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


The emergence of New Zealand syrah as a world-competitive grape is continuing surely and steadily.  It is probable that it will soon overtake pinot noir in the international perceived quality stakes,  in cross-country comparisons,  simply because the greatest and finest pinot noirs from France are so lofty and esoteric in their pricing,  quality and availability.  Syrah in contrast has something more accessible about it,  which could suit our emerging wines very well.  And another factor democratising syrah is the observation there are only three northern Rhone syrah producers producing really rare,  expensive and sought after 'grand cru' wines (at the moment).  All this bodes well for the New Zealand interpretation of syrah,  which at best is uncannily modern French in its styling.

The New Zealand approach to and achievements with syrah have been outlined in a previous article focussing on the ripening curve in syrah (30 Sep 2007),  together with other syrah-oriented articles listed on the home-page of this site.  The present tasting was designed to collect together the best recent New Zealand syrah releases which have impressed individually,  to facilitate comparative blind review with French and one Australian examples of the grape.  This part of the tasting was presented to 22 tasters in Wellington.  The following day a second repeat blind tasting of the first 12,  with a further 16 wines added was conducted,  alone.  Given that I have detailed tasting notes from the first night,  I do not consider the results are much distorted by this two-phase approach.  In truth,  repeated blind tasting ideally should serve to validate initial impressions.  

The New Zealand wines were 2006 and 2005,  whereas the French were all 2005,  they having just reached this country.  One wine (2005 Domaine Courbis Cornas la Sabarotte) highly reviewed overseas was included,  to introduce an external reality check,  and thwart any tendencies to overt nationalism.  La Sabarotte is considered to be Courbis' "best" site by Livingstone-Learmonth,  in his new definitive text on the district (from which much of the French detail in this report is drawn – below).

The quality of the 2005 vintage in France is becoming legendary,  yet Robert Parker continues to take a more conservative posture for the Northern Rhone,  rating it 89 and Tannic.  I suspect that is because the wines are firm,  not lush.  Wine Spectator however is in no doubt,  rating the district  94 – 96.  Their latest article on the Rhone is titled:  Best in a Generation:  2005 delivers amazing quality up and down the Rhone Valley.  

And in New Zealand,  whereas at first we were told that 2005 was very good in Hawkes Bay,  but 2006 was better,  latterly with the 2007s shaping up in cellar,  winery people are starting to say maybe 2005 was the outstanding one.  In other articles on the Hawkes Bay cabernet / merlots,  I have noted that due to patch-wise rain,  the effect of the season varied from winery to winery,  depending on the location of their vineyards.  Villa Maria for example clearly triumphed in 2006,  their 2005s being lighter,  yet exactly the reverse applies for Craggy Range.  I haven't seen enough to have a complete feeling for the matter,  but from industry judging line-ups,  I suspect that the top cabernet / merlots will come from 2005,  but perhaps some of the 2006 syrahs may be superior,  or at least more aromatic.  Whichever way it falls,  there is no doubt the top wines of the two vintages are going to give a lot of pleasure,  and provide great interest,  for a good 10 – 15 or more years to come.  Investing in the best of them is therefore essential,  for future contentment !

One highly-regarded South Australian shiraz was included in the group tasting,  unsuccessfully.  It turned out to be overtly euc'y,  and such wines look ridiculous in an international tasting.  It provided a quantitative reference point however.

The conclusions were once again exhilarating.  In most of the syrah reviews reported on this site,  it has been truthful to say that the line-up includes the best syrahs so far made in New Zealand.  And the pace of syrah perception and winemaker achievement with the variety is such in New Zealand,  that coupled with the quality of the last two available vintages,  this article again without doubt reports on the best syrahs so far made (and released) in New Zealand.  The top wine,  2006 Villa Maria Syrah Reserve,  is extraordinarily fine Hermitage-like in its complexity,  smells,  flavours,  balance and dry extract.  It is a great wine.  The 2006 Church Road Syrah Reserve is as good,  in practical terms.  Several others are scarcely less.  Consumers have not yet quite grasped just how good these top New Zealand syrahs are,  in international terms.  In absolute balance and finesse,  and pinpoint optimal physiological ripeness for the variety (by European standards),  they certainly match and may surpass our very best merlot / cabernet blends.

Livingstone-Learmonth,  John,  2005:  The Wines of the Northern Rhone.  University of California Press,  704 p


2006  Church Road Syrah Reserve
2006  [ Waimata Vineyards ] Cognoscenti Syrah
2005  Domaine Colombier Crozes-Hermitage Cuvée Gaby
2005  Domaine Courbis Cornas la Sabarotte
2005  Domaine Courbis St Joseph les Royes
2006  Craggy Range Syrah Block 14
2006  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol
2005  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol
2006  Esk Valley Syrah Black Label
2006  Esk Valley Syrah Reserve
2005  Domaine Gerin Cote Rotie Champin le Seigneur
2005  Domaine Jamet Cote Rotie
2005  Karikari Estate Syrah
2006  Martinborough Vineyard Syrah / Viognier Limited Edition
  2005  Penfolds Shiraz RWT
2005  Domaine Robin Crozes-Hermitage Cuvée Alberic Bouvet
2005  Schubert Syrah
2006  [ Karikari Estate ] Silver Bay Syrah
2005  Southbank Estate Syrah
2005  Stonyridge Syrah / Mourvedre / Grenache Pilgrim
2006  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage
2006  Unison Syrah
2006  Vidal Syrah Hawkes Bay
2006  Vidal Syrah Reserve
2006  Villa Maria Syrah Cellar Selection
2006  Villa Maria Syrah Private Bin
2006  Villa Maria Syrah Reserve
2006  Villa Maria Syrah / Viognier Cellar Selection

2006  Villa Maria Syrah Reserve   19 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $62   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% hand-harvested;  inoculated yeast,  21 days cuvaison;  MLF and 16 months in French oak 60% new;  RS nil;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the deepest.  Bouquet is simply sensational,  a complete suite of beautifully fragrant florals extending from dianthus / carnations through dark roses to boronia and violets,  (apart from the colour) sharing much with fine Cote de Nuits pinot noir,  but enlivened by freshly cracked black peppercorn.  Palate is rich and ripe,  at a perfect point of explicit physiological maturity and ripeness for syrah,  embodying all the florals,  ripe peppercorn,  cassis and bottled black doris plum key descriptors,  with sweet ripe tannins.  And the dry extract is admirable.  I will be surprised if this is not 30 g/L or more – a true grand cru cropping rate.  There is a firmness and authority in this syrah matched only by great Hermitage,  no matter for how long English wine writers persist in dismissively comparing our syrahs with Crozes-Hermitage.  

Because of the pace of evolution in New Zealand red wines currently,  aided by a run of benign vintages,  I appreciate I am making the following kind of statement perhaps too frequently.  Nonetheless,  this 2006 Villa Maria Syrah Reserve is one of the greatest red wines ever made in New Zealand,  illustrating to perfection the grape-derived complexity our temperate climate can produce in New Zealand red wine,  without recourse to unsubtle oak.  Likewise,  it is probably our finest syrah yet,  though there are several contenders.  This Reserve Syrah has the most amazing finegrain finish,  lingering on perfectly ripe varietal fruit,  just beautiful.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 05/08

2006  Church Road Syrah Reserve   19  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle 70%,  Gimblett Gravels & Havelock North,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ cork;  Sy 100% hand-harvested and sorted;  no cold soak,  inoculated yeast,  warm-fermented in open-top oak and s/s vessels,  3 weeks cuvaison,  controlled aeration;  c. 12 months in burgundy barrels c. 55% new,  500 cases;  winemaker (to watch) Chris Scott;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  deeper and denser than the Villa Maria Reserve.  This magnificent syrah is very close to the Villa Reserve in all respects,  and in its lower alcohol it may turn out to be superior.  At this stage it differs essentially in seeming fractionally riper,  the intensity of florals therefore being a little less,  and the palate slightly softer and richer.  There is a sternness in great Hermitage which the Villa shares,  whereas this Church Road is more accessible in youth.  Many will therefore rate it higher than the Villa,  as indeed it may be.  Both will be wonderful (and essential) cellar wines,  for the concentration and dry extract here is also world-class.  There might be slightly more oak in this wine than the Villa,  but it does not mask the florality,  cassis,  dark plum and black peppercorn.  Achieving such beautiful varietal flavours at 13.5% alcohol is a great achievement,  something which Te Mata have so far had the lead in.  Is the Ngatarawa Triangle the top syrah 'terroir' in the country,  I wonder ?  A stunning new world syrah,  totally confuseable with the best of the old world,  to cellar 5 – 20 years.  And the price is a sheer delight.  VALUE  GK 05/08

2005  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $90   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  hand-harvested @ 2.4 t/ac;  95% de-stemmed,  wild-yeast fermentation;  18 months in French oak 52% new;  650 cases,  but 65% will be exported;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet has married up attractively over the last year for this heroic wine,  the alcohol retreating somewhat into wonderful black peppercorn-infused cassis and richest black doris plums,  beautifully fragrant and spicy.  There are even classical dianthus / carnations floral notes creeping in around the edges.  Palate is saturated with flavour,  enormously rich yet not heavy,  perfectly oaked for the size.  Except for the slightly burning spirit (which seems more than 14% exactly,  and will inhibit its beauty with food),  this is syrah in a remarkably Hermitage style too,  a world-scale wine.  Among the big wines,  only alongside the Villa Reserve and Church Road Reserve does it lose a little finesse.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 05/08

2006  Villa Maria Syrah Cellar Selection   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels & other districts,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $33   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% hand-harvested,  all de-stemmed;  inoculated yeast,  warm-fermented in open-top vessels,  15 days cuvaison;  c. 18 months in French and American oak 40% new;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  scarcely less dense than the Villa Reserve.  Bouquet on this syrah is wonderfully aromatic,  not quite as floral as the Reserve,  but with a lovely herbes de Provence aromatic quality grading through to freshly cracked black peppercorn on rich cassis,  which is nearly as delightful.  Purity on bouquet is superb.  Like the Reserve,  but in contrast to the same firm's Shiraz / Viognier blend,  in mouth this wine shows some of the firmness of great Hermitage,  again with intense cassis and dark plums,  seemingly as rich as the senior wine.  It is just not quite so magically sustained and tapering on the finish.  In only 10 years,  essentially our syrahs have reached the point where one company can produce volumes of a wine at this quality level,  not to mention the Reserve – surely a matter for  rejoicing.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  VALUE  GK 05/08

2005  Domaine Courbis Cornas la Sabarotte   18 ½ +  ()
Cornas,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $130   [ cork;  the Sabarotte lieu-dit formerly owned by Noel Verset,  the upper granite part recently sold to Courbis,  the lower section to Clape.  Some of the vines planted 1914,  c. 9000 / ha,  but after age 50 c. 2% replacements needed per annum;  Sy 100%,  all de-stemmed,  ferments in s/s;  attention to aeration;  5000 bottles only of la Sabarotte,  aged 16 months in French oak 65% new,  balance 1-year,  so wine-making is 'modern';  Sabarotte is regarded as the top Courbis site.  Parker 4/07:  The richest and inkiest of all is the 2005 Cornas La Sabarotte. Dense purple in color with a nose of liquid rocks intermixed with flowers, blackberry, blueberry, and cassis, the wine is intense, formidably endowed, massive, and unyielding. Give it 3-4 years of bottle age and drink it over the following 15 years. Needless to say, all of these wines are for patient connoisseurs.  91 – 93;  Wine Spectator,  3/08:  US$85  Dark, brawny and very tight, with a large core of bramble, blueberry, blackberry, olive and sage notes wound up by an iron-fisted finish. Totally backward now, but shows terrific length and density. Should blossom with cellaring. Best from 2009 through 2018. 430 cases made.  94;  imported by Maison Vauron,  Auckland ]
Good ruby,  carmine and velvet,  not quite as deep as the Villa Maria Syrah Cellar Selection.  Bouquet is special on this wine,  showing the heightened florality of perfect Northern Rhone syrah,  so rarely achieved.  All too often the florals of Cote Rotie are accompanied by leafiness,  but here are perfect wallflowers and dark carnations,  on the same kind of fragrant cassis and bottled black doris plums as the finest New Zealand syrahs,  plus a beguiling hint of bush honey.  Palate matches perfectly,  not as rich as the top New Zealand examples,  more the weight of grand cru Cote de Nuits,  but uplifted by sweet ripe black peppercorn.  This is exceptional Cornas,  to cellar 5 – 15 + years.  GK 05/08

2006  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.3%;  $127   [ cork;  Sy 97%,  Vi 3,  hand-harvested @ c. 1 t/ac from vines 12 years old (the syrah);  the percentage Vi hard to estimate,  as there is both fruit (strictly 2%),  but also fermentation of the red on the much greater volume of pressed skins from the dry white Viognier;  100% de-stemmed;  a shorter cuvaison than the Esk Valley Reserve,  maybe 15 days;  MLF and 18 months in French oak 92% new;  311 cases;  winemakers Warren Gibson & John Hancock;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet on this wine (or this bottle) does not have quite the crystalline clarity of varietal expression the top wines show.  It is clearly syrah,  with dusky floral components,  and herbes de Provence plus black peppercorn spice,  on slightly smoky cassis and dark plum.  There is also a suggestion of bush honey,  as Rhone syrahs sometimes show,  but here the smoky oak-related character gives the wine a suggestion of the distinctive aroma in honey from a hive mildly infected with the bee disease American foul brood.  Trace brett seems the likely explanation,  though these days most would call it funky.  Palate straightens the wine up,  clear-cut cassis,  quite oaky,  as rich as the Esk Reserve,  but not matching the sheer beauty and concentration of the Villa Reserve.  The combination of characters in this wine suggested to many tasters (in the blind tasting) that it was a French syrah,  so it will be an intriguing bottle to have in cellar for future comparative 2005 / 6 syrah tastings.  Price is a problem though,  a topic to be touched on elsewhere.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/08

2006  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.8%;  $100   [ cork;  Sy 100%,  hand-harvested @ just under 2.5 t/ac;  100% de-stemmed,  2 days cold soak,  wild-yeast fermentation in open-top oak cuves,  22 days cuvaison including cold-soak;  no BF component;  MLF and 20 months in French oak 50% new;  RS nil;  filtered;  release date 1 June 2008,  166 cases (of 12) only;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  fractionally lighter than la Sabarotte.  Well,  this is a change of pace for Le Sol.  This is no high-alcohol near-Australian out-to-impress-by-size-alone syrah.  Instead it is delicately floral,  not quite in the heightened way of la Sabarotte,  but instead wallflowers,  red roses and violets,  soft,  sensuous,  on lovely red and black fruits.  Palate is similar,  no richer than the Esk Reserve but less oaky,  not quite the saturation of berry and dry extract of the Villa Reserve.  Fruit is cassis and almost dark cherry as well as bottled plum,  with delicate black peppercorn spice.  Some years of le Sol have been Hermitage in style – Hermitage on steroids,  some might say –  but this year is more Cote Rotie,  beautiful,  lingering on firmer acid than some,  yet still gentle.  The purity of this le Sol alongside the same-year Trinity Homage is dazzling.  Price is becoming a worry though,  with the Craggy Range wines.  Having established themselves,  the days of their being attractively priced have (it seems) passed.  The company will no doubt argue,  that they have established a world market for Craggy Range wines,  and further,  that for 2006 the volume is minuscule.  I think it is too soon for New Zealand wineries to be so bullish about their pricing,  notably with pinot noir,  but now via le Sol and the Trinity Homage,  with syrah.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/08

2006  Esk Valley Syrah Reserve   18 ½  ()
Cornerstone Vineyard,  Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $62   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested from 12-year old vines @ 'very low' yields;  100% de-stemmed,  wild-yeast fermentation,  and cuvaison extending to 32 days;  16 months in French oak 33% new,  with lees stirring;  residual sugar nil;  total production 260 cases;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Good ruby,  carmine and velvet,  closely matching the Sabarotte.  Bouquet on this wine speaks volumes too,  clear-cut syrah varietal complexity of cassis,  black peppercorn,  some florals,  and more new oak than some of the wines in this batch.  On palate,  it seems not quite as rich as the top wines,  and the new oak more,  so the flavour is in one sense more vibrant and attractive.  This Esk Reserve wine has married up delightfully since I last reviewed it,  and it too will give much pleasure in cellar 5 – 15 + years.  GK 05/08

2006  Villa Maria Syrah / Viognier Cellar Selection   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $33   [ screwcap;  Sy 95%,  Vi 5,   hand-harvested,  all de-stemmed;  inoculated yeast,  warm-fermented in open-top vessels,  15 days cuvaison;  c. 15 months in French and American oak 60% new;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  There should be great interest in the two 2006 Villa Maria Cellar Selection syrahs,  Villa presenting us with both a straight syrah,  and this wine,  which is a blend of 5% of the white grape viognier with syrah,  both wines being largely Gimblett Gravels fruit.  In the blend the syrah is co-fermented both with viognier juice,  and on viognier skins,  after most of the juice has been taken off for the straight white viognier (the 2006 Villa Omahu of which is exceptional,  incidentally).   The interesting detail is,  viognier is a grape very high in phenolics,  and they bind with the anthocyanins of the red grapes,  sometimes producing an even deeper-coloured wine in the blend than the straight syrah.  Counter-intuitive,  I know,  but there it is.  And indeed in these two matched wines,  the Syrah / Viognier is fractionally the deeper-coloured wine of the two.  Bouquet in the Syrah / Viognier is wonderfully different from the straight syrah,  both wines showing lovely syrah florals as described elsewhere in these notes,  but the blend having additionally,  an even more lovely honeysuckle / almost Peace rose fragrance.  Flavours are different too,  the blend being softer,  subtler,  more beguiling but less focused on syrah,  less authoritative somehow.  Alongside the Martinborough Vineyard wine similarly blended with viognier,  the Villa is riper all through,  another wine illustrating delightfully what Cote Rotie should be,  but so often is not,  in its marginal northern Rhone climate.  These two Villa Cellar Selections are a great pair of syrahs,  much the best the firm has offered in this series.  Once you have secured the Reserve wine,  buy a case of each of these,  and compare and contrast them over the next 6 – 12 years.  VALUE  GK 05/08

2006  Esk Valley Syrah Black Label   18 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $33   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% hand-harvested @ 24+ degrees Brix,  all de-stemmed;  mostly wild yeast,  warm-fermented in concrete open-top vessels,  c. 30 days cuvaison;  c. 18 months in French oak 30% new;  RS <1g/L;  www.esk.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  not so much lighter than the Esk Reserve,  but brighter,  implying less new oak exposure.  To first sniff,  there is no doubt this is fine syrah.  Nothing is overt,  but there are gentle floral notes,  beautiful cassis,  clear dark plums.  With less new oak than the Reserve,  the fruit qualities in some ways are clearer,  though quieter.  Palate has the freshness of blackcurrants,  a beautiful saturation of flavour,  all lingering on grape tannins.  Finish is a little short,  as yet,  but like the Cognoscenti Syrah,  it will fill out,  I am sure.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/08

2006  [ Waimata Vineyards ] Cognoscenti Syrah   18  ()
Patutahi district,  Gisborne,  New Zealand:  13%;  $30   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% first-crop hand-harvested @ c. 1.6 t/ac,  50% clone 470,  50% 174,  95% de-stemmed,  5% whole-bunch;  inoculated yeast,  warm-fermented in open-top vessels,  26 days cuvaison;  MLF and 15 months in new European 400s,  and older French and American oak,  with aeration at rackings;  not fined or filtered;  1.7 g/L RS;  winemaker James Hillard comments that clone 470 shows deeper spice and plum characters,  whereas 174 is more red fruits;  www.waimata.ac.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a good syrah colour.  Bouquet has not quite the beautiful florality and subtlety of the top wines,  but there is intense black peppercorn and cassis varietal berry wrapped up in a little more new oak than some of these wines.  Flavour and quality seemingly expands on the palate,  raising the thought the wine may be more floral in a couple of years,  given the quality of the cassis and bottled black doris plum fruit.  It is not quite as supple on palate as the top wines,  but time in cellar will fix that.  Depth of varietal bouquet and flavour for the alcohol is superb,  in traditional Rhone style.  I have never before seen a vinifera Gisborne red of this intensity,  ripeness,  and international red wine quality.  Let us hope it presages a new era in Gisborne reds,  when season allows,  and is not yet another manifestation of the 'first crop syndrome'.   Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/08

2006  Martinborough Vineyard Syrah / Viognier Limited Edition   17 ½ +  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $48   [ screwcap;  Sy 95%,  Vi 5,   hand-harvested;  6-year old vines,  but first significant crop;  21 days cuvaison;  c. 12 months in French oak 25% new,  balance 1 & 2-year;  not fined or filtered;  www.martinborough-vineyard.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  a little lighter than the Sabarotte.  Like 2006 le Sol,  this is a syrah on the lighter and gentler side,  the first thing to strike one being the fragrance of the bouquet.  It is both floral and peppery,  clearly both white pepper and black,  in the blind tasting bouquet alone flagging it might be a cooler-climate syrah.  There is another dimension in the florals too,  a hint of honeysuckle maybe,  raising the thought of viognier.  Palate is extraordinarily burgundian,  the lift of Cote de Nuits,  the florality on bouquet extending right through the palate,  the acid fresher than the Villa Cellar Selection matching blend or the Sabarottes,  but less than the Craggy Block 14.  All in all,  therefore,  this is beautifully Cote Rotie in styling,  adding another string to the New Zealand bow with syrah.  It is going to be a good food wine in a few years,  and cellar 5 – 12.  GK 05/08

2005  Stonyridge Syrah / Mourvedre / Grenache Pilgrim   17 ½ +  ()
Waiheke Island,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $115   [ cork;  French and American oak,  some new;  www.stonyridge.com ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  a good rich colour.  Bouquet is floral and fragrant with an aromatic edge to it,  a character which I think I'm going to start calling 'kanuka oil', as in brushing through kanuka scrubland on a hot sunny Northland day.  [ Though kanuka is Myrtaceae like eucalyptus,  this aromatic oil is much more fragrant,  garrigue-like and subtle,  compared with the menthol-laden euc'y taint.  If we are honest,  we have to question why garrigue complexity is seen as positive in Rhone wines,  and eucalyptus is seen (by some of us) as negative,  even in Australian wines.  I would argue it is a question of degree,  and once menthol is above any kind of threshold,  it is not at all winey. ]  Back to the Pilgrim … There is clear freshly-cracked black peppercorn complexity,  on aromatic dark plum and cassis berry.  Palate is very aromatic,  oak to the fore now,  and palate weight is good by northern Rhone or good Hawkes Bay standards.  Physiological maturity of some of the grapes (the mourvedre maybe) just escapes a complex stalky / savoury herbes component,  but trying to fully ripen mourvedre and grenache on Waiheke (or even in Hawkes Bay) is a huge ask.  TA is up a bit,  therefore.  This is intriguing wine,  diabolical for options exercises.  Cellar 5 – 12 years or so,  though the price is excessive.  GK 05/08

2006  Vidal Syrah Hawkes Bay   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels mostly,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $26   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  all de-stemmed;  c. 18 months in oak;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  not as rich as some.  Bouquet is gentler on this wine,  soft dark red roses and cassis,  riper,  sweeter and softer than the Craggy Range Block 14,  but just as clearly syrah.  Palate likewise is a whole dimension softer,  richer and rounder than either the Block 14,  or the Villa Private Bin.  It is nearly as rich as the Esk Black Label,  but with more fragrant ripe black peppercorn spice,  and slightly more acid.  This is lovely syrah at a good price,  to cellar 3 – 12 years.  VALUE  GK 05/08

2006  Unison Syrah   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.3%;  $39   [ supercritical cork;  French & US oak,  c. 80% new;  www.unisonvineyard.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the deeper wines.  This wine benefits from a splashy decanting.  It is another syrah in the batch where complexity notes inclined many tasters to vote the wine as French.  There may be a shadow of reduction and a little more brett,  but there's nothing to worry about,  and they should marry away in cellar.  It shows dusky rose and violets florals,  a touch of mint,  and all three of the main berry descriptors for syrah:  cassis,  blueberry and bottled black doris plums,  all quite lush.  Palate continues those thoughts,  quite soft and warm,  very ripe,  texturally close to the RWT,  but even softer,  attractively smooth already.  It makes a great contrasting pair with the squeaky-clean Block 14.  I wondered if it has the backbone to cellar into the longer term,  but it is certainly a juicy mouthful of flavoursome rich syrah,  which will give much pleasure.  Cellar 3 – 12 years,  maybe longer.  GK 05/08

2006  Craggy Range Syrah Block 14   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $38   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%;  hand-harvested @ 3.4 t/ac;  100% de-stemmed,  wild-yeast fermentation in open-top fermenters;  17 months in French oak 42% new;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is very clean,  fragrant and varietal indeed,  with (from memory) a greater floral / exact dianthus component than the 2005 of this label,  plus a lovely cherry-pie (the flower) sweetness.  Below there is fresh aromatic cassis and some dark plum – all clearly northern Rhone in style.  Palate is a little less,  the wine distinctly lean and firm even acid,  leaner than the Sabarotte,  though wonderfully varietal.  The analogy is more with St Joseph,  than Hermitage or Crozes-Hermitage.  The floral quality goes right through the palate,  ending on black pepper.  There are some similarities to Te Mata Bullnose of the same year,  but the acid balance may be firmer – they would be good to taste alongside each other.  The exciting thing about it is the vivid display of precise northern Rhone florals,  highlighting the good varietal characters we seem to have in the now-Limmer clone in New Zealand.  It should mellow in cellar 5 – 12 years,  but will remain lean – as many northern Rhone wines are.  GK 05/08

2006  Vidal Syrah Reserve   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $56   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% hand-harvested,  all de-stemmed but 30% un-crushed;  cold soak,  wild yeast,  warm-fermented in open-top vessels,  MLF and c.19 months in French oak some new;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet,  much richer than the standard Vidal.  Bouquet reflects a riper heavier approach,  a thought of mint and Australia,  the oak rather dominating dark plum more than cassis,  and inhibiting florality somewhat.  In mouth there is greater richness than the standard wine,  but much more oak,  so it is not as beautifully varietal as most of the other top wines.  Some cassis and peppercorn creeps up on the aftertaste,  suggesting this wine may rank more highly in three or so years.  Meanwhile those for whom size (or oak) is important will find my ranking misleading.  Cellar 5 – 20 years,  maybe to improve markedly.  GK 05/08

2005  Domaine Courbis St Joseph les Royes   17 ½  ()
St Joseph,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $65   [ cork;  two thirds of les Royes is on limestone,  a rarity in the Northern Rhone,  at 200 – 270 m altitude.  Balance is granite.  Courbis says the limestone gives:  "a more spiced wine,  greater acidity,  more assertive and tannic … the aromas more garrigue … the colour more dark cherry … whereas the granite is purple";  hand-harvested,  all de-stemmed;  cuvaison to 22 or so days;  attention to aeration;  c. 12 months in oak 33% new;  Livingstone-Learmonth considers les Royes very consistent in quality,  drinking well over 10 or more years;  Parker 2/08:  … a big, sweet nose of toast, grilled meats, blackberries, currants, and cherries, the 2005 St.-Joseph Les Royes is medium to full-bodied, moderately tannic … to 2017  89;  Wine Spectator 3/08:  US$42  Dark but very pure, with a super-racy palate of black currant and blackberry fruit, stitched together with cocoa, iron and briar notes. Long finish has a bright minerality and solid stuffing for the cellar. Best from 2009 – 2012. 1,330 cases made.  92;  imported by Maison Vauron,  Auckland ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  in the middle for colour.  Bouquet has a light sweet floral complexity embracing carnations through to red roses,  not as explicit as the Sabarotte but in its own style,  lovely.  Below is cassis,  red and black plums,  and oak.  In mouth,  the oak seems older than most of the New Zealand wines,  which confuses the flavour a little.  It is plumper than the Villa Private Bin,  not quite as rich as the Vidal Hawkes Bay,  and a little more acid than both  (showing what great value the Vidal is !).  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 05/08

2005  Penfolds Shiraz RWT   17 +  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $175   [ cork;  retail price range 5/08:  $159 – $189;  14 months in French oak 70% new,  30% 1-year;  RWT = Red Winemaking Trial (long since committed to !);  www.penfolds.com.au ]
Dense ruby,  velvet and carmine,  one of the densest colours.  Bouquet on this wine is simply too euc'y to run in an international tasting of syrahs – disappointing.  But it certainly is a rich Australian shiraz,  with some syrah aspects too,  though not floral and with little black peppercorn spice.  It is however ripened to the bottled black doris plum level rather than over-ripe boysenberry.  Palate shows blueberry fruit as well as plum,  which is attractive,  and the wine is not over-oaked.  It has about the same fruit weight as 2005 le Sol,  but is presented in the soft lush 'American' style,  lacking the varietal authority of the best previous vintages of RWT.  Perhaps production has been increased for 2005.  Cellar 5 – 20 + years.  Obligate Austrophiles will rate it higher …  GK 05/08

2006  Villa Maria Syrah Private Bin   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels & Dartmoor Valley,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $23   [ screwcap;  Sy 95%,  Vi 2.5,  Gr 2.5,   hand- and machine-picked,  all de-stemmed;  warm-fermented in open-top vessels,  21 days cuvaison;  MLF and c. 17 months in French oak 10% new;  no residual sugar;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  lighter than many.  Bouquet is clean,  fragrant,  clearly varietal even at this price level,  with an attractive floral component intertwined with vanillin oak,  again raising thoughts of dark pinot noir.  In mouth the wine is surprisingly well-fruited for this third-tier label,  not as rich as the Cellar Selections (particularly the straight Syrah),  but still very good,  international in flavour profile.  This would have been a gold medal wine 15 years ago in New Zealand (if the variety had been around).  Aftertaste is cassis and dark plums,  just a little more boney than the top wines,  but a great achievement at the PB level.  Some boutique winemakers will need to look at this wine very carefully,  before pricing their own syrah offerings.  It will mellow in cellar 3 – 12 years.  GK 05/08

2005  Domaine Jamet Cote Rotie   17  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $99   [ cork;  Livingstone-Learmonth comments that Jamet's sites span all that is great in Cote Rotie,  and that: "If you want to taste a wine that sums up the heartlands of Cote Rotie,  the classic cuvée [ of Jamet ] should be it."  He reports the Jamet brothers as saying:  It is not the aspect that matters,  but the difference between the schist and the granite.  Vinification is more traditional,  less than 30% de-stemming,  cuvaison up to 20 days in s/s,  oak aging up to 22 months,  20% new.  No filtration.  Parker 2/08:  … notes of resiny pine forest with some meat juices, scorched earth, black cherries, currants, and underbrush. The wine is not a blockbuster, but it is fresh, medium-bodied, with zesty acidity, and a spicy, moderately long finish. …will probably benefit from several years of bottle age and drink well for 8-9 years. It is by no means in the league with their top vintages, such as 1999, 1991, 1988, and 1985.  88;  imported by Maison Vauron,  Auckland ]
Ruby and velvet,  about the same weight as the Vidal Hawkes Bay,  but older,  no carmine.  Bouquet is caricature Cote Rotie in one sense,  but magic escapes it.  Interwoven with intense dianthus florals is a shrill leafy / garrigue / paper-whites = jonquils component (which appeals to some,  and others dislike quite intensely),  all on red and blackcurrant fruit.  Palate is indeed stalky,  confirming bouquet suspicions,  but there is attractive red berry fruit offset by higher acid than most of these wines.  Alongside the Martinborough Vineyard,  stylistically the two wines are near-identical.  And the critical difference is,  whereas the Jamet is clearly sub-optimally ripe,  the Martinborough Vineyard despite being slightly acid is in comparison,  perfect mid-weight Cote Rotie,  not stalky.  Interesting,  a syrah to show that in our New Zealand judgings we must not become too obsessive about a little leafy fragrance !  These slightly stalky Rhones syrahs do cellar well when they have the fruit weight this one does,  and they are good with food.  But as noted,  not everybody likes them,  at this point in the ripening curve.  Additionally,  winemakers in the tasting group found the brett level a little intrusive.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 05/08

2005  Domaine Gerin Cote Rotie Champin le Seigneur   16 ½ +  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $87   [ cork;  Sy 90%,  Vi 10%;  le Seigneur is the district wine,  grown on a variety of sites mainly schist;  winery practice is modern,  with some American oak,  and even some input from Bordeaux consultant Michel Rolland;  100% de-stemmed,  up to 33 days cuvaison in s/s at higher temperatures than some practice;  up to 24 months in French and 20% American oak,  50% new,  the balance 1 – 2 years;  not filtered.  Parker 2/08:  2005 Le Seigneur possesses the vintage’s rather tannic, strongly structured, more austere side, even for this wine, which is meant to be Gerin’s most charming and up-front Cote Rotie. The wine is well-made, pure, with plenty of black cherry and herb-infused fruit, but in the finish, the tannins kick in. 88;  imported by Maison Vauron,  Auckland. ]
Ruby,  one of the lightest.  This wine is a little to one side of the batch.  Bouquet is fragrant and lightly floral,  hard to characterise,  somewhere between redcurrant and red roses,  nothing deeper.  Thoughts of pinot noir and herbes de Provence both arise,  incongruously,  so in a blind tasting with other varieties it can be identified as pinot.  Palate is light and crisp,  red fruits only as one taster said,  a touch austere and yet not stalky.  The total balance and style of the wine is unusual,  yet also reasonably familiar from Cote Rotie.  It is not as rich as the Jamet,  or as complex,  but it is fractionally riper – the Jamet does have some green notes.  Very hard to decide how to score the two.  This will be an attractive undemonstrative food wine,  but it looks expensive alongside the New Zealand wines.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 05/08

2005  Schubert Syrah   16 ½  ()
New Zealand:  14.5%;  $65   [ cork;  presumably Wairarapa & Hawkes Bay;  hand-picked,  100% de-stemmed;  cuvaison at least 3 weeks;  24 months in French barriques 40% new;  www.schubert.co.nz ]
Ruby,  more a good pinot noir weight.  Bouquet is sweetly floral in a classic wallflower and roses Cote Rotie styling of syrah,  on a white pepper and cassis berry component.  Palate is on the cooler side of good syrah,  as indeed many Cote Roties are,  with a faintly leafy quality,  and red currants and red plums joining the blackcurrant.  The whole wine is fresh but softer than the Southbank,  fragrant and pleasing in mouth,  not bone dry I suspect but very subtle (though perhaps suggesting chaptalisation),  lingering nicely.  Nett impression is more Crozes-Hermitage – mention of Cote Rotie is a little flattering.  This will be good food wine,  and cellar 3 – 8 years.  Over-priced,  though,  when one looks at the achievements of the Villa PB.  GK 05/08

2005  Southbank Estate Syrah   16 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $24   [ cork;  3 clones cropped @ 2.8 t/ac,  100% de-stemmed;  8 months in French oak 25% new;  www.southbankestate.com ]
Ruby,  a flush of carmine and velvet.  Bouquet optimises the wallflower florals side of syrah,  and the cassis flavour qualities,  so in a blind tasting it is as much cabernet-like as syrah.  In mouth however,  it immediately jumps into syrah,  much less ripe than the bouquet promises,  white pepper rather than black,  total acid more than optimal,  the fruit cassis and red plums rather than black,  some redcurrant too.  But as cool-climate syrah,  it is not without its own charm,  being well-fruited,  dry and not phenolic.  Like the Schubert,  it will be attractive food wine,  where a more acid and fragrant red suits.  Total flavour analogy relates more to Crozes-Hermitage,  in the northern Rhone.  Since it is a Hawkes Bay wine,  greater physiological maturity should be achievable in the vineyard.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 05/08

2005  Karikari Estate Syrah   16  ()
Karikari Peninsula,  North Auckland,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $36   [ supercritical cork;  100% Limmer clone,  hand-picked;  several days cold-soak;  11 months in French & American oak;  www.karikariestate.co.nz ]
Ruby and some velvet.  This is exciting wine,  though flawed as it stands (hence the score,  which is completely arbitrary,  noting that on the one hand,  a judging panel with winemakers on it would almost certainly reject the wine completely,  whereas many people actually like the defect).  It shows a ripeness and physiological maturity which (alongside other North Auckland syrahs seen recently) suggests that syrah will be the outstanding vinifera red grape in the North.  Fruit flavours are attractively cassis and dark plum,  oak handling is simpatico,  and all that lets the wine down is a serious brett infection of the cooperage,  here expressed more by the bacony phase (4-ethylguaiacol) of this spoilage yeast.  Like other 2005 Karikari Peninsula wines,  there is also a windblown salt issue,  which given the vineyard's location,  may just have to be accepted in some seasons.  So,  an exciting wine,  perfectly wholesome,  pointing to great things in the future,  as this winery sorts out its cooperage in an idyllic northern location (northeast of Kaitaia) for syrah.  Cellar 2 – 6 years maybe,  at most.  GK 05/08

2005  Domaine Robin Crozes-Hermitage Cuvée Alberic Bouvet   16  ()
Crozes-Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $45   [ cork;  Gilles Robin is one of the new younger-generation winemakers.  Vineyard work is tending to organic,  and some of the soils are limestone-influenced.  Winery practice is quite modern.  This is his top label,  up to 30 days cuvaison,  de-stemming varies,  down to only 20% in the ripest years;  12 months in barrique-sized barrels,  20% new,  MLF in barrel,  not filtered.  Wine Spectator:  6/07:  US$36  A traditional style, showing lots of perfumy violet and lavender notes, with a gamy nuance, all offset by a solid core of black currant, fig and tar flavors. The smoke and braised chestnut notes on the finish hold your interest. Drink now through 2012. 3,000 cases made.  91;  imported by Maison Vauron,  Auckland. ]
Ruby,  the lightest of the batch.  Bouquet is immediately in the lightly floral (carnations) / fragrant / is it leafy ? section of the tasting,  so one tastes with focussed interest.  It is so hard to get wines in this style perfectly pitched as to ripeness,  yet when they are spot-on,  they are very beautiful.  For this one,  palate confirms that ripeness is sub-optimal,  the cassis unduly redcurrant and red plum rather than black,  with some stalks and a little brett.  In this tasting of a well-rated vintage,  this wine illustrates exactly how much more appropriately syrah ripens in Hawkes Bay than much of Crozes-Hermitage.  Sure,  we have some stalky syrahs too,  but for our best wine producers in the better years,  the English are simply wrong to compare our syrah so frequently with Crozes-Hermitage.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 05/08

2005  Domaine Colombier Crozes-Hermitage Cuvée Gaby   15  ()
Crozes-Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $50   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  fermentation in concrete,  s/s, and oak vats;  c. 14 days cuvaison,  some foot-treading;  Cuvée Gaby is usually all oak-matured,  mostly in 600s,  for c. 12 months;  Livingstone-Learmonth considers the wine at best at c. 12 years;  no American reviews;  Robinson:  Chez J&B: Glossy and lively - lots of fruit and pure Syrah character. Very tough. Tougher than last week! Chez Genesis: Low-key nose. Round and slightly salty - very much at a surly, inexpressive stage at present with rather marked wood on the finish. May well come right but you'll need to wait.  16.5;  imported by Maison Vauron,  Auckland. ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  in the middle for weight.  This is a good wine to sort out who is sensitive to H2S and its congeners in wine.  There is no hope of florals at this level of reduced sulphur,  but there is good plummy fruit,  even on bouquet.  Palate is ripe and quite rich,  much riper than the Robin,  more in the Hawkes Bay camp as to ripeness in general,  plummy flavours,  but all tending sour from entrained sulphur.  I doubt this will ever sing as syrah.  Jancis Robinson (above) gives it the benefit of the doubt.  Cellar 5 – 12 years,  to see.  GK 05/08

2006  [ Karikari Estate ] Silver Bay Syrah   14 ½  ()
Karikari Peninsula,  North Auckland,  New Zealand:  13%;  $25   [ screwcap;  100% Chave clone,  hand-picked;  4 days cold-soak,  35% whole berry;  7 months in French & American oak;  www.karikariestate.co.nz ]
Ruby.  This is the junior / commercial syrah to the Estate wine,  and again shows pleasant physiological ripeness of red and black plummy fruit,  but is less concentrated.  It is even more brett-affected,  with strong bacony and oxo cube aromas.  Not worth cellaring.  Again,  just a need to give this new winery a couple of years,  to sort out its cellar practice.  See Karikari Estate Syrah.  GK 05/08