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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.
HAWKES BAY SYRAH:  THE CONVIVIUM 2010 VINTAGE AND 2009 SYRAH REVIEWS



Introduction:  2009 and 2010 were great red wine vintages in Hawkes Bay.  They will be remembered as the years in which syrah really came of age in New Zealand.  2010 was a cooler year but the best syrahs were saved by a dry autumn,  the wines showing a clarity and vibrancy of varietal expression which is outstanding,   comparing only with the leading syrah districts of the world Hermitage,  Cote Rotie,  Cornas and latterly Saint-Joseph in the Northern Rhone Valley.  2009 was good too,  a warmer summer,  but again only really settled in autumn.  Some of the wines are marginally over-ripe,  syrah like merlot demanding a temperate climate if it is to display its full varietal complexity.  Florality is a key part of that expression,  a quality not found in the grapes and wines of hotter viticultural districts.  In a commercial sense,  as opposed to absolute excellence,  2009 can be rated a better vintage,  in that the average score for the 2009 wines is somewhat higher.  It was simply easier for viticulturists to produce rich ripe fruit in 2009.  Nonetheless the best 2010 is supreme.  

In Hawkes Bay the only semi-public opportunities to assess the wines of those vintages have been via the 2009 and 2010 syrah vintage review tastings presented by Convivium of Napier,  23 July 2012 and 24 June 2013 respectively.  Convivium is the brainchild of Geoff Wilson primarily,  with Clive Holland.  They offer a variety of wine-themed activities,  including formal sit-down tastings.  Their tastings are held at the EIT Sensory Laboratory,  Taradale,  an ideal venue.

For anybody at all interested in wine therefore,  and more particularly for those interested in producing quality syrah,  participation in these syrah reviews would surely be mandatory.  They offered the opportunity to taste some of the best syrahs made in New Zealand,  in a formal blind format where there could be no fudging of the issues.  Naturally there was a fee to cover the cost of the wines,  and use of the Lab.

But astonishingly,  only a handful of the keenest Hawkes Bay winemakers were there.  There were no winewriters at all.  And there were no winemakers from Martinborough or Gisborne,  where several are keen to make syrah,  let alone from further afield,  even though Napier is delightfully central in this respect.  It is only four hours drive from Wellington,  so one can be back home only slightly after midnight.  Auckland is only an hour further.

This is an extraordinary state of affairs.  The reds in the Hawkes Bay Hot Red Expo within a few days of this Napier event showed that far too many winemakers still have plenty to learn about red winestyles and hence winemaking (and viticulture).  No winemaker can consistently make better wine than he or she has both tasted and understood.  The top wines in this Convivium tasting were of first-rate Northern Rhone quality,  that is,  they would not be shamed by some of the best syrahs in the world.  They might not be better than them,  it hardly matters,  they simply are wines demanding attention from and close study by anybody aspiring to make good syrah in New Zealand.

Is this disinterest in tastings of other people's wines hubris on the part of winemakers,  or more simply,  meanness ?  Whichever,  sadly,  too many winemakers like winewriters are reluctant to face the fact that to perform at an appropriately professional level,  they must pay to educate their palates.  At present,  far too many simply expect their wine to be free,  both at home and out,  where they participate only in free tastings.  By definition the key wines in an educational sense are all too often rare,  or expensive,  or both, and are unlikely to be shown in such venues.

The industry likes to trumpet about the quantitative successes of New Zealand wines via export,  sauvignon blanc mainly,  as if we were world leaders in all winestyles.  This arises from the fawning heed the industry pays to overseas wine pundits,  quite overlooking the fact their fares are paid to come here,  and naturally they make polite comments.

If we are in fact to become a leading country in the wine world,  for reds as well as whites,  a whole lot more intellectual inquiry into and passion for what comprises good wine is urgently needed amongst more winemakers than now.  The leading winemakers already taste widely,  but they are few.  Participation in tastings such as this one offered by Convivium would be an appropriate starting place.  Sadly the great years of 2009 and 2010 are being followed by the more modest 2011 vintage,  and the poor 2012s,  curtailing learning opportunities.  Let us hope that further tastings of these fine years will be offered in the interregnum,  before the exciting prospect of the 2013s is upon us.

The wines:  The following notes concentrate on the wines,  essentially taking the emerging quality of our syrah,  and its essential characteristics,  as read,  since quite a lot is in print about the grape.  One interesting detail to emerge centres on the increasing recognition that in New Zealand,  florality is a key part of fine syrah evaluation.  It can be argued that syrah is better thought of as strong pinot noir rather than anything to do with cabernet sauvignon,  and that likewise shiraz practice in Australia is not at all helpful to us for syrah elevation in New Zealand.  Thoughtful syrah winemakers are therefore looking over the fence at pinot noir techniques,  and wondering about a percentage of whole-bunches in the fermentation,  at least in the warmer years,  to enhance florality in the wine.  None admitted to adopting this practice in the cooler more aromatic 2010 vintage,  but some did so in 2009 and again in 2013.  This approach offers exciting promise in appropriate vintages.

The format in each tasting at EIT was all 12 or 13 wines out in one flight,  completely blind,  using good XL5 tasting glasses all that is needed where education rather than pretension is the goal.  After a sufficient period for quiet assessment,  each taster is asked for their first,  second,  and third-rated wine.  Discussion follows,  and identification.  The following day,  once the rankings have been analysed,  the organisers send out a group ranking indicating the top 6 wines,  for interest.  In such 'popular' rankings,  oaky wines tend to be marked up.  That charge cannot be laid on the top two wines this year,  but it was very apparent in last year's session.  

For the group as a whole,  this year 2010 Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol was the most-liked wine,  2010 Trinity Hill Syrah Homage was second,  and 2010 Church Road Syrah Reserve was the third most popular.  Last year 2009 Squawking Magpie The Stoned Crow Syrah was rated top,  2009 Bridge Pa Syrah Reserve was second,  and 2009 Vidal Legacy Series Syrah was third.  My ratings are in places quite different:  the reasons become apparent in the text and reviews.  A key factor in my appraisal of syrah is that I have been cellaring Rhone examples since the 1969 vintage.  Until then my view of the grape had been shaped by experience with Australian shiraz.  In one sense the 1969 wine (Jaboulet's La Chapelle) was a revelation,  and yet it is only fair to record that in those days some of the 1960s shirazes from (then-named) Ch Tahbilk and Seppelt's Great Western were a good deal more international in style than they became in subsequent decades.  This was largely a function of Australian red winemaking becoming overly technical to the point of being industrial for a quite long phase,  coupled with a growing obsession with new oak.  

For the purpose of writing-up,  I take samples under ice back to Wellington.  Both years I have added one extra wine.  For the 2009s it was a French wine of known quality and comparable price,  to assist in avoiding parochialism.  For the 2010s I included a Hawkes Bay wine conspicuously missing in both years,  which I felt amply deserved to be in.  They are asterisked below.  This year,  with the example of John Livingstone-Learmonth's website www.drinkrhone.com (as well as his fine 2005 reference book on the Northern Rhone) before me,  it seemed desirable to try to document the wine-making for this important tasting more thoroughly.  That can be time-consuming.

The wines in the 2013 presentation of the 2010 wines were (my later addition *):  

2010  Bilancia Syrah La Collina
2010  Bridge Pa Hawkes Bay Syrah (not yet named or released)
2010  Church Road Syrah Reserve
2010  Coopers Creek Syrah Reserve
2010  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol
2010  Crossroads Syrah Winemakers Collection
2010  Elephant Hill Syrah
  2010  Esk Valley Syrah Winemakers Reserve
2010  Jaboulet Hermitage La Petite Chapelle
2010  Mission Estate Syrah Huchet
2010  Sacred Hill Syrah Deerstalkers *
2010  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose
2010  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage
2010  Vidal Syrah Reserve Series

The wines in the 2012 presentation of the 2009 wines were (my later addition *):  

2009  Bilancia Syrah La Collina
2009  Bridge Pa Syrah Reserve
2009  Church Road Syrah [ standard ]
2009  Coopers Creek Syrah Chalk Ridge
2009  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol
2009  Cypress Terraces Syrah [ = Reserve ]
2009  Elephant Hill Syrah Reserve
  2009  Hopes Grove Syrah
2010  Saint Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone Les Deux Albion *
2009  Squawking Magpie Syrah The Stoned Crow
2009  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose
2009  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage
2009  Vidal Syrah Gimblett Gravels Legacy Series

In the reviews which follow,  I am primarily seeking clarity of varietal expression,  appropriate ripeness,  concentration,  and beauty of total winestyle.  There are quotable quotes about beauty.  In such an approach,  oaky wines tend to be marked down.  The level of new oak being employed in syrah in New Zealand is still in many cases too high for optimum quality and florality of syrah expression,  when measured by the classical syrah appellations we have every possibility of emulating,  and indeed matching.  Hence the views expressed above,  that many of our winemakers need to taste more widely,  if we are to optimise our wines,  and create a unique New Zealand statement about syrah.

Acknowledgements:  I have used the background information for the wines provided by Geoff Wilson of Convivium,  who has helped in several ways in the preparation of this review.  I supplemented that by writing to each New Zealand winery involved,  seeking more detail for the italicised 'admin' section of each review.  I very much appreciate the quick return of detail from 11 of the 13 wineries.  One winemaker is overseas,  detail will be fitted later.  One did not reply.  I did not write to Jaboulet.  





THE WINES REVIEWED:  Syrah:

2010  Bilancia Syrah La Collina
2009  Bilancia Syrah La Collina
2010  Bridge Pa Hawkes Bay Syrah (not yet named or released)
2009  Bridge Pa Syrah Reserve
2010  Church Road Syrah Reserve
2009  Church Road Syrah [ standard ]
2009  Coopers Creek Syrah Chalk Ridge
2010  Coopers Creek Syrah Reserve
2010  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol
2009  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol
2010  Crossroads Syrah Winemakers Collection
2009  Cypress Terraces Syrah [ = Reserve ]
2010  Elephant Hill Syrah
2009  Elephant Hill Syrah Reserve
  2010  Esk Valley Syrah Winemakers Reserve
2009  Hopes Grove Syrah
2010  Jaboulet Hermitage La Petite Chapelle
2010  Mission Estate Syrah Huchet
2010  Sacred Hill Syrah Deerstalkers *
2010  Saint Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone Les Deux Albion *
2009  Squawking Magpie Syrah The Stoned Crow
2010  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose
2009  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose
2010  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage
2009  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage
2009  Vidal Syrah Gimblett Gravels Legacy Series
2010  Vidal Syrah Reserve Series
 

2010  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol   19 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.7%;  $105   [ cork;  Sy 100%,  hand-harvested @ 5.4 t/ha (2.2 t/ac);  100% de-stemmed;  no cold-soak,  inoculated,  c.11 days ferment,  total cuvaison 20 days;  MLF and 17 months in French oak 38% new,  no American oak;  RS < 1 g/L;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  understood to be at least 400 cases (of 12);  8 top rankings,  2 second;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the second deepest colour,  and a great hue too.  Bouquet is one of two compellingly floral renderings of syrah in the tasting,  showing wonderful deep sweet wallflower and darkest rose,  on aromatic cassis and darkest bottled plums more omega than black doris,  all framed in appropriately subtle oak.  Palate is velvety rich,  exhibiting all the qualities found on bouquet,  plus some black pepper and great texture,  indicating an absolutely grand cru cropping rate.  The winestyle is totally Hermitage.  The floral and aromatic qualities together with the richness of fruit and subtlety of oak-handling lift this wine into a new quality level for New Zealand syrah.  The fruit is superlative.  I register I made much the same claim for the 2010 Homage recently,  but in this particular showing,  2010 Le Sol is ahead.  Both wines will provide sensational comparative tastings for the next 5 20 years.  Anybody who does not secure a case of each to witness their evolution in the years to come is not only not passionate about wine,  but is denying themselves a great deal of interest and pleasure.  Cellar 10 20 years.  GK 06/13

2010  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $120   [ cork;  Sy 100%,  hand-harvested @ 2.5 t/ha (1 t/ac);  100% de-stemmed but still some whole-berries;  wild yeast,  up to 13 days ferment,  total cuvaison 26 days;  MLF mostly in tank,  12 months in French oak 72% new,  no American oak;  RS < 1 g/L;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  around 500 cases;  5 top rankings,  2 second;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a sensational colour,  the deepest wine.  In this tasting,  Homage was less together than Le Sol.  Even so,  the depth of concentrated cassis on bouquet is reminiscent of La Chapelle in the 1980s,  and the oak is fragrant and potentially cedary,  but tonight standing apart a little.  A floral component was not so evident.  In mouth the concentration of aromatic cassis is marvellous,  and the length of varietal fruit flavour and quality of oak is impressive.  The later flavours however continue to show the components,  still awaiting some melding and harmony.  This wine too will develop spectacularly in bottle.  Cellar 10 20 years.  GK 06/13

2009  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $95   [ cork;  Sy 100%,  hand-harvested @ c.5 t/ha (2 t/ac);  100% de-stemmed;  inoculated,  cuvaison c. 24 days;  MLF and 20 months in French oak 39% new;  sterile-filtered;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the third deepest.  Bouquet is simply classical syrah in the sense of Hermitage,  dense cassis lifted with soft floral wallflower-like notes,  plus wonderful purity and depth.  Palate is a beautiful condensation of the bouquet,  bountiful cassis grading to darkest plum,  potentially cedary oak,  perfect balance for an Hermitage styling.  The quality of varietal berry is close to the definitive 2009 Church Road,  but here rendered firmer by a little more oak.  Great to see the finessing of Le Sol over the decade this should be the finest one so far.  Cellar 5 15 + years.  GK 07/12

2010  Sacred Hill Syrah Deerstalkers *   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $56   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% hand-picked @ 5 t/ha (2 t/ac);  100% de-stemmed;  4 days cold soak,  wild yeast,  8 days ferment,  28 days cuvaison in total;  followed by 18 months in French oak,  c.30% new,  no American oak;  RS < 2 g/L;  200 cases made;  no rankings;  www.sacredhill.com ]
[ This wine was not in the 2013 EIT review.  Since it was not in the 2012 review either,  but with respect to its high standing I felt should have been in one of them at least,  on return to Wellington and the more detailed examination of the wines,  I added it.  It was not therefore first seen blind.]  Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  clearly above midway in depth.  The volume of bouquet on Deerstalker is as great as Le Sol,  but it is less floral and more oak-influenced.  Even so,  the aromatic cassis and lift of sweet black pepper is exciting.  Oak impedes assessment of florality on bouquet,  simply because vanillin in the oak is (or can be) floral in itself,  so one needs fairly sensitive olfactory apparatus to work out the components.  In mouth,  however,  one quickly concludes the wine has the potential to be floral,  that picking was not too late.  The concentration in this wine is on a par with the top two,  but the actual berry quality is not quite so clear due to the firming effect of the oak.  I do not have them alongside,  but suspect 2010 Deerstalkers is close to the 2010 Villa Maria Syrah Reserve reported on recently in an Auckland tasting,  the fruit balance being slightly in favour of Deerstalkers at this stage.  Future comparative tastings of these top 2010 syrahs will provide really stimulating opportunities to follow the evolution of these fine wines.  These top 2010 syrahs are arguably the best group of wines of one kind so far made in modern New Zealand.  They are closer to the absolute world standard for syrah than our pinot noirs,  simply because assessing that variety is so elusive.  Cellar 5 20 years.  GK 06/13

2009  Church Road Syrah [ standard ]   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels 75%,  Bridge Pa Triangle 25%,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $30   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% hand-harvested and sorted,  all de-stemmed;  no cold soak,  inoculated yeast,  warm-fermented in open-top oak and concrete vessels,  up to 35 days cuvaison,  controlled aeration;  c.14 months in French oak c.45% new;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  above midway.  Bouquet is very beautiful,  showing the carnations and wallflower side of syrah,  and dark roses too,  on pure cassis and bottled black doris plums.  There is an engaging softness to the bouquet,  reminiscent of fine Northern Rhone syrah,  Hermitage perhaps.  Palate is totally cassisy berry dominant,  definitive varietal character with the gentlest oak.  Arguably this is the greatest commercial syrah thus far made in New Zealand.  Considering the price,  anybody who hasn't invested in a case of this needs their head read.  Simply delicious.  Cellar 5 12 years.  GK 07/12

2009  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $120   [ cork;  Sy 98%,  Vi 2,  hand-picked at about 2.5 t/ha (1 t/ac);  100% de-stemmed,  shortish cuvaison;  MLF completed in barrel,  c.15 months in French oak mostly new;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine,  older than some.  Bouquet is soft,  ripe and plummy,  more the blueberry than cassis side of syrah (understandable in the warmer year) plus an intriguing beeswax complexity seen in the Northern Rhone syrahs sometimes.  Palate is clearly blueberry,  even dramatically so,  contrasting vividly with the Church Road.  Oak is subtle initially and very fragrant,  but builds up in mouth.  It must be pretty expensive oak,  for the flavour is beautiful.  Tasted with some 2009 Bordeaux,  the confusion between this and virtually straight merlot is enchanting.  Cellar 5 15 years.  GK 07/12

2009  Elephant Hill Syrah Reserve   18 ½  ()
Te Awanga district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $50   [ cork;  hand-picked Sy 99% and Vi 1,  de-stemmed;  mostly wild-yeast fermentations;  MLF and 16 months in French oak 40% new;  winemaker Steve Skinner advises there was a prestige cuvée also in 2009,  named Airavata,  which featured both 15% whole-bunch and only 25% new oak;  he advises they have the new winery dilemma of having to wait for the clean new oak to become 'old',  rather than risk buying secondhand;  www.elephanthill.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  older than some,  midway in depth.  Freshly opened the wine is quite oaky,  more in the style of Sacred Hill's Deerstalkers (not included),  but with good cassisy berry evident below the slightly smoky oak.  [The winemaker attributes this smoky character to the Chave clone,  contrasting it with the Limmer clone.]  The quality of berry moves away from cassis more to blueberry,  bespeaking the ripe year,  with good richness.  The combined fruit and oak is long in the mouth.  There is too much oak by classical standards,  but the new world likes this approach.  Cellar 5 12 years.  GK 07/12

2009  Coopers Creek Syrah Chalk Ridge   18 ½  ()
Havelock North district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $26   [ screwcap;  Sy 99%,  Vi 1,  all hand-picked @ 2.5 t/ac from a hill-slope site with limestone;  syrah de-stemmed,  c.21 days cuvaison;  MLF and 14 months in French oak c.25% new;  RS 3 g/L;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  www.cooperscreek.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  below midway.  Bouquet is totally Cote Rotie,  delightfully floral and warm,  wallflowers and dark red roses,  gorgeous.  There is cassis,  plum and blueberry on the fruit side,  with subtlest potentially cedary oak.  Palate continues in this gentle fruit-forward style,  totally Cote Rotie against the 2009 Church Road,  the trace residual contributing to the gentleness.  This is succulent and delicious wine,  to cellar 3 10 years.  GK 07/12

2010  Coopers Creek Syrah Reserve   18 ½  ()
Havelock North district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $45   [ screwcap;  Sy 97.6%,  Vi 2.4,  all hand-picked @ c.7.8 t/ha (3.1 t/ac) from a hill-slope site with limestone;  syrah all de-stemmed,  2 days cold-soak,  c.10 days ferment,  total cuvaison from 28 to 34 days;  MLF and 9 months in French oak 40% new,  no American oak;  RS 3 g/L;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  354 cases;  no top ranking,  3 second;  www.cooperscreek.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  not so much carmine,  much less dense than the top wines,  below midway.  This was one of the two sensationally floral wines in the tasting,  the precision and sweetness of the dianthus and wallflower components being breathtaking,  exactly comparable with some of the 2010 Cote Roties from Yves Cuilleron also recently tasted with the Hawkes Bay Hot Red syrahs,  report imminent.  There is a hint of sweet black pepper,  lovely fragrant cassisy berry,  and almost invisible oak beautifully done.  Palate shows real cassis,  some soft bottled black plums,  black pepper,  and oak.  The tannin structure of the wine is so good,  you have to be a very sensitive taster to immediately pick up there are 3g of residual sugar in the finish.  Looking back at one's notes at the 'blind' stage,  words like 'plump' are a clue.  Syrah winemakers need to study this wine for its glorious florality and exact varietal expression,  both components facilitated by more appropriate oak use than most of the wines in this tasting.  As I have written so often before,  fine syrah is more like pinot noir.  We must shed clumsy Australian patterns of oak usage,  if we are to optimise our syrahs so they may find their true place on the world wine stage.  Cellar 5 12 years.  GK 06/13

2009  Cypress Terraces Syrah [ = Reserve ]   18 +  ()
Roy's Hill,  SW of Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $45   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  hand-picked;  19 months in French oak 50% new;  website lacking in info;  www.cypresswines.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  well below midway in depth.  Bouquet is subtle and charming on this wine,  elusive florals hinting at violets,  thoughts of beeswax like the Homage,  hints of white and black pepper,  again Cote Rotie.  Palate continues the gentle Cote Rotie theme,  deceptively rich fruit,  more fragrant than the Hermitage-like Church Road,  a lovely interpretation of syrah along Bullnose lines but richer,  though slightly more acid.  Cellar 3 10 years.  GK 07/12

2009  Bilancia Syrah La Collina   18 +  ()
Roy's Hill,  SW of Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $95   [ screwcap;  Sy & Vi hand-harvested;  Sy fermented on Vi skins,  % Vi hard to quantify;  no whole-bunch,  wild yeast ferment,  c.20 days cuvaison;  MLF and 20 months in French oak mostly new;  website currently unavailable;  www.bilancia.co.nz ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet,  well above midway in weight.  Bouquet is on the floral and fragrant side,  with flowers and cassisy berry all melded together so it is hard to isolate single aromas.  The cassis is fleshed out with bottled black doris fruit qualities too.  Florality and berry are greater than the oak,  so the wine is a real charmer on bouquet.  Palate introduces blueberry to the equation,  the oak now cedary and growing in mouth,  not quite the apparent fruit richness of Homage but confused by the acid being slightly higher.  Suggestions of Cote Rotie here,  as is often the case with Bullnose,  but 2009 La Collina is an appreciably richer wine than 2009 Bullnose.  Cellar 5 12 years,  maybe longer.  GK 07/12

2010  Saint Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone Les Deux Albion *   18  ()
Cotes du Rhone,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $27   [ cork;  Sy 40%,  Gr 30,  Mv 10,  Ca 10,  clairette (white) 10%,  the Sy and clairette co-fermented;  some whole-bunch,  cuvaison extends to six weeks;  the greater part of the 2010 was raised in concrete vats,  the balance in 1 4 years-old larger barrels;  c.1,590 cases;  www.saintcosme.com ]
[ This was put in subsequently as a wine of known richness and quality,  simply to provide a calibration point,  notwithstanding the varietal differences.]  Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  exactly midway in the syrahs.  Bouquet is soft,  winey,  red fruits,  cinnamon,  some new oak,  out to one side in the syrahs it was semi-hidden in.  Palate is intriguing,  not as tightly-knit as the premium New Zealand syrahs,  yet gorgeous berry and drying cinnamon-stick spice more than oak tannins,  good fruit richness,  a complex rendering of a syrah-dominant (just) wine.  It amply illuminated how good our best syrahs are.  Cellar 3 12 years.  GK 07/12

2010  Bridge Pa Hawkes Bay Syrah (not yet named or released)   18  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $ –    [ Stelvin Lux;  alcohol estimated;  Sy 100%,  hand-harvested @ 5.6 t/ha (2.25 t/ac);  100% de-stemmed;  2 days cold-soak,  c.21 days ferment,  total cuvaison 30 days;  MLF and 12 months in French oak 80% new,  no American oak;  followed by 6 months in older oak;  production limited,  likely to be released at 4 years bottle age,  not yet decided whether will be a successor to the 2007 luxury cuvée Atanga;  this winery is now solely a syrah producer,  including a 100% syrah rosé by saignée;  no top ranking,  no second;  www.bridgepa.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  not a dense wine,  the third to lightest.  Bouquet is quite different on this wine,  and tricky.  There is very high vanillin,  and at one moment it seems sweetly wallflower,  and the next moment fresh-sawn oak with the faintest hint of fragrant macrocarpa resin.  The nett impression is like an unusual Cote Rotie with viognier.  Palate is intriguing,  the softness and richness of the fruit being totally Cote Rotie,  with almost a hint of violets to the tail.  On balance,  I think this is going to be exceptional once it marries up.  It shows the exact complementary Cote Rotie styling to Homage's Hermitage,  and with a spot of luck will be exhilarating in tastings in 5 10 years time.  Cellar 3 12 years.  GK 06/13

2010  Jaboulet Hermitage La Petite Chapelle   18  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $150   [ cork;  this is the second wine of La Chapelle,  made from 100% Sy vines including both young vines and the main plantings up to 60 years age,  handpicked at yields not exceeding 3.1 t/ha (1.25 t/ac);  understood to be de-stemmed,  temperature-controlled cuvaison c.3 weeks;  15 18 months in (understood to be) mostly older oak (but some new oak exposure from culled barrels of the grand vin,  which sees 20% new oak);  understood to be approx. 1/3 the crop is this wine,  1/3 for the grand vin,  1/3 declassified;  c.1000 cases;  RS < 1 g/L;  no top ranking,  no second;  www.jaboulet.com ]
The idea here was to include a wine which (a) was demonstrably syrah in a Hermitage style,  that is,  not affected by viognier,  and (b) a wine well-marked by Jancis Robinson,  since she provides the most clearly expressed / succinct / easily retrieved European viewpoint on wines these days.  Robinson's marks for La Petite Chapelle average 17 over the last few years,  but sadly she has not tasted the 2010.  Note that 17 is a good score from her,  indicating a wine New Zealand reviewers would mark in the 90s.  Robert Parker rates 2009 and 2010 La Petite Chapelle the same score of 92,  noting the different climatic character of the two vintages.  Therefore it seems likely Robinson's score would be around 17 for the 2010 too,  had she tasted it.  The point here is,  she also rates 2010 Homage 17

To have 2010 La Petite Chapelle,  the second wine of Jaboulet's Hermitage La Chapelle,  in the tasting would therefore provide a realistic yardstick by which to measure our wines.  And in the outcome,  it dramatically illustrated that Jaboulet is back on form,  now it has been bought (Jan., 2006) by the Frey family of Ch La Lagune,  near Margaux.  La Chapelle used to be the pre-eminent Hermitage,  and thus in effect the world's best syrah,  in the 1960s through the 1980s,  culminating in the 1990.  I followed it intermittently from the 1969 vintage.  Then with the death of Gerard Jaboulet in 1997,  the Jaboulet family lost its way,  and La Chapelle became a sad shadow of its former glory.

The wine itself is ruby and velvet,  some carmine,  the third deepest wine,  a great colour.  Bouquet is rich,  explicitly based on cassisy syrah with bottled dark plums,  the actual fruit being comparable with our best syrahs,  some sweet black pepper.  The difference from our wines is,  this syrah being a second wine (in the manner of Bordeaux),  it smells as if it has been raised in mainly older oak,  so there is a hint of brown mellowness differentiating it a little from the average of the New Zealand wines but not by much.  Only five tasters in 27 correctly nominated this wine as the ring-in.  Palate shows great fruit,  richer than half the New Zealand wines,  and this is a second wine !  Cropping rate is still an issue too many of our wine people are reluctant to acknowledge.  The berry is browning just a trace in flavour,  one winemaker wondered if there might be academic brett,  but in summary this 2010 Petite Chapelle provided a compelling foil against which to measure New Zealand syrah achievements.  Kudos to Geoff Wilson for including it,  to help counter parochialism.  And if this is the second wine from their great Hermitage holdings,  33% of the crop,  a further third being sold-off,  imagine how 2010 La Chapelle proper,  with its greater ratio (20%) of new oak,  will compete with and illuminate the top New Zealand syrahs in this tasting,  once it is available.  That is really something to look forward to.  Cellar 5 15 years,  perhaps longer.  GK 06/13

2009  Vidal Syrah Gimblett Gravels Legacy Series   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $70   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  cropped @ 4.5 t/ha (1.8 t/ac),  all de-stemmed;  inoculated,  up to 25 days cuvaison;  MLF and c.20 months in French oak 38% new;  RS <1 g/L;  not filtered;  250 cases;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  around midway in depth.  Bouquet is simpler than some of the syrahs,  juicy and plummy berry,  fragrant oak though at this youthful stage with a slight resiny edge,  all very clean.  Palate is clearly more oaky than my top wines,  but the richness and berry flavours are pure and aromatic too.  It is more oaky than the Elephant Hill.  Should harmonise with age,  and cellar 5 15 years.  GK 07/12

2009  Squawking Magpie Syrah The Stoned Crow   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $40   [ screwcap;  18 months in French oak;  the website lacks wine information;  www.squawkingmagpie.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a vibrant colour,  like Le Sol.  Initially opened,  and in the tasting,  this looked an absolute champion,  being highly-rated by the group.  The intensity of the cassis berry was augmented by vanillin from the oak,  and proved seductive.  Palate is rich and concentrated,  slightly acid.  The quality of fruit matches the Church Road,  but by classical standards the oak becomes increasingly obtrusive as one plays with the wine.  Cellar 5 15 years,  with great interest.  GK 07/12

2009  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose   17 ½ +  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $50   [ cork;  3 clones of syrah hand-harvested,  100% de-stemmed;  extended cuvaison;  15 months in French oak 35 40% new;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  one of the lightest.  Initially opened / at the tasting,  this wine did not have a lot to say,  no faults,  just lacking,  nice oak.  Well-breathed,  it opens up into the classical Bullnose style,  wallflower florals and cassisy berry,  high-quality oak,  not the weight of fruit of the top wines,  or notably the second-label commercial Church Road for example,  but stylish,  firm,  aromatic.  Leave this in cellar a while,  to muster its resources.  Cellar 3 10 years.  GK 07/12

2010  Mission Estate Syrah Huchet   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.2%;  $125   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  hand-picked from hand-tended vines @ c.2.5 t/ha (1 t/ac);  100% de-stemmed;  inoculated,  no cold-soak,  c.12 days ferment,  total cuvaison 42 days;  MLF in tank;  15 months in barrel c.33% new,  no American oak;   light filter,  not sterile;  RS < 1 g/L;  75 cases;  the wine is named for Brother Cyprian Huchet,  the first winemaker at The Mission,  until 1899;  no top ranking,  2 second;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine,  right in the middle for depth.  Initially opened,  the wine is a little reductive,  and needs a good splashy decanting and some time with air to open up and dissipate some oak aromas.  The wine shows very ripe fruit,  bottled black doris and some cassis all a little muted compared with my impressions from an earlier tasting (GKWR,  previous article).  Palate likewise is harder and less ample than I remembered it (these thoughts once it was revealed).  Though still a rich wine,  I ended up wondering if this might be a slightly 'scalped' bottle (a wine subliminally affected by cork taint,  at a level of TCA where you can't recognise it).  The actual fruit and structure is close to La Petite Chapelle,  in an austere way.  In sum,  confusing,  I can only score this bottle as I found it noting that I can't wait to see the wine again in another strictly blind tasting.  Cellar 5 15 years.  GK 06/13

2009  Hopes Grove Syrah   17 ½ +  ()
Pakipaki (SE of Bridge Pa Triangle),  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $45   [ screwcap;  hand-picked;  small percentage whole-bunch,  wild-yeast ferment;  MLF and 20 months in French oak,  33% new;  RS < 1 g/L;  not filtered;  70 cases;  website lacks wine information;  www.hopesgrove.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  around midway in depth.  This wine benefits from decanting,  to reveal a more complex and winey bouquet than most in the set.  In style it is a little more traditionally European,  not as sparkling clean and fresh as the top wines.  Palate continues the 'complex' thought,  some savoury and rustic qualities,  good richness and berry fruit,  nicely balanced oak,  good length.  Cellar 5 12 years.  GK 07/12

2010  Bilancia Syrah La Collina   17 ½  ()
Roy's Hill,  SW of Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $95   [ screwcap;  Sy & Vi hand-harvested @ 2.5 t/ha (1 t/ac);  Sy fermented on Vi skins,  % Vi hard to quantify;  no whole-bunch,  5 days cold-soak,  wild yeast ferment,  c.18 days cuvaison;  MLF and 20 months in French oak 80% new;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  5 top rankings,  1 second;  www.bilancia.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  some only carmine,  a good colour,  but the second to lightest in a set of (mostly) great colours.  Bouquet is a little different in this wine,  it being aromatic with clear cassis,  fragrant but not exactly floral,  a touch of pepper sometimes seeming black,  sometimes inclining white,  but clearly syrah.  Palate is crisper / firmer than the top wines,  and it is not a big wine.  There is some youthful austerity,  which makes the oak seem prominent at this stage.  You can see how an English winewriter might mention Crozes-Hermitage in evaluating this wine,  but one also needs to note that with the dramatic evolution in winemaking standards now evident in the Northern Rhone,  there are some pretty fine Crozes-Hermitage syrahs these days.  Needs to soften,  cellar 5 15 years.  GK 06/13

2010  Elephant Hill Syrah   17 +  ()
Te Awanga,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% hand-picked @ 4.5 t/ha (1.8 t/ac),  100% de-stemmed;  in effect 4 days cold-soak,  inoculated yeast,  c.12 days ferment,  total cuvaison 23 days;  MLF and 11 months in French (Burgundy) oak 40% new,  no American oak;  RS <1 g/L;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  1 top ranking,  2 second;  c.900 cases;  www.elephanthill.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  below midway in depth.  Like the Crossroads,  this wine is also too oaky for syrah beauty,  even though the fruit is clean and ripe.  In mouth,  there is rich fruit,  but the oak (good) dominates.  One can detect cassisy berry and some dark plums,  and clear black pepper.  This cooler coastal site offers the prospect of syrahs very different in style from the inland wines.  In some years they are likely to overlap with Martinborough syrahs,  or the fragrant white-pepper wines from less favoured sites in the Collines Rhodaniennes appellation.  By broadening the canvas of what is acceptable,  they will add great interest to Hawkes Bay syrah achievements.  Cellar 5 12 years,  awaiting mellowing.  GK 06/13

2010  Vidal Syrah Reserve Series   17 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $29   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% cropped at 5.3 t/ha (2.1 t/ac),  all de-stemmed;  no cold-soak,  inoculated,  up to 10 days ferment,  up to 26 days cuvaison;  MLF and c.20 months in French oak 24% new,  no American oak;  RS <1 g/L;  1500 cases;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  1 top ranking,  1 second;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  also in the middle for depth.  Around this point in the tasting,  the wines are less dramatically varietal syrah,  not such exciting florals or such crisp cassis,  more variously good red wines,  and probably syrah.  This wine is clean,  a fragrant blending of nearly floral dark berries,  hints of cassis,  blackberries and dark plums,  some oak.  Palate is clearly less concentrated than the top wines,  fair fruit but a faint bitter streak on the oak,  all needing to soften a little more in bottle.  Reserve Series is now the middle tier of Vidal releases,  the former "real" Reserve wine now being called Legacy Series.  This therefore being now a more commercial label in the Villa Maria family of wines,  it may sometimes be found in supermarkets at attractive discounts.  Cellar 3 12 years.  GK 06/13

2010  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose   17  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $50   [ cork;  no response to questionnaire by winery,  website info only;  a single-vineyard wine,  hand-harvested,  100% de-stemmed;  extended cuvaison;  15 months in French oak some new;  RS <2 g/L;  no top ranking,  4 second;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  the lightest wine.  Freshly opened,  the bouquet is a little odd,  lighter,  indeterminate fruit and a hint of caramel and vanilla as if some US oak (unlikely).  As the wine opens up with air,  it clears to the more usual fragrant Bullnose interpretation,  but in this case a lighter version of it,  hints of wallflowers,  red fruits more than black.  Palate is quite light in the company,  gentle,  Cote Rotie in styling,  not Hermitage.  When compared with the top wines,  it bears much the same relation to them as Guigal's Cote Rotie Brune & Blanc does to the half-dozen more serious syrah labels Guigal now offers.  Thus this Bullnose is relatively light,  but correct and beautifully made.  Cellar 3 10 years.  GK 06/13

2009  Bridge Pa Syrah Reserve   16 ½ +  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $39   [ Stelvin Lux;  Sy 100%,  hand-picked;  c.12 months in French oak,  some new;  www.bridgepa.co.nz ]
Older ruby,  much the lightest of the syrahs,  and the oldest in appearance.  Both bouquet and palate are in an old-fashioned winestyle,  reasonable berry but all a bit leathery / trace oxidation,  suggestions of older Australian shiraz as much as syrah.  Palate shows pleasant fruit within this approach,  still recognisably varietal,  a hint of salt in the leather,  looking straightforward in the company.  Cellar 3 8 years.  GK 07/12

2010  Crossroads Syrah Winemakers Collection   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $40   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  hand-harvested @ 4.3 t/ha (1.7 t/ac);  100% de-stemmed;  no cold-soak,  inoculated,  c.7 days ferment,  total cuvaison ranged from 18 29 days for components;  MLF and 14 months in French oak 27% new,  no American oak;  RS <2 g/L;  283 cases;  2 top rankings,  1 second;  www.crossroadswinery.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine,  well below midway in depth.  Bouquet is heavy,  much too much oak for the beauty good syrah should display,  but quite rich.  Palate gives a better picture,  some cassisy berry,  some black pepper,  but the oak seems not very good oak,  with a saline streak in it detracting.  Quite big wine,  which should mellow in cellar over 5 15 years,  but in this tasting I am seeking precision of varietal expression so the mark is lesser.  GK 06/13

2010  Esk Valley Syrah Winemakers Reserve   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $60   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested @ 3.7 t/ha (1.5 t/ac) from vines planted in the Cornerstone Vineyard 1996,  all de-stemmed;  c.5 days cold-soak,  wild-yeast,  c.10 days ferment,  total cuvaison 30 days;  MLF and c.17 months in French oak c.40% new,  some lees stirring;  130 cases;  no top ranking,  3 second;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine,  above midway in depth.  The wine opens poorly,  a hard almost reductive initial impression.  It doesn't really open up easily either,  even though there is rich dark berry,  the nett impression is hard even ugly oak detracting from the fruit,  and a tannic nearly metallic quality to the finish.  Will cellar 5 15 years and hopefully mellow,  but it could be an expensive gamble.  GK 06/13

2010  Church Road Syrah Reserve   16 ½  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $35   [ cork;  Sy 100% hand-harvested and sorted,  all de-stemmed;  no cold soak,  inoculated yeast,  c.6 days warm-ferment in open-top oak and concrete vessels,  up to 35 days cuvaison,  controlled aeration;  c.18 - 21 months in French oak c.40% new;  no American oak;  about 800 cases produced;  the Church road website provides great info;  RS <1 g/L;  3 top rankings,  4 second;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  above midway in depth,  but from colour alone,  one has forebodings about the oak-handling.  Bouquet is the odd-man-out in the field.  Not only is it hopelessly oaky,  but it has a clear mint / euc'y smell.  [ I wonder if some new source of tainted fruit has been included this year.  The Redstone vineyard is known to be superb,  but the website mentions another Bridge Pa site.  If so it may be adjacent to eucalypts and undesirable in warmer seasons.]  These two factors together pretty well smother any varietal quality,  on bouquet.  Palate continues the trend,  the oak to berry ratio being more traditional Australian practice than best latterday New Zealand,  with vanillin oak flavours dominating,  the fruit rich but seeming over-ripe and lacking cassisy freshness,  aromatics,  florality or complexity.  Disappointing when one reflects back on some of the exciting earlier Church Road syrahs,  but it will be well-rated by some (sadly).  Cellar 5 15 years.  GK 06/13