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


Western Australian wines have always been received with great interest in New Zealand.  Many wine-lovers will have been wowed by a taste of Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay,  a wine which has few equals in the whole of Australasia.  From this distance,  in taste terms the south-western corner of the Australian continent seems to be the region most closely matching Hawkes Bay,  and hence Bordeaux in its climate.  

In tasting reds from Western Australia,  the hope always is for them to be closer in style to those from Bordeaux,  or the Rhone,  than the rest of mainland Australia.  Thus when this batch of wine came available at the same time as the annual Hawkes Bay Winemakers' Hot Red Roadshow visit to Wellington,  the opportunity to assess them together in blind tastings was too good to  miss.

The shiraz component of this article was reported on 28 May 2006,  and appeared at the time.  The cabernet / merlot and related winestyles were written up in the article dated 4 June 2006,  now appearing belatedly on this website.  The whites likewise were assessed at the time with other relevant wines,  but the reviews have not been published.  This article is dated for the time the wines were tasted and written up,  but was added to the site in January 2007.

Howard Park and its more popular label MadFish date from 1986.  The firm has wineries in the two premium districts Margaret River and the slightly cooler Great Southern.  The current high reputation of the Howard Park and MadFish wines owes much to chief winemaker Michael Kerrigan,  but he left the company in November 2006.  A full range of wines is made.  His rieslings and chardonnays in particular have been remarkable.  The reds enjoy a fine reputation too,  and would have looked good to us a few years ago.  However,  the rise in red wine quality in Hawkes Bay starting with the 1998 vintage makes us look anew at overseas offerings.  More information @ www.howardparkwines.com.au

Xabregas has its origins in 1996.  First a contract winemaking company was established.  Xabregas is the proprietors' own label,  utilising the facilities in the same away as other clients.  The winery is best known for its use of Ganimede fermenters,  which facilitate sophisticated marc and juice handling in red wine fermentations.  Their function is well described @ www.ganimede.com/uk/home.htm   The wines produced incline to a soft voluptuous modern style,  very easy to like.  First releases of premium labels have won gold medals in Australia,  and certainly appealed to me in this tasting.  The Xabregas vineyards were placed in locations identified by Dr John Gladstone's pioneer studies as the best in the district.  They are 10 km south of Mt Barker,  in the 750 mm rainfall zone.  Reds have come first,  but with the reputation chardonnay and riesling have in Western Australia,  they will follow.  More information @ www.xabregas.com.au

Howard Park wines are distributed in New Zealand through Macvine International Ltd,  Auckland and Blenheim.  Xabregas are distributed by the Wine Consultancy,  PO Box 21,  Nelson.

2003  Howard Park Chardonnay   18 ½ +  ()
Great Southern,  Western Australia,  Australia:  13.5%;  $45   [ screwcap;  BF,  LA and batonnage in 60% new French oak,  small % allowed to go through MLF;  www.howardparkwines.com.au ]
Glowing deep lemon,  quite unusual,  attractive.  Bouquet shows clear-cut chardonnay varietal fruit with winemaker complexities built onto that:  hints of charry oak characters from barrel-ferment in quite toasty oak,  and baguette-crust lees-autolysis,  all coupled with musk-melon and grapefruity chardonnay fruit.  Flavour is long,  rich,  and mealy,  subtly buttery from an MLF component,  not too alcoholic,  completely dry.  Aftertaste is particularly good,  long.  This is exciting Australian chardonnay,  which should cellar well,  3 – 10 years.  GK 07/06

2003  MadFish Chardonnay   17 ½ +  ()
Great Southern,  Western Australia,  Australia:  13.5%;  $22   [ screwcap;  BF,  LA and batonnage in 50% new French oak,  10% MLF;  www.madfishwines.com.au ]
Lemon.  This is a very varietal chardonnay,  with clear-cut musk-melon fruit in the Australian style,  plus grapefruit and white peaches.  The style is closely akin to the Howard Park,  but winemaking complexities are  less evident.  Palate is fruit-dominant,  rich,  long,  well-balanced,  perhaps not so completely dry – a gram or two difference,  maybe.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/06

Sauvignon blanc, Semillon, and related blends
2004  MadFish Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon   17  ()
Southern Western Australia,  Australia:  13%;  $20   [ 2 + 2 cork;  SB 65%,  Se 35;  s/s;  www.madfishwines.com.au ]
Lemongreen,  a lovely colour.  Amongst the sauvignons in this blind tasting,  the waxy / lanolin hints of the semillon component really stand out,  to give a more gooseberry-styled milder sauvignon blend.  Palate likewise is milder and maturing a little,  being an ‘04,  yet it is still very fresh.  Body is greater than the average New Zealand sauvignon.  Good food wine,  which will cellar gracefully 3 – 5 years.  GK 07/06

2004  MadFish Riesling   19  ()
Great Southern,  Western Australia,  Australia:  12.5%;  $20   [ screwcap;  www.madfishwines.com.au ]
Brilliant lemongreen,  an excellent colour.  Bouquet is finest Australian riesling,  but also close to some best New Zealand (e.g. Waipara) styles,  with vanilla-pod and linalool-laden florals close to both freesia and holygrass (Hierochloe) in aroma,  seasoned by clear lime-zest complexity.  Palate has heaps of flavour,  fresh acid,  and lovely fresh under-ripe nectarine flavours,  fine-grained and long on an off-dry finish which is I suspect slightly above the ‘dry’ boundary (7.5 g/L).  Cellar 5 – 15 years or so.  GK 07/06

2004  Howard Park Riesling   18 ½ +  ()
Great Southern,  Western Australia,  Australia:  12.5%;  $31   [ screwcap;  www.howardparkwines.com.au ]
Pale lemon.  Bouquet is quieter than the MadFish,  with an intriguing citrus zest complexity to it,  almost suggesting mandarin and mock orange blossom,  in a very subtle riesling setting.  Flavours on palate are much more apparent,  and now one can see the bouquet components expanding to vanillin and lime-zest flavours,  on good fruit and acid balance.  Compared with the MadFish,  the wine is clearly drier,  more lime-zest and seemingly less fine-grained,  due to the intensity of dry citrus flavours,  all very long.  They make a marvellous pair of Australian rieslings,  less aggressive than so many New Zealand examples,  which will be intriguing to watch over the years,  and see whether the slightly sweeter MadFish remains fractionally the more delightful.  The scores could easily be reversed.  This dry wine should cellar superbly,  5 – 15 years at least.  GK 07/06

Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2004  Xabregas Cabernet Sauvignon Show Reserve   18 ½  ()
Mt Barker,  Western Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $36   [ cork;  DFB;  made at the Porongurup contract winery,  using Ganimede Italian fermenters which cycle the juice over the skins using the CO2 produced in fermentation.  Their reputation is to produce more colour and a softer and more aromatic wine - www.porongurup-winery.com.au;   Xabregas is the volume label of Traolach;  www.xabregas.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet,  as rich as the other top wines,  but older than the 2002 Esk.  Bouquet is intriguing,  different,  clearly floral on a very fragrant berry style even more like a traditional St Emilion.  There are  fragrant red currant qualities suggesting cabernet franc,  as well as cassis,  all in appropriate oak,  and glory be,  no euc.  Palate is aromatic,  good berry and fruit again distinctive in its fragrance,  with some charry dark chocolate oak on the rich later palate.  This is a lovely rich modern Bordeaux style,  but one wouldn't pick it as straight cabernet sauvignon.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/06

2000  Howard Park Cabernet Sauvignon   18  ()
Margaret River & Great Southern,  Western Australia,  Australia:   – %;  $86   [ cork;  DFB;  CS 100%,  old vines;  21 months in French oak 100% new;  www.howardparkwines.com.au ]
Ruby,  one of the lighter.  Bouquet is a little minty on this wine,  below which is fragrant but browning cassis,  tending one-dimensional.  Palate is cassis and suggestions of blueberry as if there were some shiraz in the wine,  the oak marrying up well and the palate much less acid than some of the younger wines from this label.  It would look a little simple in a 2000 Bordeaux tasting,  but this is pleasing Australian cabernet avoiding excessive euc’y characters.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 05/06

2001  Howard Park Cabernet Sauvignon   17 ½ +  ()
Great Southern & Margaret River,  Western Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $90   [ cork;  DFB;  CS 97%,  Me 2,  CF 1,  old vines;  23 months in French oak 100% new;  www.howardparkwines.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet,  older than many,  even allowing for age.  Bouquet is fragrantly aromatic on cassis and new oak,  in a style reminiscent of Pauillac except there is a hint of mint.  Palate is very dry,  good cassis going a little brown,  but rather more oak than is ideal.  Acid balance is harder than many New Zealand equivalents,  presumably due to some added,  but the enthusiasm for oak is matched by many local,  separating them from most Bordeaux.  A clearly varietal wine,  but not the balance and subtlety of the top examples.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 05/06

2003  Howard Park Cabernet Sauvignon Leston   17 ½ +  ()
Margaret River,  Western Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $41   [ screwcap;  DFB;  CS 100%,  ‘harvested according to flavour with little regard for analytical data’,  aerative fermentation,  extended cuvaison;  18 months in French oak 75% new,  balance  1-year;  www.howardparkwines.com.au ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a good colour,  one of the deepest.  Bouquet is a beautiful violets and cassis modern Bordeaux-like aroma,  the whole colour and style of the wine initially like the Craggy Sophia,  but more cabernet.  Palate loses the analogy though,  for whereas the New Zealand wine has the plump fruit and natural acid reminiscent of real Bordeaux,  this wine in mouth seems noticeably acid presumably from acid adjustment,  and hence a little hard.  Thus a very promising wine on bouquet slides back to silver medal level.  Australian cabernets have traditionally cellared well,  but the ‘01 Howard Park straight cabernet raises doubts about these wines for the longer term.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 05/06

2003  Howard Park Cabernet Sauvignon Scotsdale   17 ½  ()
Great Southern,  Western Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $41   [ screwcap;  DFB;  CS 100%,  ‘harvested according to flavour with little regard for analytical data’;  seen as an example of cooler climate WA cabernet;  aerative fermentation,  extended cuvaison;  18 months in French oak 75% new,  balance  1-year;  www.howardparkwines.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet,  close to the Leston.  Bouquet is complex cassis and cabernet,  with the same hint of stalks that Pichon-Lalande sometimes has,  on fragrant oak.  Palate however again lets the wine down,  in this case not only for being acid but also from slight capsicum notes reflecting a proportion of markedly less ripe cabernet fruit.  These wines look to have such good fruit on bouquet,  but then appear to be undermined in the winery by too much attention to pH and acid numbers – technology overriding taste,  despite the reference to picking on flavour.  Thus they end up tasting manipulated,  alongside good Bordeaux or Hawkes Bay cabernet.  Cellar 5 –12 years.  GK 05/06

1998  Howard Park [ Cabernets / Merlot – Picture Label ]   16 ½  ()
Margaret River & Great Southern,  Western Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $90   [ cork;  CS 75%, CF 13,  Me 12;  24 months in French oak;  seen as the best wine of the vintage,  but obscurely / not labelled,  the painting and words Howard Park alone on the ‘front’ label;  not on website;  www.howardparkwines.com.au ]
Old ruby,  some garnet,  the lightest in the May set.  Bouquet is Bordeaux in style,  but old for its age,  having already lost clear cassis character in its brown berry and fragrant almost cedary oak,  plus some brett complexity.  Palate is very oaky,  browning plums going pruney,  giving fair fruit,  but quite old-fashioned,  slightly salty and acid,  ageing rapidly by Bordeaux or even Hawkes Bay standards.  It is still in style in a fading leathery way,  but it looks very old,  alongside the set of 1986 Bordeaux I have on my tasting table at the moment.  Not much cellar potential left in this,  though it has the fruit to hold.  Cellar 1 – 5 years.  GK 05/06

2003  MadFish Cabernet / Merlot / Franc   14 ½  ()
Great Southern,  Western Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $20   [ screwcap;  12 months in French oak;  ’03 not on website,  but label is seen as ‘easy-drinking’;  www.madfishwines.com.au ]
Ruby.  This wine opens modestly,  with under-ripe red fruits rather clogged by a reductive tendency.  A good jug to jug aeration is called for.  Breathed,  it retains an under-ripe note,  with indeterminate fruit in very old oak,  all tending euc'y.  Palate is straightforward fleshy QDR in a cabernet style,  dry,  acid on the tail.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 05/06

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

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

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

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

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