint venture initially;  Parker / Thomases 164:  "warm and spicy on the nose with superbly focused plum and black currant fruit, much complexity and elegance in its concentrated and supple body, velvety, enveloping …96";  Spectator:  95;  Robinson:  "Very sophisticated complex nose. Dense, savoury, lively. Intense. Much more Bordeaux-like build. Dry, sandy tannins but great complex, complete fruit too.  18.5 +";  www.ornellaia.it ]
Older ruby and velvet,  a little more garnet than the Abreu,  but the density closer to the Pask.  And whereas the Pask,  Pavie and Abreu all skirt around the concept of a great claret style,  this Ornellaia zeroes in on the target.  Despite the alcohol,  this is great wine,  reasonably fresh,  nearly violets florals,  aromatic,  cassis and berryrich,  subtle oak,  intense on a potentially cigar-box bouquet like a great ripe-year Pauillac,  with a suggestion of truffles complexity.  Palate is equally marvellous,  intense,  long,  aromatic,  closer in style and freshness to the Pask,  yet twice the concentration of berry and fruit.  It is not however as weighty as the Abreu,  and almost seems the best of all worlds.  Magical.  Cellar 5 – 30 years.  GK 04/07

2001  Abreu Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Madrona Ranch   18 ½ +  ()
Napa Valley,  California,  U.S.A.:  14.8%;  $ –    [ cork;  c. US$400,  but only sold by mailing list,  for which there is a waiting list;  CS 88%,  Me 5,  CF 5,  PV 2;  500 cases;  Wikipedia introduces its article thus:  "Abreu Vineyards is a cult winery in Napa Valley, California founded by well-known viticulturist David Abreu";  Parker 157 on this wine:  "a sumptuous perfume of flowers, wood smoke, licorice, tobacco, blackberries, and cassis. Full-bodied, with perfect harmony, extraordinary concentration …  97";  bottled unfined and unfiltered;  the website does not appear to provide any information on the wines;  www.abreuvineyards.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  markedly older,  a touch of garnet,  twice the density of the Pask.  Bouquet is closer to the Pavie than the Pask,  (to a temperate-climate taster) an all-enveloping warmth of very ripe plummy merlot,  complete with dark tobacco-y notes and many reminders of merlot-dominant wines rather than cabernet,  as is often the case with warmer climate cabernet sauvignons.  In other words,  the florals and cassis of cabernet have quite simply been boiled off.  Palate is richer than the Pavie by far,  and as oaky as the Pask,  so it is a very big wine indeed.  But,  it is not a monster,  there still being a succulence in the berry,  and a length of fruit to the finish which finally does remind that this is after all cabernet,  and maybe there is dark cassis in those massive plums.  Nett balance of the finish is in fact more berry-oriented and fresher than the Pavie,  though with equally great tannin (or more).  This should cellar for 30 + years.  GK 04/07

2004  Pask Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec Declaration   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $52   [ ProCork;  CS 55%,  Me 30,  Ma 15;  machine harvested;  tail-end BF in 100% new oak 70% French,  30 US;  followed by c. 18 months in barrel;  earlier reviews on this website;  www.cjpask.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some velvet and carmine.  Bouquet is rich,  ripe and fragrant,  with suggestions of oak-tinged violets on obvious cassis berry and dark bottled plums.  Palate shows lovely flavours again in the dark bottled plums sector,  some dark tobacco,  but all a little cedary / oaky for the weight of fruit,  and thus finishing on cedar rather than berry.  In the context of the wines here,  one is reminded of a Jancis Robinson term – the Pask is fresh and refreshing,  despite the excess oak.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 04/07

2003  Ch Pavie   18  ()
St Emilion Premier Grand Cru,  Bordeaux,  France:  14%;  $ –    [ cork;  c. US$230;  up-dated cepage is Me 70%,  CF 20,  CS 10;  average age vines 40 + years;  cuvaison up to 5 weeks,  18 – 22 months in new oak;  final ratings:  Advocate:  98,  Spectator:  96;  this is the wine that at the en primeur stage generated the 'famous' debate between Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson.  Sadly it became a bit personal and vituperative.  Parker 152 in 2004 rated it: "a wine of sublime richness, minerality, delineation and nobleness … black and red fruits …extraordinary richness as well as remarkable freshness and definition  96 – 100".  Robinson at that stage was more colourful:  "Completely unappetising overripe aromas. Why? Porty sweet. Oh REALLY! Port is best from the Douro, not St.-Emilion. Ridiculous wine more reminiscent of a late-harvest Zinfandel than a red Bordeaux with its unappetising green notes  12";  Spectator:  96;  So one tastes this wine with a good deal of interest – the following note was written before harvesting the quotes;  www.chateaupavie.com ]
Ruby in velvet,  some carmine,  lighter than the Ornellaia or Abreu,  but much denser than the Pask.  Bouquet is the opposite polarity to the Pask,  showing a wonderful weight of slightly raisiny dark plums dominant.  One could never say the wine was pruney,  but the degree of sur-maturité has diminished the floral components of merlot to near invisibility.  Palate carries that thought to its logical conclusion,  the sur-maturité obvious,  the plummy fruit fat and full,  the tannins furry / velvety and a little drying,  but the oak in contrast to the Pask quite in the background.  On the finish however,  due to the alcohol the oak comes forward,  so the wine ends up more drying than the Pask,  and therefore in Jancis' terms,  not as refreshing.  So,  this 2003 Pavie is hot-season merlot,  bearing exactly the same relationship to representative 2000 vintage Bordeaux as a 2002 Gimblett Gravels red does to a representative 2004.  But all this said,  its over-ripeness is far less than good Californian presentations of the grape,  and bears no relationship to the grotesque Irvine Merlots from South Australia.  Considered from a Gimblett Gravels standpoint,  it is not as complex and subtle as the Parker / Spectator scores would imply,  but nor is it as hopeless a Bordeaux as Jancis Robinson's comments and score convey.  To read her notes,  one can only surmise her barrel sample (at that en primeur stage) represented a very much riper fraction of the unassembled wine than the finished wine has become.  From our end of the world,  a fair score might be 18,  like the Pask not quite reaching my gold-medal ranking,  but for different reasons.  I look forward to seeing this wine in a full blind tasting of international claret-styles,  say 10 years after vintage.  Nobody will mind owning it,  then,  I suggest,  for the finished wine is not sweet,  as Jancis implies.  Cellar 5 – 30 + years.  GK 04/07

2001  Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Masseto   17 ½  ()
Tuscany IGT,  Italy:  15%;  $ –    [ cork;  c. US$350;  Me 100%;  fermented in oak,  cuvaison 21 – 33 days;  MLF and 24 months in French oak 100% new;   Parker / Thomases 164:  "The volume, richness, and sumptuousness are almost beyond description, as are the length and density of the flow and finish, but there is an underlying vein of purity and freshness which help maintain an impeccable balance.  98";  Spectator: "Wonderful aromas of blackberries, raspberries and fresh tobacco, with a hint of exotic fruit. Full-bodied, with loads of velvety tannins and a long, long finish. Very silky indeed. A gorgeous, seductive, classy red. Layers and layers of fruit and tannins. Perhaps the greatest Tuscan red ever.  100;  www.ornellaia.it ]
Ruby and velvet,  more garnet again,  the oldest of this bracket.  Initially opened,  there is a rich,  slightly browning and raisiny plum fruit quality with cedary oak,  and noticeable VA.  On palate however it does not taste volatile,  so it is estery and fragrant rather than the acid.  The fruit is markedly browner in style and flavour than the Pavie,  and that wine starts to look pretty delicious alongside this much more obviously hot-climate one.  This Masseto is a much richer,  more chocolatey and oakier affair,  with raisined flavours to the aftertaste – very much attuned to the Californian palate.  In a finer way,  it reminds of some of the cooked merlots of Australia,  reflecting a climate too hot for varietal finesse in the variety.  In this hot-climate style,  it is well-balanced and will cellar for 5 – 15 years.  The American tasting notes do illustrate the difficulty they as a people seem to have in rating finesse before size and patent over-ripeness – which makes all the more interesting Mark Blake's decision to set up his (aspiring to be) world-class winery for Bordeaux-blends in Hawkes Bay.  Tasting notes do convey all one needs to know about the taster !  GK 04/07