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

Caro's of Auckland continually tantalise with their email marketing programme,  included in which are regular accounts of small-producer / boutique or otherwise hard-to-locate Australian shirazes.  From a New Zealand (or European) perspective,  such wines can become wearisome,  or they were just a few years ago.  However big wines appeal greatly to Robert Parker,  with his American-influenced approach,  and he has paid Australia much attention in recent years,  including visiting.  That can only be a good thing,  as for the first time perhaps,  Aussies pay some attention to overseas views on their wines,  rather than the hyperbole-laden thoughts of some domestic wine reviewers.  And Parker,  with his vast international experience,  is one of the few who will draw attention to what he considers defective practice in the wine industry.  His slating of the famous Rhone syrah wine la Chapelle,  as it deteriorated following the demise of Gerard Jaboulet,  was a good example.  And about the same time,  his comments on the excessively "adjusted" winemaking practices of certain big Australian producers such as Penfolds would have been noted by many producers.

Thus,  I approached this tasting of smaller Australian producers with interest,  after a gap of a couple of years.  And the first thing to say is,  the changes evident are dramatic (when viewed from a 40-year exposure to Australian reds).  There really seems to be an effort going into refining and refreshing the wines,  and reducing the massive oak loads some of them traditionally carried.  Some of them show evidence of not being so massively over-ripe too,  such that varietal character as understood by the rest of the world is more evident.  Alcohols are still impossibly high,  but apparently the Australian and American markets want that.  

At this distance,  we in New Zealand can only note with pleasure the drive by certain British retailers to seek table wines with lower alcohols.  Such a move is both socially responsible,  and is likely to lead to better-balanced and more pleasing wines as well.  But I acknowledge the need to achieve the flavours of full physiological maturity,  which must come first.  That can be taxing.  This is the greatest issue facing viticulturists,  in both warm climates and temperate ones such as New Zealand.

In the original double-blind tasting presented to 20 people in Wellington,  I included 2004 Craggy Range Le Sol,  as a New Zealand syrah built on an heroic Australian / Napa Valley scale,  even though 2004 is the coolest recent offering of the wine.  A couple of days later,  the top two syrahs in the recent Air New Zealand judging became available.  The earlier wines were in such good condition,  the newcomers could be confidently inserted into the ranking,  and the sequence cross-checked.  The results intrigued me greatly,  and made me think about my recently-published ripening curve for syrah much more closely.  The New Zealand gold-medal syrahs came through much more confidently in an international ranking than the two gold-medal merlot +/- cabernet wines I similarly inserted into the 2004 Bordeaux ranking just published.

Pricing for the wines is difficult.  Some are no longer available.  Others are on-sold to other retailers,  and the prices may be higher than Caro's originally offered them for.  Either way,  the sensational value of the widely-distributed 2004 Saltram Shiraz Mamre Brook must be highlighted.  And not only pricing needs mention.  In an age when marketers seek ever more show-off bottle styles and sizing,  some thought needs to be given to the energy needs required for (sometimes gross) over-packaging.  Bottles weights in this tasting ranged from an efficient 600 grams for the Saltram,  to a grandiose 950 grams for the Craggy Range and the Standish.  Few classed growth Bordeaux or Burgundy proprietors find any need to depart from their traditional bottles (both scarcely 600 grams),  yet the world beats a path to their door.  In the new-world wine industry,  pursuing an emphasis on the quality of the contents,  rather than the supposed "prestige" of the package,  would be good.      


2004  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol
2006  Esk Valley Syrah Reserve
2005  Glaetzer [ Shiraz / Cabernet ] Godolphin
2005  Glaetzer Shiraz The Bishop
2004  Greenock Creek Shiraz Apricot Block
2005  Heartland Shiraz Directors' Cut
2005  Kalleske Shiraz Pirathon
  2004  Mitolo Shiraz Reiver
2004  Penny's Hills Shiraz Footprint
2004  Saltram Shiraz Mamre Brook
2006  Teusner Shiraz The Riebke
2003  The Standish Shiraz Single Vineyard
2006  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage
2005  Two Hands Shiraz Bella's Garden

2006  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage   19 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.3%;  $127   [ cork;  Sy 97%,  Vi 3,  hand-harvested @ c. 1 t/ac from vines 12 years old (the syrah);  the percentage Vi hard to estimate,  as there is both fruit (strictly 2%),  but also fermentation of the red on the much greater volume of pressed skins from the dry white Viognier;  100% de-stemmed;  a shorter cuvaison than the Esk Valley Reserve,  maybe 15 days;  MLF and 18 months in French oak 92% new;  311 cases;  winemakers Warren Gibson & John Hancock;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  not quite the weight of 2004 Le Sol,  but a great colour.  Bouquet is dramatically syrah,  total Hermitage / Northern Rhone in style,  in a clearly more floral and slightly less massive presentation than Le Sol.  There is explicit black peppercorn,  as well as carnation / dianthus and dark rose florals on cassisy berry.  A little charry oak adds complexity,  without distortion.  Palate shows beautifully fine-grained fruit in very high quality potentially cedary French oak,  with cassis grading through to dark bottled plums and berry.  It is a more delicate rendering of syrah cassis than Le Sol,  and thus in a sense the wine is even closer to classic Hermitage.  Academic brett adds to that impression.  The wine has absorbed its 100% new oak totally,  and shows little evidence of it on palate.  This is great syrah,  sublimely elegant,  competing at the highest level with the Cuillerons and Chaves of the latter-day Northern Rhone hierarchy.  It makes the 2004 Le Sol it is up against look a little clumsy,  but at the highest level of achievement,  let me make clear.  On the price front,  though,  I object to this premature New Zealand setting of inflated prices by people such as Pernod-Ricard (with Tom),  Trinity Hill,  Stonyridge,  and too many pinot producers.  I believe our wine achievements as a nation do not yet justify a pricing structure which appeals to trophy-hunters,  and at the same time does a disservice to everyday wine-drinkers and New Zealand wine as a whole.  And some of the wines offered at these fancy prices have simply lacked the quality needed.  At the very least,  such ambitions should reflect the excellence of a particular vintage.  But,  all that said,  if one is to include a wine such as this in fact excellent Homage Syrah in future rigorously-blind reviews,  one has to buy it.  It may be New Zealand's finest syrah so far – if not it is very close to it.  It is not the biggest – 'finest' is used advisedly.  So,  buy as much as you can afford,  and cellar it 5 – 15 years.  GK 12/07

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;  rave reviews in NZ.  Wine Spectator only overseas to hand:  "Streamlined and fragrant, with a medley of peppercorn, dark chocolate and black plum flavors. Fresh herb accents, toasty oak and racy tannins highlight the firm finish, which should soften with a year in bottle. To 2011. 91";  winemakers Doug Wisor,  Rod Easthope and Steve Smith;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Dense ruby and velvet,  nearly carmine,  one of the lighter wines amongst the Australians,  but the deepest of the New Zealand ones.  This along with the other New Zealand wines is distinctive in the tasting,  showing dianthus-related but dark florals,  piquant black pepper,  and delightfully rich cassis grading through to darker fruits.  It reflects the syrah phase of the syrah / shiraz equation,  at a very ripe Hermitage-level of ripeness.  Palate builds dark plum fruit onto the cassis,  subtle oak,  good richness and mouthfeel,  a little alcoholic but totally dry.  This is an impressive syrah in a slightly massive sur-maturité winestyle,  but still retaining its cool-climate syrah credentials.  It is now more integrated than in my earlier reviews,  but is not ageing unduly.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 12/07

2006  Esk Valley Syrah Reserve   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $62   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  wild-yeast fermentation,  and cuvaison extending to 32 days;  16 months in French oak 33% new,  with lees stirring;  total production 260 cases;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a little fresher and denser than the Homage.  Bouquet is more dramatic than the Homage,  equally explicitly syrah,  uplifted a little on both higher alcohol and subliminal VA.  The ripeness level however is one notch below the Homage,  so that in terms of the syrah ripening curve I presented recently,  there is a little white pepper as well as black in great cassis,  with well-developed floral components.  On palate likewise,  the flavours are clearly cassisy,  but total acid is fractionally higher than the Homage or Le Sol.  The nett impression is a great mouthful of very fresh flavours,  rich fruit,  and all subtly oaked.  Both this wine and the Trinity Homage make a great contribution to New Zealand's emerging syrah portfolio.  The Esk will cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 12/07

2004  Saltram Shiraz Mamre Brook   18 ½ +  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $23   [ cork;  a famous label in the 60s,  and now remarkably good again,  at a relatively lower pricepoint;  cuvaison c. 10 days,  16 months in French and US oak some new;  RS c. 2 g/L;  www.saltramwines.com.au ]
Dense ruby and velvet,  nearly carmine,  one of the lightest ones (relatively).  Bouquet is more complex than the Teusner,  perhaps reflecting a barrel-ferment component adding soft oak to rich bottled plum,  with undertones of cassis,  dark florals and academic brett.  Palate adds a little boysenberry to the dominant dark plum,  with appropriate oak,  and a rich yet 'dry' finish.  This is sensational Australian shiraz,  for the price,  and it shows some syrah qualities too.  Many examples three and four times more expensive are no better.  Cellar 5 – 15 + years,  though it is a pity the corks are not better quality.  VALUE  GK 12/07

2005  Glaetzer [ Shiraz / Cabernet ] Godolphin   18 ½  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $82   [ cork;  DFB;  80%  85-year Sh vines,  20% 60-year CS,  both unirrigated,  cropped at c. 1.5 t/acre;   open vat ferment,  MLF and 15 months in oak on lees,  all new oak 80% French,  20% US,  70% hogsheads & 30% barriques;  unfiltered;  Parker 167:  "… a beautiful marriage of power and elegance, displaying an inky/blue/purple color as well as notions of black raspberries, blueberries, graphite, and sweet pain grille. Ripe, pure, and medium to full-bodied with sweet but noticeable tannin … cellar 12-15 years. 93";  www.glaetzer.com ]
Dense ruby and velvet,  nearly carmine,  one of the deeper ones.  Bouquet is magnificent modern Australian shiraz tiptoeing towards syrah in style,  great berry with clear cassis evident,  the cabernet subservient to the shiraz.  Palate is richly cassis,  more oaky than Le Sol but similarly properly dry,  still with berry dominant.  Both blueberry and blackberry also play on the palate,  which is long.  The aftertaste tapers away on great berry,  but there is a faint trace of saline in the berry / oak amalgam.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 12/07

2006  Teusner Shiraz The Riebke   18 +  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $29   [ screwcap;  DFB;  a very young vineyard,  2001 start,  young proprietors but access to old vines.  James Halliday says:  "The winery approach is based on lees ageing, little racking, no fining or filtration, and no new American oak."  This wine from (relatively) younger vines,  12 months in older French and US oak,  none new.  Parker scores round 90 for previous vintages;  www.teusner.com.au ]
Dense ruby and velvet,  some carmine,  the lightest of the dense Australian wines.  Bouquet is nearly floral,  perhaps the faintest mint (+ve) but not euc'y,  on intense blackberry and cassis,  with undertones of boysenberry.   Palate shows a lovely ratio of berry dominant to oak,  ripe rich and round in mouth,  no acridity,  dry to the finish.  This is clear-cut Australian shiraz with some syrah qualities,  rich but not massive,  slightly one-dimensional,  subtle in its oaking.  Cellar 5 – 15 + years.  GK 12/07

2005  Glaetzer Shiraz The Bishop   18 +  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $47   [ cork;  DFB;  the Glaetzers have been in the Barossa Valley since 1888.  Both father Colin and son Ben are Roseworthy graduates.  Those two generations include five winemakers / oenologists.  Colin has a long history in South Australian winemaking,  being the creator of the now-famous Barossa Valley Estates E & E Shiraz Black Pepper;  this wine 60-year shiraz cropped @ 2 t/ac,  open-vat fermentation;  14 months in 70% new French oak,  balance second and third year US;  RS 1.2 g/L;  Parker 167:  " … a Vacqueyras on steroids … a dense ruby/purple hue, beautiful, attractive notes of pepper, spice box, black-berries, and currants, and amazing richness as well as surprising elegance and definition. Cellar 10-15 years,  91 – 93";  www.glaetzer.com ]
Dense ruby and velvet,  nearly carmine,  midway for depth.  This wine shows an intriguing mint component to the bouquet,  reminiscent of Martinborough pennyroyal,  on intense berry notes which include cassis and bottled black doris plums.  Palate is very juicy,  some blueberry coming in,  the finish not quite bone-dry (like the Mamre),  the oaking subtle.  This wine appealed greatly to some tasters,  but is not as classical as some of the drier ones.  Cellar 5 – 15 + years.  GK 12/07

2004  Penny's Hills Shiraz Footprint   18  ()
McLaren Vale,  South Australia,  Australia:  15%;  $64   [ cork;  DFB;  Footprint is the Reserve,  winemaker Ben Riggs;  2004 highly rated in McLaren Vale;  cropped @ 2 t/ac;  partial BF,  20 months in predominantly new French and some US oak;  RS 2.5 g/L;  350 cases;  Parker 161:  " … sensational … a gorgeous bouquet of blackberries, blueberries, graphite, and sweet vanillin. Young and backward yet remarkably pure, rich, full-bodied, and well-balanced … cellar 10-15 years.  93 – 95";  www.pennyshill.com.au ]
Dense ruby and velvet,  older than most.  Bouquet is rich,  but a bit leathery / pruney and bretty / spirity and old-fashioned in this company.  Palate is very rich,  dry,  with boysenberry and plum / prune fruit,  the US oak component seeming to dominate the French,  and VA higher than some.  Flavours linger well in mouth,  in its more traditional approach.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 12/07

2005  Two Hands Shiraz Bella's Garden   18  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  15%;  $50   [ cork;  cuvaison up to 21 days;  small % BF;  MLF in barrel;  16 months in French hogsheads 15% new,  the balance 1 – 4 years;  minimal fining and not filtered;  Parker rates recent vintages 94 – 95;  Wine Spectator:  "Rich and complex, green olive, mint, mineral and licorice around a plump core of black cherry and dark plum flavors, lingers on the intense and beautifully focused finish. To 2017.  95";  www.twohandswines.com ]
Dense ruby and velvet,  nearly carmine,  midway in depth.  Bouquet is lifted by the high alcohol,  to be intensely fragrant blueberry,  blackberry and boysenberry with some oak,  immediately appealing.  Palate is a little less,  very rich boysenberry,  more typical Australian old-vine shiraz,  and not rigorously bone-dry.  It is not over-oaked,  but there is a little saline marring the later finish,  relative to the top wines or the oakier Saltram.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 12/07

2005  Kalleske Shiraz Pirathon   17 ½ +  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  15%;  $34   [ cork;  previously a Grange vineyard;  winemaker Troy Kalleske;  fulsome reviews for the new winery and winemaker,  making wines in an "opulent full bodied Barossa Shiraz" style;  2 years in combination of French,  Russian,  Hungarian and American oak;  other shirazes from same maker mid-90s from Parker;  www.pirathon.com ]
Dense ruby and velvet,  quite deep.  Bouquet is big fumey and burly plummy shiraz,  with both oak and euc. (and some VA) noticeable.  Palate follows perfectly,  the American oak again seeming to dominate,  the berry browning somewhat and adding boysenberry to the plummy mix,  the finish dry but a little oaky,  again with a trace of saline.  This is more straightforward very rich Barossa shiraz,  to cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 12/07

2003  The Standish Shiraz Single Vineyard   17 ½  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $128   [ cork;  winemaker Dan Standish,  is (or was) a winemaker for Torbreck;  winery of same name in California;  Parker 167 ( note the worrying "only" ):  "The 2003 Shiraz (100% Shiraz from a 90-year-old Vine Vale vineyard) was cropped at .5 tons of fruit per acre, and was aged 32 months in old French oak. It is a magnificent effort boasting tremendous ripeness as well as abundant blueberry and creme de cassis notes intermixed with flowers, graphite, and crushed rocks. With amazing concentration, purity, and richness, but no heaviness (the alcohol is only 14.5%), and a finish that lasts well past a minute, it is accessible now, but should age effortlessly for two decades or more. Dan Standish is one of the Barossa’s up-and-coming superstars, and his wines merit serious attention. 99";  website is an intention,  so far;  www.standishwineco.com ]
Dense ruby and velvet,  one of the deepest.  This is a very particular wine,  in a demonstrably syrah style,  fragrant and floral.  It is let down by a piquant jonquils / paperwhites pungent component to the dianthus-related florals,  an aroma many people find unwiney,  or downright negative (in wine).  Palate is intensely cassisy,  clearly aiming to be a Rhone presentation of Australian shiraz,  namely syrah-like.  The problem is,  correlated with the jonquils aroma is a green stalky thread.  The similarity between this wine and Le Sol or Homage is undeniable.  However,  the latter two triumph,  whereas The Standish stumbles,  on that critical degree of ripeness component,  the wine lacking full physiological flavour development.  Since it is from a hotter climate,  the assumption must be at least part of it was picked early,  to try and achieve the florals and aromatics of a Cote Rotie style.  The result is is an illustration of how a more temperate viticultural climate can produce deeper and more complex ripening flavours in the berry,  and highlights why New Zealanders are so excited about the potential for syrah in their country.  Interesting wine therefore,  not least for the price,  relative to the flavours achieved.  It is only fair to note some knowledgeable tasters rated it their bottom wine in the set.  Cellar 10 – 20 years,  with interest,  to end up like a cool-year stalky but concentrated Cote Rotie maybe.  GK 12/07

2004  Mitolo Shiraz Reiver   17 +  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  15%;  $64   [ screwcap;  DFB;  a Ben Glaetzer consultancy wine;  vineyard 550 m asl.,  average age of vines 60 years,  minimal irrigation;  10 days cuvaison at 18 – 23°C in open fermenters,  then partial barrel fermentation and MLF in barrel;  18 months in lightly toasted French hogsheads 70% new;  Parker 167:  " a lovely perfume of flowers, blackberries, espresso, and licorice … stunning richness and length … 10-12 years.  94";  www.mitolowines.com.au ]
Dense ruby and velvet,  about midway in depth.  This wine falls into place with the Kalleske Shiraz,  as a wine in an older style,  a little leathery and bretty,  fumey on high alcohol,  ripened to browning boysenberry on bouquet.  Palate is very dry on the alcohol,  but also quite tannic and old-fashioned,  despite the rich fruit.  I imagine this will crust in bottle,  and end up lighter and more harmonious.  Freshness is lacking,  though.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 12/07

2005  Heartland Shiraz Directors' Cut   17  ()
Langhorne Creek 60% & Limestone Coast 40,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $34   [ cork;  a Ben Glaetzer consultancy wine;  1 day cold soak,  9 days cuvaison;  MLF in barrel 70% new French,  30% new US;  6 months on lees,  racked,  then a further 8 months;  Wine Spectator:  "Velvety texture, bright, juicy plum and blackberry fruit up front, shaded with captivating nuances of mocha, tar and licorice. Not too tannic. To 2015.  91";  www.heartlandwines.com.au ]
Dense ruby and velvet,  the darkest in the batch.  This is a modern cynical wine,  with excess charry and coffee'd oak tailored to popular taste,  on rich boysenberry fruit.  Palate is very rich,  somewhat euc'y as well,  not bone-dry,  verging on jammy.  As such it is good example of its trendy style,  but not the suite of flavours I seek in Australian shiraz.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 12/07

2004  Greenock Creek Shiraz Apricot Block   17  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $98   [ cork;  Halliday describes this vineyard has having achieved iconic status and stratospheric prices in the US;  Parker noted for the 2002 vintage:  "If I had to select the number one Australian winery, it would be hard not to choose the Greenock Creek Winery, run by the humble, shy Michael and Annabelle Waugh. The quality that emerges from this estate is extraordinary. In short, these are thrilling, world-class wines that are about as compelling as wine can be.";  Apricot Block is unirrigated shiraz cropped at less than 1.5 t/ac,  the wine raised in US oak;  2004 not reviewed,  the climatically similar 2002 described by Parker 161:  "The prodigious 2002 Apricot Block (only 10-year-old vines) was produced from fruit cropped at 1.5 tons per acre. Its big, peppery, floral, blueberry, blackberry, pen ink, and vanillin-scented bouquet is followed by a wine with a nervous energy that is totally in keeping with the cool 2002 vintage. Dense, with great purity of fruit, a fabulously multi-layered, full-bodied palate, and an inky finish with enormous concentration, sweet tannin, and superb overall balance … last for two decades.  96";  since 2000 none rated less than 95 with Parker;  production quantity around 5 – 600 cases;  no website found ]
Dense ruby and velvet,  above midway in depth.  Bouquet is most odd,  with a perfumed note variously described by tasters as cucumber,  one mouldy-blue orange in a crate of Californian oranges,  and over-ripe apricot,  not unattractive.  Below is dark plummy fruit.  Palate is rich,  but not as rich as some,  completely dry,  subtly oaked,  the citrus zest character persisting.  Curious,  different,  tending slightly Spanish – and not sitting very happily in this shiraz / syrah tasting.  Nobody thought it corked,  but it has to be a possibility.  What will age bring ?  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 12/07