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

Given that syrah is arguably New Zealand's most exciting emerging grape variety,  and in 2009 at 210 ha or so,  there is only about 6% of the area devoted to pinot noir,  one would expect the annual tasting presentations of the new-release Chapoutier and Guigal Northern Rhone syrah-based wines to be of compelling interest to New Zealand winemakers,  as well as keen oenophiles.  These two producers are responsible for some of the finest syrahs in the world.  Sadly however,  this has not turned out to be the case,  so much so that the future of the annual Chapoutier tastings in Wellington is under threat.  Winemakers really need to think about this,  for as has been noted tiresomely often on this site,  following in the footsteps of Oz Clarke I thought,  winemakers cannot consistently make better wines than they have personally tasted and understood.  On checking however,  I find Oz attributes the germ of this truism to Michael Brajkovich.

So,  it is a pity to miss the 2005 and 2006 vintages,  for in their differing ways,  they are a complementary pair of pretty good years,  the best wines illustrating all the subtlety and floral complexity and beauty which characterise syrah grown in a temperate climate – exactly the characters which link it stylistically to pinot noir.  Optimising these characters in our New Zealand syrahs offers the very best chance to differentiate our wines from the mainstream of the Australian offerings of the grape,  labelled shiraz.  

Various people on either side of the Atlantic rate the two vintages as below,  noting that Robert Parker has consistently been out of line in his estimation of the 2005 vintage,  not only with his peers but also in the nett impression I gained talking with winemakers in the district in 2007.  He certainly seems to like soft wines.  So far,  my impression is Wine Spectator has the best feel for the two vintages,  backed up by Decanter with their now more detailed vintage assessments.  By including comments as well,  these two sources provide the most thoughtful and succinct vintage info easily accessible on-line,  and have the immense advantage of balancing an American view with a European one.  

The two Chapoutier vintages support their views,  the 2006s seeming lighter.  I reported on the 2005s here,  with more detail for each wine than this year,  including winemaking info.  I did not check the previous report before completing this year's reviews,  just to see how the numbers panned out.  

Five ratings for the 2005 and 2006 vintages in the Northern Rhone:  
2005:Wine Spectator,  US:94Reds have the structure for long-term cellaring ... dense and concentrated
Parker,   US: 89Tannic
Wine Enthusiast Magazine,  US:94
Decanter,  UK:*****Classic vintage ... fresh and balanced ... best wines have superb fruit and great
structure. Massive ageing potential.
Corney & Barrow,  UK:17/20
2006:Wine Spectator,  US:92Ripe, fresh reds with open-knit structures and fine balance
Parker,  US:92Early
Wine Enthusiast Magazine,  US:91
Decanter,  UK:****Finesse ... elegance ... subtlety ... charming
Corney & Barrow,  UK:17/20

Acknowledgement:  this blind tasting was presented by Raymond Chan at Regional Wines & Spirits,  Wellington,  along with immaculately-prepared background info and tasting notes.  He has also reviewed the wines,  with more detail,  as below.  I will read his report once this is posted.


Chapoutier:  www.chapoutier.com
Corney & Barrow,  UK:  www.corneyandbarrow.com/s-6-vintage-chart-online-wine-guide-from-corney-barrow-wine.aspx
Decanter UK:  http://www.decanter.com/vintageguides/region_guide.php?region=Red%20Rhone
Raymond Chan:  http://www.regionalwines.co.nz/wine-content.aspx/chapoutier-selections-parcellaires-2006
Robert Parker,  US:  www.erobertparker.com/newsearch/vintagechart1.aspx                  
Wine Enthusiast Magazine,  US:  = www.winemag.com/PDFs/020109_HarvestReport_2.pdf
Wine Spectator,  US:  www.winespectator.com/vintagecharts/search/id/34


Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
Pinot Gris
Sweet / Sticky
All other white wines, blends, etc.
2006  Chapoutier Hermitage Ermitage Blanc de L'Oree
2006  Chapoutier Hermitage Ermitage Blanc L'Ermite
2006  Chapoutier Hermitage Ermitage Blanc Le Meal
2006  Chapoutier St Joseph Blanc Les Granits
 Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
Cabernet / Shiraz
Pinot Noir
Syrah = Shiraz
2006  Chapoutier Cote Rotie La Mordorée
2006  Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage Les Varonniers
2006  Chapoutier Hermitage Ermitage L'Ermite
2006  Chapoutier Hermitage Ermitage Le Meal
2006  Chapoutier Hermitage Ermitage Le Pavillon
2006  Chapoutier Hermitage Ermitage Les Greffieux
2006  Chapoutier St Joseph Les Granits
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre & related blends
2006  Chapoutier Chateauneuf-du-Pape Barbe Rac
2006  Chapoutier Chateauneuf-du-Pape Croix de Bois
All other red wines, blends etc
From the Cellar. Older wines.


2006  Chapoutier Hermitage Ermitage Blanc L'Ermite   18 ½  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $361   [ cork;  Mar 100%;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Lemonstraw,  magically the freshest of the four whites.  For a very welcome change,  here is a Chapoutier marsanne which smells more of the grape than the winemaker,  and is free of oxidation.  Instead there is lovely nearly-perfumed marsanne aroma with a touch of citrus blossom,  more or less reasonable alcohol,  plus a clear hint of MLF and lees autolysis mealy complexity,  without making a fetish of it.  Bouquet leads into a simple mealy perfumed version of a big chardonnay on palate,  the MLF tastable (+ve) and softening the wine,  all lingering long on nearly dried peach flavours.  This wine simply goes to show that quality white wines can be made from the Hill of Hermitage,  even if it is still a ridiculous waste of precious land that desirably would be devoted to syrah.  This wine also shows that the lavish praise heaped year-on-year on so many heavily oxidised clumsy white Hermitages is simply flannel.  This is one to cellar,  5 – 30 years.  GK 03/10

2006  Chapoutier St Joseph Blanc Les Granits   18  ()
St Joseph,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $78   [ cork;  Mar 100%;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Lemonstraw,  the second freshest of the four whites.  This wine displays more explicit marsanne character than any of the Ermitages Blancs,  being beautifully perfumed with near-pale roses and honeysuckle florals,  on pear and white peach aromas.  It reminds of the very best years of Tahbilk Marsanne.  Palate confirms the quality of bouquet is a function of much less winemaking interference,  including less barrel influence,  MLF and lees autolysis,  an approach instead letting the quality of the grape show through delightfully.  It is therefore not as rich and smooth as L'Ermite,  even though it illustrates the variety even better,  so for some food applications it could be rated lesser.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 03/10

2006  Chapoutier Hermitage Ermitage Blanc de L'Oree   16 ½  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $222   [ cork;  Mar 100%;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Lemonstraw with a wash of gold,  lesser.  Bouquet is more the usual under-conserved and over-worked Chapoutier white Hermitage style,  a hint of oxidation in soft mealy fruit reminiscent of old chardonnay.  Palate is rich on the lees autolysis,  MLF and barrel age,  but much broader and oakier than L'Ermite.  This is a more representative "serious" white Hermitage,  for those who believe in the lavish praise heaped on these deviant wines.  Will cellar,  in its style.  GK 03/10

2006  Chapoutier Hermitage Ermitage Blanc Le Meal   15  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  15.5%;  $226   [ cork;  Mar 100%;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Colour is already light gold,  ridiculous.  Bouquet is big broad and clumsy,  illustrating perfectly the tiresomely idiosyncratic style of these over-worked and oxidised big whites.  Palate is raw on the alcohol,  broad on the oak,  rich on fruit and lees autolysis,  and totally lacking in charm,  as so many have been before it.  There really is an urgent need for some reality in the appraisal of these quixotic whites,  which in this particular example is more sherry-like.  I wouldn't cellar it.  GK 03/10


2006  Chapoutier Hermitage Ermitage Le Pavillon   19  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $295   [ cork;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Ruby carmine and velvet,  a lovely not too rich colour,  in the middle for depth.  Bouquet is syrah perfectly ripened to reveal a maximum expression of wallflower and dianthus florals,  the sweet wallflower component being particularly enchanting.  Cassis and dark plums-in-the-sun berry aromas accompany the floral quality,  magnificent.  Palate is fresh,  firm,  crisp,  not too alcoholic,  not a huge wine but beautifully balanced,  medium weight,  the subtlest hint of dark chocolate and black pepper in the aftertaste.  This is supremely elegant syrah !  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 03/10

2006  Chapoutier Hermitage Ermitage L'Ermite   18 ½  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $340   [ cork;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  not as dense as Pavillon,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is in exactly the same style as Pavillon,  wallflower sweetness and some dianthus florals with cassis and dark plum.  In both bouquet and flavour,  this wine is not quite as dark as Pavillon,  though there is still a hint of black pepper.  Palate is clearly less concentrated than Pavillon,  and is slightly fresher,  but it shows a similar delightful level of cassisy ripeness,  again black pepper,  a relatively shorter finish.  Another attractive syrah to cellar 8 – 20 years.  GK 03/10

2006  Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage Les Varonniers   18  ()
Crozes-Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $66   [ cork;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  a little less colour and weight than L'Ermite.  And it is to L'Ermite too that one can look for bouquet analogies,  for this wine is wonderfully varietal,  with exemplary ripeness for Crozes-Hermitage,  so much so it matches many a Hermitage in its sweet wallflower and dianthus florality.  The cassis and plum fruit on palate show a similar concentration to L'Ermite,  but the ripeness is a little less,  a hint of red in the plum,  a suggestion of white pepper in the black,  all long and fine.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 03/10

2006  Chapoutier Chateauneuf-du-Pape Barbe Rac   17 ½  ()
Chateauneuf-du-Pape,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  15%;  $107   [ cork;  Gr 100% including some of oldest in district 90 + years;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Ruby,  fractionally deeper than the Croix de Bois.  Grenache being a thin-skinned variety,  it is entirely appropriate that it is offered with pinot noir colour,  due to Chapoutier's monocepage policy.  Bouquet shows the same pure fruit as the Croix de Bois,  but with a much more sophisticated veneer of dark mushroomy and what seems to be cooperage-related quality and intrigue to it.  Palate is the raspberry and loganberry of grenache,  plus cinnamon spice,  but the oak has softened the wine relative to the simpler Croix de Bois,  making for an aromatic very pure interpretation of grenache.  Again,  due to Chapoutier's monocepage hang-up,  it will never show the complexity of more informed Chateauneuf du Papes,  but it will cellar 5 – 15 years in its heady one-dimensional style.  GK 03/10

2006  Chapoutier St Joseph Les Granits   17 +  ()
St Joseph,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $70   [ cork;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  above midway for the syrahs.  Bouquet is a little coarser on this wine,  a touch of brett and darkly plummy fruit / cooperage interaction,  not floral like the top wines,  even a hint of licorice.  Palate is richer and broader than some of the higher-pointed wines,  a little VA,  the ripest and richest of the Crozes / Cote Rotie / Saint Joseph threesome.  Aftertaste is sustained on the really ripe fruit,  but is a little coarse.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 03/10

2006  Chapoutier Chateauneuf-du-Pape Croix de Bois   17  ()
Chateauneuf-du-Pape,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  15%;  $91   [ cork;  Gr 100%;  no oak;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Pinot noir ruby.  Bouquet is clean,  spirity,  and fragrant in a highly varietal one-dimensional raspberries and cinnamon way.  If one considers an absolutely basic pure Australian mass-produced grenache such as Lehmann's,  it is a bit hard to see the six times price difference.  The smells are similar,  though this wine is more concentrated.  Palate follows appropriately,  the cinnamon spicing the berry,  but all ending rather short and simple in mouth.  There is more to Chateauneuf-du-Pape than this.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 03/10

2006  Chapoutier Hermitage Ermitage Le Meal   17  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $263   [ cork;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  the lightest of the premium syrahs.  Bouquet is in a different league from the top three,  some of the cassis of syrah,  but also a hint of saline and a touch of brett.  Palate follows pro rata,  medium weight,  not the ripeness of the top wines,  but good varietal berry,  more Crozes-Hermitage than the Varonniers,  much lighter than the Granits,  the aftertaste a little stalky,  but all clearly syrah.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 03/10

2006  Chapoutier Cote Rotie La Mordorée   16 ½ +  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $197   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the second deepest of the syrahs.  Bouquet has plenty of volume,  but is not so elegant.  In the dianthus florals is a strong leafy / stalky component adding to the bouquet,  but detracting from the quality.  Palate confirms suspicions,  a wine of mixed bunch-ripeness,  with both cassis and stalky flavours,  and some white pepper as is so often the case in the demanding Cote Rotie terroir.  Acid is noticeable too.  This will cellar well in its leafy cool-climate syrah style,  and become very fragrant.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 03/10

2006  Chapoutier Hermitage Ermitage Les Greffieux   16 +  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  15%;  $205   [ cork;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the darkest of all the syrahs.  Bouquet is strong,  but contains mixed messages.  There is clear sur-maturité on some of the fruit,  giving dark pruney / raisiny overtones,  yet there are green and stalky qualities too,  all held together by savoury brett,  animal,  and chocolate qualities.  The net result is flavoursome but clumsy,  not at all showing the beauty needed to justify its Hermitage pricing.  It out-points the Mordorée on ripeness and robustness,  but is much less elegant,  so ends up below,  the least of the syrahs.  Cellar 5 – 20 years,  in its style.  GK 03/10