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

Geoff Kelly   MSc (Hons)

This review of syrah in New Zealand was first published in November 2006,  on this site.  It attracted helpful responses from:  Kingsley Wood,  Competition Convenor,  The New Zealand International Wine Show,  and proprietor First Glass Wines,  Takapuna;  and Peter Cowley,  Senior Judge,  and Chief Winemaker,  Te Mata Estate,  Hawkes Bay.  Their contributions are available on this site,  also November.

Subsequently a revised version of the text component of the review,  taking note of these comments,  was accepted for publication in the wine industry journal New Zealand WineGrower.  It appeared in Issue 10(6),  June / July 2007,  as Kelly 2007.  In September that was reprinted for a lecture and tasting for the Viticulture and Oenology group,  Lincoln University,  complete with the original wine reviews.  That version is now reproduced here,  further fine-tuned.

Late last year,  along with 22 other people,  I tasted the most exciting bracket of New Zealand red wines I had at that stage encountered,  in more than 40 years' perusal of the re-evolution of red wine in New Zealand.

The wines were all syrah,  perhaps the greatest hope after pinot noir for our red wines to attract international acclaim.  As both Decanter and Jancis Robinson have recently said,  the world is awash with good cabernet / merlot styles.  So sadly,  no matter how well our best Hawkes Bay blends emulate Bordeaux blends,  it will always be tougher for that class to achieve prominence or recognition.  

Judging Syrah in New Zealand
Syrah is another story,  however.  Exactly 20 years ago,  in Cuisine Issue 1,  I made the claim that climatically,  shiraz in New Zealand would develop in the French syrah style,  not into the more common Australian shiraz version (Kelly,  1987).  Time has shown that to be true,  as documented for example in Kelly 2005,  and Kelly 2006a.  To further consolidate that proposition,  this late-2006 tasting was assembled.  Perhaps half the wines were of gold medal level in achievement as syrahs,  and the best truly worthy of international recognition.  Two reputable northern Rhone / French syrahs ($35 and $90) were included as foils (rather more than yardsticks) in the blind tasting.  Neither showed the concentration and ripeness to compete with the top New Zealand wines,  even though the matching 2004 year in the northern Rhone was not a bad one – just average.  The tasting is written up at Kelly 2006b.  The conclusion from this tasting had to be that the best New Zealand syrah is of good or better international standard.

But there is a worrying side to this exciting success of our syrah too.  The tasting dramatically illustrated that the precise character of syrah may not yet be sufficiently well understood and recognised by all participants in wine industry judgings in New Zealand.  For example,  in the recent New Zealand International Wine Show,  judged in Auckland in early September 2006,  in the Shiraz / Syrah class no New Zealand syrah was awarded a gold medal.  Further,  considering the silver and gold awards together,  of the reported top 92 wines,  only 3 New Zealand syrahs were considered to qualify,  despite a number of potentially gold-medal quality New Zealand wines being entered.  Since several of these gold-medal candidates were screwcap-sealed,  subliminally corked bottles cannot account for all the results.  

These results are worthy of a moment's reflection.  Despite a predominance of New Zealand judges on the panels,  the results appear to do a major disservice to the New Zealand wine industry.  They appear to suggest that judges are substantially ignoring the style of wine we are climatically best-suited to producing in this country,  namely syrah.  The judges perhaps did not recognise the more subtle syrah style.  Instead,  judging appears to have favoured the populist taste:  that is,  big,  over-ripe,  syrupy,  excessively oaky,  and often clumsy shiraz wines of the kind appreciated by Australians and Americans were the ones rewarded.  Conversely,  the judges appear to have virtually ignored the subtlety,  complexity and beauty the grape can display when grown and vinified as syrah.  This is perhaps understandable from a psychological perspective where our specific experience apparently influences what we bring to a judging situation,  despite every attempt toward maximising 'objectivity' (e.g.,  Parr,  2003).

To see this concern as constructive,  we need to remind ourselves that syrah in New Zealand has the potential to make world-class wine.  But that will only come about if we substantially ignore the populist versions produced so commonly in Australia,  where in a climate often too hot for real grape subtlety and finesse,  'complexity' is instead achieved by sheer brawn and excess oak – the quantitative approach.  In contrast,  we have a quality advantage in terms of our 'cool climate' terroir,  and would be wise to focus on what the rest of the world knows as syrah,  wines in which floral and spicy bouquets,  and wine complexity and absolute finesse are valued as much as size.  [ Note that even New Zealand's hottest grape-growing areas are defined as 'cool climate' in most definitions of the term. ]

It is also important to note that fine syrah mimics pinot noir,  in that when it is over-ripened or grown in climates too hot for it,  the floral and magical components of its bouquet,  and hence flavour,  are simply burnt off,  and lost.  Most Australian winemakers are not exposed to this beautiful side of syrah,  because their climate does not allow it.  They thus neither recognise these qualities,  nor regrettably,  appear to value them.  I recall from back in the days when Len Evans' wine options games were all the rage in Australia,  in one national final the then most famous syrah in the world,  Jaboulet's la Chapelle Hermitage,  was presented.  It was a total mystery to the participants,  habituated as they were to the wine-style shiraz.  Again,  we can presumably understand such effects in terms of our experience,  or lack of experience,  with the wine of interest – in this case syrah.  

It does seem a concern,  based on results from the International Wine Show judging,  that too many of our wine people involved in that judging did not recognise the exact varietal qualities of syrah – at least in the near-impossible conditions of judging big reds in large judgings (see below).  Yet we in New Zealand now have no excuses for not being familiar with the style of wine real syrah makes,  now that our wine industry is no longer protected by import licensing,  and our people prevented from tasting the wines of the wider world.  And it has to be noted that the judging panels included several top-notch New Zealand syrah makers,  who by their wines (and as evidenced in the tasting reported at Kelly 2006b) do indeed know syrah very well indeed,  at least in conditions better suited to appraising it.  All this raises interesting issues,  worthy of careful debate.  

The world's greatest syrah has traditionally come from the northern Rhone Valley,  and that district is significantly cooler than the southern Rhone.  It is easy to forget that Cote Rotie is nearly as close to Beaune in the heart of Burgundy as it is to the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the southern Rhone.  In many years the northern Rhone syrahs are under-ripe,  and in those years,  we see exactly the same leafy qualities in their syrah as we do in lesser New Zealand syrah.  Such wines are epitomised by Crozes-Hermitage,  where perfect ripeness is harder to achieve,  and accounts for the frequent analogy overseas visitors (sometimes patronisingly) draw between New Zealand syrah and that district.  That analogy is however only half the truth.  

In the top years in Hermitage,  Cote Rotie,  St Joseph and sometimes Crozes-Hermitage,  we find a spread of berry characters exactly matched by good Hawkes Bay syrah in good years (when not over-cropped),  and by Martinborough,  and maybe Marlborough and Waipara in top years only.  Our winemakers and wine judges would be advantaged by making opportunity to taste all the vintages from all these French districts,  to get an intuitive feel for the performance of this wondrous grape syrah,  and thus be able to better contribute to the qualitative development of the grape and its wine in New Zealand.  Were this achieved,  judging results in mixed judgings should provide the leadership and guidelines necessary to optimise our potentially world-class syrah,  amongst a sea of commercial shiraz.  

Further,  I suggest that these International Wine Show results provide the most compelling evidence yet on a related issue.  It is not physiologically possible to meaningfully judge more than a certain number of huge red wines in a working day.  The tannins simply anaesthetise the nerve endings.  Some Australasian judges comment with confidence about judging 150 or 200 wines in a day,  but the Europeans have long considered that barbarian nonsense.  100 is a more likely maximum for reds particularly,  and many Europeans would say 50 for big reds,  if the results are to mean anything.  It is time we paid attention to this issue.  Unfortunately the logistics make research on the topic difficult,  but not impossible .  

The Syrah Ripening Curve,   in relation to judging the variety
Syrah is not so difficult to understand,  if in judging it,  more attention is paid to the bouquet of the wine,  rather than the taste (as it should be if subtleties are to be captured).  Syrah,  as it ripens towards optimal physiological flavour maturity,  passes through a sequence of aroma analogies which can be summarised on bouquet as:

➞  green and stalky

➞  leafy

➞  leafy and leafy / floral

➞  red currants and suggestions of dianthus florals ± white pepper

➞  cassis / black currants and sweetly floral dianthus / wallflower / buddleia notes ± white pepper grading through to black pepper

➞ cassis grading through dark plums ± blueberry to black plums,  plus freshly-cracked black peppercorn and spice,  the florals now darker (red roses,  violets) and progressively becoming attenuated as ripeness increases

➞ bottled black plums ± blueberry,  still ideally with some florals,  but cassis and cracked black peppercorn tapering out

➞ bottled black plums and blackberry mixed,  no florals,  virtually no cassis or peppercorn,  boysenberry appearing

➞ boysenberry dominant.

Beyond the boysenberry stage,  so characteristic of many Australian shirazes,  the wines become more and more raisiny,  pruney and grossly over-ripe,  as so much Aussie shiraz was in the '60s and '70s (and some still are in the '00s).    

Perfect ripeness / maximum complexity for syrah is where florals,  pepper and spice,  cassis and dark plums are all equipoised.  These wines,  as in the best examples from Cote Rotie and Hermitage,  epitomise the syrah wine-style.  Above this point is sur-maturité / over-ripeness,  and the wines progressively merge into the shiraz wine-style.    On this scale,  virtually all Australian shiraz (except some of the exciting wines from Western Australia and cooler Victoria) falls into the boysenberry category,  and thus is clearly over-ripe.  Hence the new oak fetish in recent decades in Australia,  to restore some kind of spurious "complexity" to bouquets diminished through fruit over-ripeness,  in temperatures inimical to floral complexity.  

Judging Syrah –  a change of approach
The key conclusion for judging classes of big reds is,  that it is essential to score the bouquets of all the wines as a separate step,  before cluttering the mouth with saturating tannins.  Otherwise,  one cannot hope to discriminate in this continuum of aromas,  as the grapes ripen.  Thus,  the syrahs may not be recognised at all amongst the shirazes,  and the subtle wines therefore may go un-rewarded.  I would argue that spending a little longer in assessing the wines,  in order to get a much better result,  is time well spent.  There is no merit whatsoever,  and much to be lost,  in judging being a race to finish first.  Assessing each wine,  and recognising what each individual wine is trying to achieve,  is much more important.  It is likely that the International Wine Show results referred to above demonstrate what happens when there is not time to do that.  

To improve the probability of achieving more meaningful results in the International Wine Show,  where Australian and other shirazes are at present judged higgledy-piggledy amongst lighter and maybe more refined wines from elsewhere including New Zealand,  the logical thing to do is to rename the class Syrah & Shiraz,  and split the class.  Simply announce the class will judged in two sub-classes:  (A) – those wines labelled Syrah,  or originating in a country where syrah is known to be the style intended but is not specified (mainly France);  and (B) – those wines labelled Shiraz.  There won't be many style misfits (until more South African or Californian syrahs are entered),  and meanwhile by far the greatest good will be produced for the majority of entrants.  And particularly for the New Zealand entrants.  To arrive at the Trophy wine in the Syrah & Shiraz class simply requires a taste-off,  exactly the same as for Cabernet Sauvignon versus Merlot.  Which wine is the better example of its style.

With this more flexible and imaginative approach,  the entire problem described earlier evaporates,  and we would achieve much more logical,  accurate and defensible judging of all the syrah and shiraz wines.  The approach is not so different from that which prevailed with the Muller-Thurgau grape in the '80s,  where the de facto situation arose that wines under 7.5 or so grams per litre residual came to be known as Riesling-Sylvaner,  and those sweeter were Muller-Thurgau.  And by virtue of the sweetness classes in the national wine judgings,  they were judged separately.  Note these syrah and shiraz proposals do not apply to our main judgings,  the Air New Zealand Wine Awards and the Royal Easter Show,  where only New Zealand wines can enter.

Implications for Syrah in New Zealand
The best of the wonderful wines described in the tasting report illustrate exactly the path New Zealand syrah needs to be pursuing if it is to create excitement in the discriminating markets of Europe – where over-ripeness (sur-maturité) is deplored.  Note that in Hawkes Bay the slightly cooler 2004 vintage has,  for some of the best wines from the Gimblett Gravels,  sometimes produced a finer and more subtle expression of syrah than the allegedly better (i.e. hotter) 2002 vintage.  Bigger is not always better,  in wine (or judgings).  The truth is,  though it is hard to credit it for those who grew up with New Zealand reds of the '60s through to the '90s,  that the Gimblett Gravels will in some years be too warm for finest varietal expression in both syrah and merlot.  An exciting prospect – provided we do not make the fatal mistake of trying to make Australian wine-styles.  Leaving aside wine quality and varietal purism,  that would be financial folly.  

The Tasting
The 2004 French / northern Rhone wines chosen to accompany the New Zealand 2004s came from a young winemaker Yann Chave,  making wines in a more modern style,  and hence better suited to serve as comparisons in a New Zealand tasting.  2004 is regarded as at least a quite good vintage in the Rhone Valley,  85 on the Parker scale,  Wine Spectator 90.  

It is a pleasure to record the contribution Dr Wendy Parr made to refining this review for paper publication.

Kelly,  Geoff  1987:  Grape Varieties and Wine Styles.  Cuisine Issue 1:  85 – 93
     –––––      2005:  Top 2002 New Zealand Syrah challenges the Rhone:  32 reviews.  www.geoffkellywinereviews.co.nz/index.php?ArticleID=45  
     –––––      2006a:  New Zealand Syrah continues success,  Craggy's '04 le Sol excels:  62 reviews.
     –––––      2006b:  Judging Syrah,  the Syrah Ripening Curve,  and the Top New Zealand Syrah ?:  14 reviews.   www.geoffkellywinereviews.co.nz/index.php?ArticleID=88
Kelly,  Geoff  2007:  Judging Syrah,  and the Syrah Ripening Curve.  New Zealand WineGrower 10 (6) June / July 2007:  pp.  56 – 59  
Parr,  W.V.  2003:  The ambiguous nature of our sense of smell.  The Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker 473a:  114 – 116.



The reds were assessed in one flight of 12 wines,  blind.  The following reviews are my assessment,  but informed by the discussion and ranking the group offered.

2004  Bilancia Syrah la Collina
2004  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol
2004  Dry River Syrah Lovat Vineyard
2004  Passage Rock Syrah
2005  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose
2005  Te Mata Syrah Woodthorpe
  2004  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage
2004  Unison Syrah
2004  Vidal Syrah Reserve
2004  Villa Maria Syrah Cellar Selection
2004  Yann Chave Crozes-Hermitage Le Rouvre
2004  Yann Chave Hermitage

2004  Vidal Syrah Reserve   19 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels mostly,  7% Tutaekuri Valley,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $55   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%  hand-harvested;  de-stemmed,  80% whole-berry,  cold-soaked;  MLF in barrel,  17 months in French oak;  details on Vidal website shortly;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a great colour,  and among the deepest.  This wine captures all the elements of syrah,  from buddleia to dark rose and boronia florals to gentle black pepper spice intermingled with both aromatic cassis and dark bottled plums.  It shows the greatest purity,  complexity and depth of syrah in the set,  perfectly ripe yet not over-ripe.  Palate is exactly the same,  rich,  long,  saturated with flavours,  subtly oaked,  wonderfully aromatic on skin tannins,  lingering long.  This is great New Zealand syrah,  probably the best so far made in this country,  subtler and more complex (though slightly less concentrated) than le Sol,  an absolute match for Hermitage up to four times the price.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  perhaps longer,  for a truly great New Zealand red.  This note drafted without reference to the previous one 5/06,  for interest.  GK 11/06

2004  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $80   [ cork;  Sy 100%  cropped @ c. 2.75 t/ac;  hand-harvested,  95% de-stemmed,  5% whole-bunch;  fermented in open oak cuves with wild yeast;  21 months in 65% new French oak,  no fining,  minimal filtration;  Craggy wines are not entered in NZ judgings,  but like Te Mata,  they do enter overseas semi-judgings.  Robert Parker reviewed the 2002 thus:  One of the finest reds I have ever tasted from New Zealand is the 2002 Le Sol (300 cases of 100% Syrah), which boasts tremendous freshness, concentration, and intensity. It reveals the acidity and definition of a top-notch northern Rhone as well as tremendous presence on the palate as well as remarkable elegance and precision. All of Syrah's characteristics – smoke, licorice, pepper, blackberries, and currants – are present in this beautifully knit, pure, concentrated 2002. Kudos to winemaker Steve Smith.  94;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a magnificent colour,  the deepest on the table.  Bouquet is intense,  the richest of all the wines,  but perhaps not the most complex.  The fruit is riper than nearly all the others,  more bottled black doris plums,  but still with black pepper spicy complexity and clear varietal character.  At this stage the oak is a bit loud.  Palate is velvety rich,  and there is no doubt the fruit is amply sufficient to marry up the oak in 5 – 10 years time.  Flavour is saturated with berry,  some cassis now showing,  and blueberry as well as dark plums,  long on fruit and oak.  Despite its power,  from memory this is a subtler wine than the 2002,  a little more aromatic,  and thus even closer to the Hermitage style than the 2002.  If size and power are important to you,  this may rate higher than the Vidal Reserve,  but le Sol does not have quite the complexity.  It will be great to see this bottle in 10 years,  for this too is exceptional New Zealand red wine.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 11/06

2004  Villa Maria Syrah Cellar Selection   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $32   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested,  12 months and MLF in 40% new oak mostly French;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  fractionally lighter than the Vidal Reserve.  What a remarkable wine this is,  demonstrating great syrah varietal character,  richness and depth amongst wines up to three times its price.  Bouquet shows some dark florals,  and suggestions of cassis,  in darkest plums and bottled plums.  Palate is round,  rich and velvety,  clear blueberries here,  riper than the la Collina or the Homage,  perhaps verging on a hint of sur-maturité but still good spice,  and probably more pleasing to many.  The quality of this wine relative to price offers one of the greatest values on the premium wine market in New Zealand today,  but all too often for its top wines,  Villa Maria is the victim of its own success.  This wine languishes on the shelves,  while others more trendy,  more expensive,  and sometimes not as good,  sell out.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  VALUE  GK 11/06

2005  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose   18 ½ +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $45   [ cork;  Sy 100% from a single vineyard,  oldest vines planted 1990;  includes clone 470,  hand-harvested,  de-stemmed;  extended cuvaison 3 + weeks,  followed by 16 months in French oak 40-ish %  new;  Bullnose has not been offered to Robert Parker,  but Wine Spectator has seen 5 vintages.  The 2004 is rated 91:  Bright and zingy, with delightful black pepper and blackberry aromas and flavors that just don't quit as the finish sails on and on. Tannins are beautifully integrated and the wine has real presence. Drink now through 2015.;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a little below midway in depth of colour.  Bouquet on this wine is enchanting,  wonderfully explicit wallflower florals melding into cassis and plums and white and black pepper,  really fragrant and suggesting Cote Rotie.  Palate is not powerful compared with some of the other top wines,  the wine instead showing wonderful flesh and mouthfeel,  really pinot-like,  as if hardly any pressings had been used.  This is absolutely beautiful wine,  and like so many Te Mata reds,  will be great with food,  largely due to the admirably lowish alcohol.  It is easy to think this is a light wine,  but it is not:  the fruit is there for good cellar development.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 11/06

2004  Passage Rock Syrah   18 ½  ()
Waiheke Island,  Auckland District,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $50   [ screwcap;  high proportion of new oak;  not much info on website;  www.passagerockwines.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  a little older than most of the 2004s.  Bouquet on this wine is the most Rhone-like of them all,  with greater complexity owing to a savoury component on top of florals,  cassis,  and plum.  Palate is beautifully ripe yet attractively oaked,  in a mouthfeel and weight that is perfect northern Rhone,  Hermitage even.  The extra dimension in this wine is a trace of brett,  but at a level only highly-skilled and perceptive winemakers would notice.  For most tasters it is magical complexity.  Don't get too worried about all this current agitation re brett – nobody mentioned it 10 years ago.  The wines of the day had it,  and they are still being enjoyed.  The only detail to note is that its presence above trace amounts does shorten wine life in cellar somewhat.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 11/06

2004  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $100   [ cork;  Sy 96 %,  Vi 4%,  cropped c. 1 t/ac; hand-picked and sorted,  high % whole berries;  MLF in tank;  26 months in mostly 6-month old French oak;  the wine is a tribute to the late Gerard Jaboulet,  John Hancock (proprietor / winemaker) having done a vintage at Jaboulet in the earlier 90s,  back when la Chapelle was world-famous;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the deepest.  Bouquet does not immediately open as sweetly as some of the wines,  not having quite the purity of those rated more highly.  There is an awkward youthful / perhaps cooperage character yet to marry in,  and reminding of some (good) Chilean syrahs.  With air,  more cassis develops.  Palate is black pepper and cassis,  slightly richer and riper than la Collina but not as pure,  not quite as ripe as the Vidal Reserve (or the riper le Sol).  Berry on palate is long and very aromatic,  from memory the flavours not as Hermitage-like as the 2002,  this wine tending more to a concentrated Crozes-Hermitage character.  Has the richness to cellar well though,  as do the best Crozes-Hermitage reds – witness the 1979 Jaboulet Thalabert right now – and this will almost certainly look different and better in five years.  Cellar for 5 – 20 years.  GK 11/06

2004  Bilancia Syrah la Collina   18 +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $84   [ supercritical cork;  Sy 98%,  Vi 2,  100% de-stemmed;  fermented on c. 2% viognier skins;  MLF and 18 months in 100% new French oak coopered in Burgundy;  particular attention to the H2S-forming propensities of syrah;  grown on the NW slopes of Roy's Hill,  adjacent to but not part of the Gimblett Gravels;  www.bilancia.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  about midway for depth.  Decanted and given a little time to breathe,  this wine is explicitly varietal and complex syrah,  with much of the magic of pinot noir,  plus the spicy depths and darkness of syrah.  Bouquet is cassis through and through,  not as ripe as the plummy depths of le Sol,  but more floral and fragrant,  dianthus and buddleia particularly – and thus inclining more to Cote Rotie than Hermitage in style.  Palate is intensely aromatic and if one is hypercritical,  very slightly stalky,  not achieving the perfect equipoise the Vidal shows,  but lingering nonetheless on the wonderfully aromatic syrah berry.  In terms of ripeness and depth,  this 2004 is a great improvement on the 2002,  and indicates an exciting future for Warren Gibson's hillside syrah vineyard.  With greater vine age,  greater depth on palate and a little more berry ripeness should follow,  offering the tantalising possibility in Hawkes Bay's warmest years of wines a little more complex than the hotter Gimblett Gravels.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 11/06

2004  Unison Syrah   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $36   [ supercritical cork;  nearly two years in wood;  www.unisonvineyard.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the second deepest.  Bouquet is distinctive on this wine,  in the blind tasting showing the most evidence of higher toast on the oak,  a hint of dark chocolate / coffee maybe,  which adds to its immediate appeal for many people,  but threatens to dominate and move the wine towards the 'international style' and away from varietal delicacy.  The oak is backed by plenty of fruit,  however,  and the berry should win out and complexity re-build.  On palate the fruit is plummy ripe,  as rich and ripe as the somewhat similar Villa Maria Cellar Selection,  but not as open and relaxed as that wine,  the oak showing more.  This Unison is richer than the Homage,  and is another which should show much better in five years' time.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 11/06

2004  Yann Chave Crozes-Hermitage Le Rouvre   17 ½ +  ()
Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $34   [ cork;  the vineyard was formerly Bernard Chave,  and this wine was formerly Tete de Cuvée;  Wine Spectator on the 2004:  Soft, with a buttery hint to the black cherry, plum and floral notes. Round, easy finish shows a dash of toast as it lets the fruit linger. Soft, but with a touch more flesh than the regular cuvée. Drink now through 2008. 89;  available via Maison Vauron ]
Good ruby,  one of the lightest.  Bouquet is the winning feature of this wine,  showing the precise dianthus / wallflowers florals so specific to syrah,  on fresh red and dark berries grading through to cassis.  Oak is subtle,  and the whole wine is in the elegant European style,  rather than the out-to-impress Australian one.  Palate is lighter than the higher-rated wines,  but the floral and cassis-like berry both reminds of pinot noir / burgundy plus pepper,  and matches the Te Mata Woodthorpe remarkably.  This is a good taste of pure varietal syrah in a less-than-optimally-ripe French style,  which will cellar 5 – 12 years.  VALUE  GK 11/06

2005  Te Mata Syrah Woodthorpe   17 ½  ()
Tutaekuri Valley,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $24   [ screwcap;  formerly labelled Syrah / Viognier;  Sy 95%,  Vi 5,  hand-harvested,  co-fermented;  extended cuvaison 3 + weeks,  followed by 15 months in French oak 25% new;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Good ruby,  one of the lightest,  exactly the same weight as the Chave Crozes-Hermitage,  but a little more youthful.  Again the florals in the Te Mata approach are wonderful,  here at the buddleia level and with white pepper more than black,  plus fragrant red and black fruits,  all a little lighter,  fresher and not as far up the physiological maturity curve as the Bullnose.  But like that wine,  on palate there is this delicious low-tannin fruit,  long and gentle,  delicately spicy,  a faint hint of stalk maybe.  This is even more Cote Rotie-like than Bullnose,  and in its lighter style will be equally good food wine,  as it matures.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  VALUE  GK 11/06

2004  Yann Chave Hermitage   17 ½  ()
Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $89   [ cork;  available through Maison Vauron ]
Ruby,  no deeper than the Crozes-Hermitage,  the lightest.  Bouquet is sweet and lightly floral,  in the dianthus and buddleia spectrum,  with some red fruits hinting at red currants and cassis,  and red plums rather more than black.  Palate is sweetly fruity too,  and subtly oaked,  so the whole wine appears lighter and more delicate than le Rouvre,  and if it weren't for the clear black pepper,  again thoughts of Cote de Nuits would arise.  A lighter wine in this company (even relative to its Crozes-Hermitage sibling),  but elegant and precisely varietal.  This will be wonderful with food.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 11/06

2004  Dry River Syrah Lovat Vineyard   17  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $66   [ cork;  www.dryriver.co.nz ]
Ruby,  amongst the lightest.  The degree to which the Dry River wine approaches the Yann Chave wines in style is quite staggering,  both sharing a relatively modest vintage.  The Martinborough wine shows the same delicate florals suggesting buddleia and dianthus,  in red berries more than black,  and clear white pepper.  Palate is a little more leafy / stalky than the Rhone pair,  and there are reminders of under-ripe pinot noir,  but spiced with attractive white and black peppery thoughts.  From memory,  this is rather in the lighter style of the Dry River 1997,  pretty more than substantial,  but clearly varietal and potentially a good food wine.  In Martinborough's average to cool years,  the similarity the district's syrah shows to straightforward Crozes-Hermitage is explicit.  Cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 11/06