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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.

TOP 2002 NEW ZEALAND SYRAH CHALLENGES THE RHONE:  32 WINES


Background:
A remarkable tasting of nearly all the 2002 New Zealand Hawkes Bay syrahs took place in Hawkes Bay, on 3rd June 2005.  The tasting was created by Dr Rod Bonfiglioli and Ruby Andrew,  both associated with Riversun Nurseries,  Gisborne,  and Llewellyn Williams,  restaurateur of Gisborne,  who had between them assembled a core of bottles.  It was physically hosted by John Hancock at Trinity Hills’ tasting room.  Acknowledgement is due to all the wineries who supplied further samples,  and to Hawkes Bay Winemakers,  who in the spirit which is becoming characteristic of this remarkably proactive organisation,  decided to fund the inclusion of three French wines,  as yardsticks.

The tasting was restricted to Hawkes Bay wines,  since this is unquestionably the premier district for syrah in New Zealand – the area where the variety most easily achieves an exciting and internationally recognisable ripeness.  One or two wines not offered for the tasting were added privately,  to try and build as complete an assessment as possible of syrah achievements in the Bay,  in New Zealand's attractive Indian-Summer 2002 vintage.  That does not do justice to the few fine syrahs from outside Hawkes Bay,  such as the Dry River from Martinborough.  

Eight people assessed the wines:  Rod Bonfiglioli,  scientist,  Riversun Nurseries;  John Hancock, winemaker, Trinity Hill;  Alan Limmer,  winemaker,  Stonecroft;  Tony Bish,  winemaker,  Sacred Hill;  Warren Gibson,  winemaker,  Bilancia;  Nick Hoskins,  viticulturist,  Riversun Nurseries;  Llewellyn Williams,  restaurateur,  Gisborne;  and the author.  Note however that the wine reviews and rankings expressed in this review are solely my opinion.  The broader goals of the tasting,  including assessing the performance of the sub-regions of Hawkes Bay,  and a more democratic contemplation of the diverse and stimulating views offered by judges in the discussion section of the tasting,  will be written up by Ruby Andrew.

All 32 wines were available for contributing  winemakers to drop in and evaluate and discuss afterwards,  providing a valuable benchmarking opportunity.

The French model:
The three French wines (from the well-regarded 2001 vintage,  to better match our 2002s) spanned the principal districts and styles of northern Rhone syrah:  Hermitage,  Cote Rotie,  and Crozes-Hermitage.  Those three styles can respectively be characterised as,  at best:  authoritative cassis and aromatic complexity;  floral and fragrant (sometimes burgundian) enchantment,  and ‘aspiring to be Hermitage’,  often sub-optimally ripe.   They married into the tasting well,  and were by no means the demonstrably “best”  wines.  All had been rated 90 or more points,  by Robert Parker or Stephen Tanzer.  The best of them were noticeable for their complex floral bouquets,  adding that magic dimension to syrah which we are not yet paying enough attention to in New Zealand.  Sadly we are still too much influenced by the Australian obsession with over-ripeness (which kills floral components of bouquet),  excess alcohol,  and over-oaking.

Many European wine people have put the view that our syrahs most closely approach Crozes-Hermitage in style.  I suspect there is an element of patronising in this,  but at least it acknowledges that our syrah styles more closely approach the French style,  in contrast to the Australian.  For now,  the statement is probably true as a generalisation,  but the very best wines in this tasting,  and notably Trinity's Syrah Homage,  clearly tackle top Hermitage head-on.  Matching the floral beauty of good Cote Rotie will be more difficult,  though Te Mata’s Woodthorpe is moving in that direction.  When one considers current achievements in building complexity into our top sauvignons via canopy management,  cropping rates,  and critical picking times,  that provides some indication of how great the scope is to manipulate syrah in a similar way.  Matching Crozes-Hermitage is easier:  just as they often include a stalky / sub-optimally-ripe component in smell or taste (when compared with the perfect exposure and ripeness of the best Hermitage wines),  so too do many of our syrahs.  A tendency to palate hardness follows in tending-stalky wines,  exacerbated in rather many New Zealand (and French) wines by threshold reduced sulphurs and retained fermentation odours - a long-standing syrah tendency and ‘problem’.  

The best conclusion to spring from this tasting is reinforcement of the view that our wines more closely approach the French style of syrah,  than the Australian interpretation of the grape as shiraz.  I first made this prediction in the 1987 New Zealand Wine Annual,  on the basis of experimental plantings of syrah at the time.  Our wines show little in common with the boysenberry-over-ripe and acid-adjusted shirazes which Australia makes so easily and so cheaply.  It is therefore great we do not need to compete with them,  but can concentrate on a lighter,  more fragrant,  and more elegant style,  particularly for export.  Thus already our best clearly approach the complexity and palate flavours and finesse of the famous syrah appellations of the northern Rhone Valley:  smells and flavours of cassis,  black peppercorn,  and black plums.  All we need now,  in addition,  are the wallflower and dianthus bouquet complexities of the top Rhone wines,  as notably seen in Cote Rotie,  but also found in good Hermitage,  and the finest examples of Cornas,  Crozes-Hermitage,  and St Joseph.  These are the characters which give great Rhone syrahs their magic and near-burgundian charm.  Unfortunately complexity of bouquet is all too commonly overlooked by winemakers brought up via the warmer-climate and therefore less subtle winemaking approaches in California and Australia,  where climatic excess has removed floral and complexity precursors from the grape long before harvest,  and consequently size,  power,  alcohol and oak (to try and restore aromatics) are rated more highly in wines than finesse.  

New Zealand,  in contrast,  has the new world temperate-climate potential to strive for old world levels of wine complexity,  subtlety and quality in syrah,  augmented by new world technical control and hygiene.  So there is a wonderful challenge facing us with export syrah,  which has more in common with current achievements with pinot noir,  than with the internationally commonplace cabernet / merlot wines.

Faults:
The commonest fault encountered was reduced sulphur and its relatives arising in elevage.  These compounds (referred to loosely as H2S,  hydrogen sulphide,  but embracing a whole gamut of complex sulphur chemistry) immediately conceal the subtler and most beautiful floral dimensions of the grape (i.e. exactly the magical components we can achieve in our climate),   and when present at higher levels can suppress all varietal character,  as well as evolving to even more intractable and highly odoriferous sulphur compounds known as mercaptans.  Traces of simple H2S will marry away,  but not significant amounts - tasteable amounts.  Syrah is particularly prone to H2S evolution during elevage,  and it is critical we pay close attention to this issue.  The fact that a significant  percentage of wine-drinkers cannot smell these compounds does not minimise that need one bit - the wine critics who carry weight are sensitive to these odours,  at least in the new world.  And the fact is,  sulphides destroy wine beauty and quality,  whereas some other “faults” are much more benign,  or even positive in subtle amounts.

Some wines gave evidence of undue work to mitigate reduced sulphurs,  and were instead tending volatile.  None of the wines were obviously metallic to the aftertaste - copper fining being the standard approach to reductiveness.   In these notes I have marked down reductive (hard) wines more than oxidative (usually soft) ones.  Hard wines are much less food-friendly and enjoyable to drink,  quite apart from lacking bouquets - and for some wine people,  bouquet is the most important part of the wine.

Scores:
As always,  the scores below reflect my personal views and conclusions about these individual bottles (mostly cork-closed),  as they showed on this day,  relative to the wines they were tasted with,  in a formal blind tasting.  They do not reflect the conclusions of the panel.  Scores in this batch of notes may therefore differ from other reviews on this site,  and sometimes markedly,  noting most wines are cork-sealed. The presumption that a wine will achieve the same score in different settings at different times is arrant nonsense (though the advent of technically less variable closures,  such as screwcaps,  is a step in that direction).  Leaving aside cork issues,  variation in taster performance,  and the field of accompanying wines on the day,  even small variables such as the height of pour in the glass will significantly affect the perception of that wine.  

Therefore,  the issue of repeating reviews of any given wine on this site is unimportant,  when compared with the opportunity to critically examine and report on such an exciting bunch of wines,  all together and presented blind.  And reporting on wines as they evolve over time is another rationale for multiple reviews.

SYRAH

2002  Babich Syrah Winemaker’s Reserve
2002  Bilancia Syrah
2002  Bilancia Syrah la Collina
2002  Brookfields Syrah Hillside
2001  Chapoutier Crozes-Ermitage les Varonniers
2002  Craggy Range Syrah Block 14
2002  Craggy Range Syrah le Sol
2002  Crossroads Syrah Hawkes Bay
2002  Esk Valley Syrah Reserve
2001  Jaboulet Hermitage la Chapelle
2002  Kingsley Estate Syrah
2002  Matariki Syrah Gimblett Gravels
2002  Matua Valley Syrah Bullrush Innovator
2002  Matua Valley Syrah Matheson
2002  Mills Reef Syrah Elspeth
2002  Mission Syrah Hawkes Bay Reserve
  2002  Mission Syrah Jewelstone
2002  Newton-Forrest Syrah Cornerstone
2002  Ngaruroro Syrah Rockhill
2002  Pask Syrah Gimblett Road
2002  Pask Syrah Reserve
2002  Sacred Hills Syrah Deer Stalkers
2001  Saint Cosme Cote Rotie
2002  Selaks Syrah Founder’s Reserve
2002  Stonecroft Syrah
2002  Te Awa Syrah
2002  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose
2002  Te Mata Syrah / Viognier Woodthorpe
2002  Trinity Hill Syrah Gimblett Road
2002  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage
2002  Unison Syrah
2002  Vidal Syrah Soler


2002  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $100   [ cork;  Sy 98%,  Vi 2,  cropped 1 tonne / acre;  MLF in tank,  17 months in new French oak,  neither fined nor filtered;  www.trinityhillwines.com ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet,  fabulous.  Over the last few years,  I have nominated several wines as the best example of New Zealand syrah so far.  But all must stand aside,  with the debut of the 2002 Trinity Hill Homage Syrah.  This is great wine,  a wine to put many reputed Hermitages in the shade.  Bouquet is a wonderful expression of the variety,  showing darkest cassis perhaps concealing deep florals yet to emerge,  blackest plums,  and suggestions of cracked black peppercorns wrapped up in charry soft oak,  as if some of the wine were barrel-fermented.  Palate is gloriously rich,  long on cassis aromatics and spice,  potentially soft,  but firm now,  as befits a longterm cellar wine,  with the oak still to marry in,  but not excessive.  Style is totally European,  and John Hancock speaks of the name Homage embracing the memory of the late Gerard Jaboulet,  in whose time their wine la Chapelle was the most famous Hermitage of all.  Total production of this excitingly rich benchmark wine was small (a few hundred cases of 6),  and it is sold out at the winery.  It may be still sparingly available in New Zealand retail (e.g. First Glass,  Takapuna,  Regional Wines,  Wellington),  and via Laurent-Perrier (UK) Ltd in England,  and Pacific Vine International in USA.  It will cellar for 10 - 20 years.  Many a Hermitage producer could be respectful of this wine.  GK 06/05

2002  Kingsley Estate Syrah   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $46   [ screwcap;  Sy 86%,  CS 7,  Ma 7;  mostly 12 months in French oak,  33% new;  130 cases;  www.kingsley.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  an excellent colour but not quite the magical velvety depths of the le Sol or Homage.  Bouquet is classical syrah,  and bears some relation to Jaboulet’s la Chapelle of 20 years ago.  There are dark florals deeper then dark roses,  saturated cassis,  blackest plums,  suggestions of black peppercorns,  and lovely oak  plus a trace of VA.  It is closest to the Homage in style.  Palate is marvellous,  slightly crisper and fresher than several,  firmer and more aromatic than the Homage or le Sol (probably picking up the cabernet sauvignon percentage),  with a saturation of cassis flavours,  plus ripe tannins and soft oak.  This too is an exciting wine which is still available at retail.  The 2001 was the winner of the Tri-Nation (Australia,  South Africa,  New Zealand) Challenge 2 years ago.  The 2002 will cellar 10 - 15 years,  at least.  GK 06/05

2002  Vidal Syrah Soler   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.8%;  $34   [ screwcap;  no info at website;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  nearly as deep as the Kingsley.  Bouquet changes on this wine each time one picks it up,  being cassisy one moment,  bush honey  (which is very Rhone-like) another,  aromatic and maybe oaky on the third.  Today there are aromas of blueberry,  and suggestions of Chilean carmenere on dark tobacco-y oak.  Flavour is rich and round,  slightly broader than the other top wines,  yet fresh on cassis too,  the oak and alcohol already marrying away surprisingly well.  Cellar 5 - 15 years.  GK 06/05

2002  Newton-Forrest Syrah Cornerstone   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $35   [ screwcap;  no info @ website;  www.forrest.co.nz ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet,  matching Homage and le Sol.  This is more the Australian approach to Gimblett Gravels syrah,  with lots of fragrant oak marrying into wonderful cassis and black plum fruit,  to give a big and ‘impressive’ wine inclining to the show-pony style.  Palate has the same velvety weight as le Sol, with blueberry flavours joining the berry and plum.  Black peppercorn and florals are pretty well lost at this ripeness,  but it is not so over-ripe as to be boysenberry in the obvious Australian style.  In another five years,  this wine may well score higher,  in a repeat tasting.  Cellar 5 - 20 years.  GK 06/05

2002  Craggy Range Syrah le Sol   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  15%;  $70   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  8 – 10 day cold soak,  MLF in barrel,  17 months in French oak 55% new;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet,  as fabulous as Homage.  I waver on this wine,  sometimes being put off by the high alcohol (15.4°),  which introduces a vintage port thought,  but then being enchanted by the saturated berryfruit flavours,  and subtlety of the oak handling.  It is not quite as complex as the Homage,  partly due to the subtler oak,  but in many ways it is a purer exposition of syrah as berry - essence of syrah.  Cassis,  black plums and blueberry are the core smells and flavours.  It is a bit too ripe for florals,  though one hopes they will emerge with time.  The palate is softening already,  and assimilating / concealing the alcohol tolerably well.  It is spirity with food,  though.  This too will cellar for 10 - 20 years.  Like Homage,  production was small,  and having been released earlier,  it is even rarer at retail than Homage.  UK sales are via Capricorn Wines,  and USA  Kobrand Corporation.  GK 06/05

2002  Mission Syrah Jewelstone   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $30   [ cork; crop 2 tonnes / acre; MLF in barrel, 15 months in French oak 50% new;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  like the Vidal.  This is an understated but pure syrah bouquet,  very close indeed to good Hermitage,  or topmost Crozes-Hermitage.  Main characters are cassis and black peppercorn,  with fine French oak and a piquant trace of VA totally in the background.  Palate is remarkable cassis,  a little fresher again than the Kingsley,  but still beautifully ripe with sweet tannins and lovely extension of flavour on the subtle oak.  Mission makes an attractively authentic Rhone-styled syrah under their top Jewelstone label,  and hence it tends to be overlooked in our Australian (read, oak)-influenced wine competitions.  This will mature gracefully like the 1999 (a seriously overlooked gold-medal quality wine) and be marvellous with food in five or so years time.  Cellar 5 - 15 years.  GK 06/05

2001  Chapoutier Crozes-Ermitage les Varonniers   18 ½  ()
Crozes-Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $91   [ cork;  av. vine age 60 years;  hand-harvested;  cuvaison c. 5 months in concrete;  100% matured in oak 12 - 14 months;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Ruby,  a little velvet.  Here we come into the full varietal expression of syrah the grape,  as seen in the northern Rhone Valley.  The key difference is the addition of a superb wallflowers and dianthus floral component to bouquet,  on clear-cut black pepper,  and classic cassis.  These first three varietal attributes are lost when syrah is over-ripened (just like pinot noir).  Hence they are rarely seen in Australian syrahs,  and there is a danger the Gimblett Gravels in good years will also prove too hot for finesse and complexity in the syrah wines,  if winemakers persist in taking grapes through to sur-maturité.  Le Sol reflects the (admittedly successful) pursuit of this New World approach to syrah.  It would be even better with some less-ripe fruit,  for additional bouquet complexity.  This Varonniers shows the difference.  Palate shows the extreme new oak approach adopted by Chapoutier for his selections parcellaires wines (copying Guigal),  but the total palate though rich,  has a potentially silky,  ‘delicate’,  and magical quality which is more pinot noir from Burgundy than shiraz from Australia.  Like the Mission wine,  it can therefore be easily overlooked,  in a tasting of burly Gimblett Gravels wines.  

For interest,  Robert Parker (who is usually pretty astute in his evaluation of syrah) reckons Varonniers is now the finest Crozes-Hermitage made,  and he rates this particular wine 91 - 93 +,  mentioning ‘cassis’ and ‘full-bodied’ in notes that read more like a Hermitage wine than a Crozes.  It certainly matches the occasional great Jaboulet Thalabert from the 70s and 80s.  For me,  the great thing about this Varonniers is the florals on bouquet persist right through to the aftertaste,  like the so-called peacock’s tail effect rarely seen in great burgundy.  The oak is remarkably gentle and well-assimilated already,  and unlike many northern Rhone 2001s,  the wine is not tending acid.  It will cellar for 5 - 15 years, and is still available at retail.  Kudos to the Hawkes Bay Winemakers,  for supporting the inclusion of such an important demonstration wine.  GK 06/05

2002  Te Mata Syrah / Viognier Woodthorpe   18  ()
Dartmoor Valley,  northern Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $24   [ cork;  Sy 98%,  Vi 2;  hand-picked, de-stemmed,  co-fermented and hand-plunged in open-top fermenters,  extended maceration,  15 months in French oak;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  a little velvet,  closer to the Varonniers than to most of the kiwis.  I had to include this wine in the tasting,  for it represents a winemaking approach outside the kiwi square.  Bouquet clearly shows the florals which so characterise the Varonniers,  and demonstrates that Rhone-style complexity can be achieved in New Zealand.  Significantly,  this wine from the Woodthorpe district of the Dartmoor River valley is a cooler zone than the Gimblett Gravels.  Te Mata are consciously seeking a Cote Rotie style for this wine,  rather than the Hermitage / Crozes-Hermitage axis most Hawkes Bay growers seem to have in mind.  They therefore blend in a little of the white grape viognier,  as in Cote Rotie.  Bouquet is thus softer and sweeter,  more feminine in traditional parlance,  than the more authoritative Gravels wines.  In addition to wallflower and dianthus smells,  there is lovely berry aroma combining red and black currants,  red as well as black plums,  and clear black peppercorn,  all plus an exciting savoury / gamey edge.  Palate follows on perfectly,  supple fruit,  soft tannins,  velvety,  slightly savoury - by far the most food-friendly and rewarding to drink now of all these wines.

It is worth mentioning that hi-tech winemakers criticise wines of this style on the grounds of Brettanomyces,  but at the level seen in this wine,  that is academic.  Sometimes these people are not sufficiently familiar with the exquisite florals of perfectly ripened syrah in the Rhone Valley,  and the fragrances on bouquet mis-cue them.  Many,  many,  highly rated Rhone wines are much more bretty than this one.  The best advice with slightly to moderately bretty wines is (a) to serve them with savoury herbes-tinged dishes like winter casseroles (particularly venison),  and (b) not cellar them for quite so long.  Even so, this wine has such lovely fruit,  and such subtle oak,  it will cellar a good 10 years,  maybe more.  I have a case of it,  to test,  and I think prove,  that point.  Keep such wines for your friends,  and don’t serve them to new world,  high-tech winemakers !  GK 06/05

2002  Brookfields Syrah Hillside   18  ()
Hill-slopes east of Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $40   [ cork;  price uncertain;  no info on website;  www.brookfieldsvineyards.co.nz ]
Ruby,  a little velvet,  similar to the Woodthorpe.  Stylistically,  this wine is close to the Bilancia la Collina,  but richer and oakier.  There is a clear floral component on red berries,  and in the fragrance the thought arises:  is that more white pepper than black ?  So this wine too is closer in style to the average ripeness of the northern Rhone,  than to the best of the Gimblett Gravels.  Palate is fractionally leaner too,  accentuated by the noticeable oak,  yet there is a good spicy cassis and red and black plums of about the same weight as the Varonniers.  Aftertaste is distinctly cedary at this stage,  the oak a little much.  Watching this wine evolve will be interesting.  Cellar 5 - 10 years.  GK 06/05

2002  Esk Valley Syrah Reserve   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.9%;  $40   [ screwcap;  hand-picked,  hand-plunged open-top fermenters,  MLF in barrel,  15 months French oak;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet,  matching Cornerstone.  A big bouquet of very ripe syrah fruit,  darkest cassis and plum,  yet there is recognisable black pepper as well as oak.  This bouquet is exciting.  Palate shows a concentrated version of the bouquet,  with great depth,  but at this stage the oak creeps up the tongue,  making the wine seem angular and youthful.  It seems oakier than the Cornerstone (surprisingly) today,  and thus loses a little on the points scale.  Even so,  this will be a great wine to cellar 10 - 15 years,  and will I am sure rate higher in 5 years.  GK 06/05

2002  Craggy Range Syrah Block 14   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $35   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% close-planted;  hand-picked and sorted,  cuvaison extended 20 - 30 days in open-top fermenters,  MLF in barrel and 6 - 7 months in French oak 35% new;  not fined or filtered;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a lovely colour,  matching the Kingsley.  Bouquet seems very big and in a warmer-climate style than is optimal,  with some suggestions of the Barossa Valley,  as for example Penfolds Bin 28 (despite the oak difference).  There is lots of dark fruit,  but the wine is too ripe for florals or much peppercorn on bouquet,  and even cassis is not too clear.  The depth of black plummy fruit and degree of oaking is great,  however.  Actual texture and flavour of the fruit is a little bit coarser than the le Sol,  and in comparison with some of the finer-grained French-oaked wines such as the Jewelstone.  Nonetheless,  this is big,  exciting,  ripe syrah well reflecting the 2002 Gimblett Gravels vintage.  Cellar 5 - 15 years.  GK 06/05

2002  Unison Syrah   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $36   [ cork;  nearly two years in wood;  www.unisonvineyard.co.nz ]
Carmine,  ruby and velvet,  brighter than most.  Initially opened,  this wine shows some retained fermentation odours,  and is a trace reductive,  which ties in with the bright colour.  Splashy decanting fixes that,  as will time,  but anyway,  it is ludicrous drinking any of these top wines at their present immature state.  Aerated, dense cassis appears,  with suggestions of black peppercorns,  all on darkest plums.  On palate,  oak is more apparent than is ideal (within the context of subtle Rhone styles,  rather than coarse Australian ones),  which is a pity because the cassisy fruit is superb,  with great freshness and fine acid balance.  Because one can't taste the reductive hint,  I suspect this wine will be on the top shelf in five years time.  It is well worth investing in.  Cellar 5 - 20 years.  GK 06/05

2002  Mills Reef Syrah Elspeth   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $40   [ cork;  DFB;  no info on website ;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet,  amongst the deepest.  Bouquet on this wine is ... wumph ! -  big and designed to impress,  a real show-pony style.  There are lashings of blueberry and darkly plummy berry,  perceptible VA,  and lots of oak.  It is made in the style Penfold's Grange used to be (and look at its reputation).  Palate is very big,  soft,  rich,  flavoursome,  gorgeous fruit,  but this is another wine where one's mind wanders to thoughts of infantile vintage port.  Such wines are too oaky for subtlety,  tending Australian in approach,  not so good with food,  but many people love them.  Cellar 5 - 15 years at least,  and it might triumph - the degree of oak assimilation already shows my earlier assessments of the wine were too critical.  For those of us planning future 2002 New Zealand Syrah tastings,  it is an almost compulsory acquisition,  as the end marker for one style of New Zealand syrah.  GK 06/05

2002  Bilancia Syrah la Collina   17 ½  ()
Roy’s Hill (west flank of Gimblett Gravels),  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $45   [ cork;  price uncertain ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  less carmine,  closer to the Woodthorpe than to the top Gimblett wines.  This is a lighter and more floral wine than most,  and as is so often the case in more marginal climates,  there is just a suspicion that part of the floral component is leafy.  Berries include red and black currants,  as well as red and black plums,  with clear black peppercorn.  This is remarkably akin to good Crozes-Hermitage,  especially with the suggestion of carnation florals on bouquet.  Palate is intensely cassis,  full of flavour,  but not as rich and a little more acid than the top wines.  At this early stage,  the peppercorn suggestion runs out into a stalky / firm tannins component,  but the wine is not green.  It is just youthful,  like young Bordeaux (left bank).  This will evolve into a much more French winestyle than many in this tasting,  and needs three to five years to soften.  Cellar 5 - 10 years.  GK 06/05

2002  Trinity Hill Syrah Gimblett Road   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $30   [ cork;  long cuvaison,  MLF in tank,  17 months in French and US oak,  neither fined or filtered;  www.trinityhillwines.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  This was another wine to open up a little reductive,  and needing aeration.  Breathed it is mainstream Gimblett Gravels syrah,  cassis and black plums,  some black peppercorns.  Flavours are long,  rich and slightly spicy,  gently oaked,  the whole wine more accessible than some.  Ripeness is not as remarkable as the Homage,  but considering this is the second-tier wine,  it is still pretty good - just a hint of stalks in the late finish.  Cellar 5 - 10 years.  GK 06/05

2002  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose   17 ½  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $35   [ cork;  hand-harvested;  16 months in new and older French oak;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  This is one of the more explicitly varietal wines in the set,  with suggestions of wallflower florals,  and clear black peppercorn,  on aromatic cassis and dark plum.  Like the Woodthorpe,  there is a savoury / gamey complexity too,  which is attractive to many tasters.  Palate is soft,  round,  rich and velvety,  quite extraordinarily northern Rhone in style.  This is due both to the style of fruit - not quite as ripe as the Gimblett Gravels - and to the brett component discussed under the Woodthorpe wine.  Again,  it only needs to be said,  one can fuss too much about this issue:  wine is about style and sensory satisfaction just as much as technicalities.  The latter should serve the former,  not the other way round.  Many Rhone reds have brett,  some at extravagant levels far beyond this wine,  for example 1983 Chateau Beaucastel.  Yet www.winesearcher.com tells me today,  that the latter wine is hard to procure in Europe / North America for less than $NZ100.  2002 Bullnose is already lovely with food,  and will cellar for 5 - 10 years.  GK 06/05

2002  Bilancia Syrah   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $35   [ cork ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  deeper than La Collina.  Bouquet is a deeper,  richer more blackly fruited wine than la Collina,  as befits its Gimblett Gravels origin.  Bouquet and palate are quite rich,  with black plums,  blueberries and some cassis carrying quite a lot of oak,  in a big soft Gravels style slightly reminiscent of the Barossa Valley.  This will be accessible relatively early.  Cellar 5 - 10 years.  GK 06/05

2002  Sacred Hills Syrah Deer Stalkers   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $40   [ cork;  no info on website;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Ruby and velvet.  This one opens up a bit reductive too,  needing aeration.  Breathed,  there are suggestions of black peppercorns and quite dense black fruits,  cassis and plums,  with a charry suggestion as if some of the wine were barrel-fermented.  Fruit is rich,  flavoursome,  youthful,  fleshy,  well-balanced,  with oak-derived chocolate flavours added to the berry,  in a contemporary style.  This wine has some marrying up still to do,  and will score higher in five years.  Cellar 5 - 12 years.  GK 06/05

2002  Matua Valley Syrah Bullrush Innovator   17 ½  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $28   [ cork;  hand-harvested,  de-stemmed,  hand-plunged in open-top fermenters,  8 months in one and two-year oak,  2 g / L RS;  www.matua.co.nz ]
Ruby and some velvet.  Straightforward plummy fruit with new oak is the first impression.  Palate is soft,  rich and fleshy,  the fruit sliding to the blueberry side of the syrah spectrum rather than cassis,  but made aromatic by obvious oak.  A pleasant hint of pennyroyal mint comes into the late taste.  This may gain a little more complexity with another couple of years in bottle,  and will cellar for 5 - 10 years.  GK 06/05

2002  Ngaruroro Syrah Rockhill   17 +  ()
Southwest Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $30   [ cork;  price uncertain ]
Ruby,  a little velvet,  with the Varonniers the lightest so far.  Bouquet is fragrant,  tending to the style of the Woodthorpe:  some florals,  some black peppercorns,  good cassis and red fruits.  Palate is similar too,  and subtly oaked,  with fragrant fruit,  elegant acid balance,  and just a hint of leafiness and brett.  Good drinking already,  or cellar 3 - 8 years.  GK 06/05

2002  Stonecroft Syrah   17 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $45   [ cork;  www.stonecroft.co.nz ]
Good ruby.  Bouquet is red berries and fruits,  with thoughts of cherries and hence pinot noir arising,  but on the edge there is some spice and aniseed   all a little reticent.  Palate is more spicy and peppercorn,   red fruits and plums of some depth,  subtly oaked.  The actual fruit weight and style is like the Varonniers,  but without the enviable floral complexities of that wine.  Like the Te Mata Woodthorpe,  this is a subtle,  French-leaning syrah style,  but it is not as forward as that wine and will be more eloquent in 3 - 5 years.  Cellar 5 - 12 years.  GK 06/05

2001  Saint Cosme Cote Rotie   17  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $90   [ cork;  Sy 100%,  80% Cote Brune,  20 Cote Blonde,  15 months in mostly new French oak ]
Lighter and older ruby,  the lightest of the wines.  Bouquet is light in one sense,  yet very strong in another,  intensely floral,  clearcut carnations and wallflowers,  a suggestion of maceration carbonique,  typical Cote Rotie not quite perfectly ripe.  This wine was put in to facilitate comparison with non-standard Hawkes Bay syrahs such as the Woodthorpe,  and it did that admirably.  The beauty of the bouquet is not quite followed up on palate,  which is a little skinny reflecting the medium-weight 2001 vintage in the northern Rhone,  too acid / stalky,  but intensely red fruited,  for example red currants and English gooseberries ripened to darkest red,  beautifully fragrant.  Wines of this style are superb with food,  cellar surprisingly well,  and must be accepted as legitimate within the construct of temperate-climate syrah,  meaning the northern Rhone.  It is worth remembering that Hermitage and Cote Rotie are physically closer to Beaune than they are to Chateauneuf du Pape.  Cellar  3 - 8 years.  GK 06/05

2002  Pask Syrah Gimblett Road   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $22   [ screwcap;  no info on website ;  www.cjpaskwinery.co.nz ]
Good ruby.  Bouquet on this wine is augmented by appreciable VA,  making it fragrant.  There are intriguing florals hinting at violets,  and some cassis,  black peppercorn and black plum.  This promising start is let down on palate,  which is oaky,  disorganised,  and somewhat hollow,  with VA and acid growing in importance,  and the fruit receding.  The wine is a bit puzzling,  and should be coming together better by now.  It should cellar for 5 - 8 years.  GK 06/05

2002  Selaks Syrah Founder’s Reserve   17  ()
Mohaka Valley,  northern Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $33   [ cork;  DFB;  no winemaking info on website;  www.nobilo.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet.  This is a disorganised bouquet,  reflecting some of the cassis and plummy berry of Hawkes Bay syrah,  plus some of the logan / boysenberry simpler fruit smells and flavours of shiraz from Australia.  Palate is fleshy within these parameters,  not exactly jammy but slightly stewed and reminiscent of Coonawarra,  as if it were machine-harvested,  with berries ranging from under-ripe to over-ripe.  A popular style,  but less promising cellarwise - perhaps 3 - 5 years.  GK 06/05

2002  Te Awa Syrah   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $32   [ cork;  hand-picked;  hand-plunged in open-top fermenters,  > 21 days cuvaison,  MLF in barrel,  14 months in French oak 20% new;  www.teawa.com ]
Ruby,  about the weight of the Ngaruroro,  but fractionally older.  Initially opened,  the wine is a little reductive.  It breathes off to be another one in the red fruits style,  contrasting with the black fruits of most Gimblett Gravels wines.  Palate is lighter too,  lighter cassis and a suggestion of loganberries,  red plums rather than black,  and suggestions of black peppercorn.  Oak is lowish,  but there is a suggestion of stalks,  almost under-ripe.  A more straightforward Hawkes Bay syrah,  to cellar 5 - 8 years.  GK 06/05

2002  Crossroads Syrah Hawkes Bay   16 ½  ()
Dartmoor Valley,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $19   [ cork;  if similar to 2004,  10 months in French and US oak,  20% new;  www.crossroadswinery.co.nz ]
Good ruby.  Here is a good example of the average Crozes-Hermitage style.  Crozes has a lesser reputation than Hermitage simply because the vineyards are mostly on the flats and terrace slopes,  and do not enjoy the brilliant southerly exposition of the hill of Hermitage proper.  Hence, the wines are all too often less ripe, and on the lower terraces can taste weedy.  This wine has some of the cassis and florals of less-ripe syrah,  in reasonable red berryfruit,  but also some of the stalks and acid.  Palate weight is less than the two Te Matas,  so the bit of brett shows more.  Even so,  it is sound drinking, and will cellar 5 - 7 years.  GK 06/05

2002  Pask Syrah Reserve   16  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $45   [ cork;  de-stemmed,  hand-plunged in open-top fermenters,  16 months in new French oak;  www.cjpaskwinery.co.nz ]
Ruby.  A fragrant wine,  partly due to the perceptible VA.  The actual wine smells are tending odd,  red fruits and crushed coarse parsley.  Palate is soft and quite rich,  but also oaky and Australian in style,  made piquant by the VA.  Should cellar 3 - 8 years.  GK 06/05

2002  Babich Syrah Winemaker’s Reserve   16  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $25   [ cork;  pumping-over,  22 days cuvaison,  12 months in US and French oak;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  This wine too is tending reductive on bouquet,  obscuring what one suspects is fair varietal berry fruit.  Palate however is austere also,  and the reductive streak persists right through the reasonably berried and plummy fruit to the aftertaste,  veiling aromatics and subtleties within it.  A bit too reductive to be a good cellaring prospect,  for the wine doesn't breathe up very much with air.  It will nonetheless be better in several years,  and keep for longer.  GK 06/05

2002  Mission Syrah Hawkes Bay Reserve   15 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $22   [ cork;  MLF in barrel,  6 months in French oak 30% new;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  This opens up distinctly reductive,  pretty well muting what the fruit has to say.  Well aerated,  the wine remains hard on entrained sulphur,  but there is good plummy fruit.  Many people are insensitive to reduced sulphur even at this level,  and in all other respects it is good red wine of some richness.  It will cellar 5 - 10 years,  and maybe soften and improve somewhat.  GK 06/05

2001  Jaboulet Hermitage la Chapelle   15  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $170   [ cork;  average vine age 40 years;  www.jaboulet.com ]
Ruby.  This wine smells tired,  cardboardy and plain,  with a gutty overtone.  Palate is austere and drab,  in this blind tasting illuminating neither syrah the grape,  nor Rhone the district,  sadly,  though recognisably varietal in a modest way.  Like the 1999 la Chapelle from a brilliant year,  it has prematurely and unreasonably become plain and simple.  Finish is almost astringent.  Disappointing indeed.  Not worth cellaring - and I have cellared better vintages of la Chapelle since the 1969 vintage,  so I feel sad saying that.  GK 06/05

2002  Matua Valley Syrah Matheson   14 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $21   [ cork;  2 g / L RS;  www.matua.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is dull,  stewed fruit,  oak,  but un-winey.  Palate has some skinny boysenberry flavours,  in oak and stalks,  the finish nearly astringent and a bit bretty.  Another wine like Coonawarra machine-harvested shiraz,  but in this case poor Coonawarra.  QDR,  not worth cellaring,  though wholesome enough.  GK 06/05

2002  Matariki Syrah Gimblett Gravels   14  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:   – %;  $40   [ cork;  no info on website,  but if similar previous years,  15 – 17 months in mostly French oak;  www.matarikiwines.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Like the Aspire version,  this wine is reductive,  the sulphur starting to complex to mercaptan- related odours which drown all fruit characters.  Palate probably had some cassis and plum flavours,  but it is now reductive and tending acid,  the latter exacerbated by excess oak.  QDR,  not worth cellaring.  GK 06/05