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

Considering the last few months,  there have been some intriguing tastings which to a degree fit together.  It is useful mixing regions and winestyles,  crossing boundaries in wine evaluation,  and (where practicable) setting up rigorously blind comparative tastings after the initial presentations,  for it enables one to concentrate on the wine,  and hopefully be less impressed with the label.  So many commentators these days say what is expected,  rather than trying to analyse the fluid.

The first was a Glengarry Wines tasting for the Northern Rhone valley,  where the wines of one of the most exciting new producers,  Yves Cuilleron based in Chavanay near Condrieu,  were compared,  and contrasted as it turned out,  with the wines of one of the old guard,  René Rostaing.

Then there was one of Paul Mitchell's (The Wine Importer) regular promotional visits to Wellington.  This guy has over the years demonstrated consistent ability to locate great value based on what is in the bottle,  rather more than on what the pundits are saying.  Several of the attractive examples in the current batch have sold out already,  but I am assured the good ones will be continued with.

About the same time there was a Delas promotion,  so that enabled the sets of Rhone wines to be carefully calibrated one against the other.  Like Rostaing,  Delas continue to be erratic in their offerings:  they too are very much a producer where it is essential to taste a bottle before ordering a case.  The contra to that is,  they illuminate just how marvellous the best New Zealand syrah now is,  and increasingly the same can be said for viognier.

Kumeu River is one of a handful of New Zealand producers famous for their chardonnay.  Overseas,  and particularly in America,  they are by far the best-known New Zealand producer,  thanks to the success their wines have had in Wine Spectator tastings.  Their style is subtler and finer than any other New Zealand producer,  so in one sense (though I don't want to sound 'colonial' about this,  but appreciation whether in music or wine usually proceeds from more to less obvious) they are most appreciated in markets well-attuned to the best wines of Burgundy.  It is therefore always a pleasure to check their latest vintage,  coupled with the thought that the Auckland district has had several dream vintages lately.  Happily,  prices have not risen.

Then other work yet to be finalised intervened,  until I presented my annual seminar to the current Oenology and Viticulture students at Lincoln University.  This year the topic was Bordeaux & Hawkes Bay blends,  alternating with northern Rhone wines as they relate to New Zealand,  in the other year.  To optimise the tasting,  this year I collected only the cabernet / merlot and related blends class from the Hawkes Bay Hot Red Show.  This worked well,  allowing me to focus on the goal of first finding good examples of wines to illustrate the four main blending varieties:  cabernet sauvignon,  merlot,  cabernet franc and malbec;  then three of the main faults in New Zealand red wines (reduction,  under-ripeness,  and over-oaking);  and finally three blends (one Bordeaux) illustrating the magic of the final assembled wine optimising the strengths and weaknesses of the constituent varieties.

On one side of that commitment,  there was the (usually) most exciting tasting of the year,  the latest annual batch of Guigal wines including their grand cru Cote Roties and Hermitage – which are so relevant to latter-day New Zealand aspirations with syrah in Hawkes Bay and Waiheke Island particularly,  but also favoured parts of North Auckland.  

And on return to Wellington,  there was the annual presentation of Sacred Hill premium wines by chief winemaker and CEO Tony Bish,  a producer who is rapidly coming through the ranks to compete at the highest level.  His Riflemans Chardonnay has for some years been arguably the best example of the grape in New Zealand (though without even pausing three other contending producers come to mind),  but his  bordeaux blends in particular have in recent years won high praise in comparative tastings in London,  a venue which remains an important export destination for us particularly in the sense so many key British winewriters are based there.  In this batch of Sacred Hill wines,  it was a syrah which wowed me,  however.  It is pleasing to record that the firm has eased back on some of their prices,  reflecting the current difficulties in the wine market as elsewhere.  Their new website is a pleasure to use too,  with good technical detail,  but the labels hierarchy is not immediately intuitive,  the Reserve series being in fact the lowest of the four tiers:  Special Selection > Wine Thief Series > Halo Series > Reserve Series.  The word Reserve meant so much only 40 years ago.

While thinking about these wines,  what a pleasure it is to find more and more smaller French proprieties adopting websites.  It has taken a while for this to happen in France,  but it is all part of the very exciting trend now well in place of the French adding technology to their approach to wine.  Great !

It is a pleasure to record the great support all New Zealand winemakers gave to the Lincoln course-work tasting,  at shorter than ideal notice.  Specs,  and where needed,  bottles through lack of local availability,  were immediately supplied.  The Black Barn wines were made available pre-release.  


2008  Kumeu River Chardonnay Coddington Vineyard
2008  Kumeu River Chardonnay Estate
2007  Kumeu River Chardonnay Estate
2006  Kumeu River Chardonnay Estate
2008  Kumeu River Chardonnay Hunting Hill
2008  Kumeu River Chardonnay Maté's Vineyard
2007  Kumeu River Chardonnay Maté's Vineyard
2006  Kumeu River Chardonnay Maté's Vineyard
2008  Kumeu River Chardonnay Village
2009  Sacred Hill Chardonnay Riflemans
2007  Sacred Hill Chardonnay Riflemans
2005  Sacred Hill Chardonnay Riflemans
Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
2008  Sacred Hill Sauvignon Blanc Sauvage
2007  Sacred Hill Sauvignon Blanc Sauvage
2005  Sacred Hill Sauvignon Blanc Sauvage
Pinot Gris
2009  Kumeu River Pinot Gris
2008  Delas Viognier Vin de Pays d'Oc
2008  Guigal Condrieu
2008  Guigal Condrieu la Doriane
Sweet / Sticky
2008  Delas Muscat de Beaumes de Venise la Pastourelle
All other white wines, blends, etc.
2008  Guigal Cotes du Rhone Blanc
Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2007  Babich [ Cabernets / Malbec ] Patriarch
2009  Black Barn Cabernet Franc
2009  Black Barn Merlot
2007  Church Road Cabernet / Merlot Reserve
2007  Church Road Cabernet Sauvignon Cuve
2008  Coopers Creek Malbec
2005  Ch Potensac
2008  Sacred Hill Merlot Brokenstone
2007  Sacred Hill Merlot Brokenstone
2005  Sacred Hill Merlot Brokenstone
Cabernet / Shiraz
Pinot Noir
  2007  Kumeu River Pinot Noir
2006  Kumeu River Pinot Noir
Syrah = Shiraz
2007  Delas Cote Rotie Seigneur de Maugiron
2008  Delas Cotes du Rhone St Esprit
2007  Delas Crozes-Hermitage les Launes
2007  Delas Hermitage Marquise de la Tourette
2008  Domaine Fondreche Cotes du Ventoux Persia
2006  Guigal Cote Rotie Brune & Blonde
2006  Guigal Cote Rotie La Landonne
2006  Guigal Cote Rotie La Mouline
2006  Guigal Cote Rotie La Turque
2006  Guigal Crozes-Hermitage
2006  Guigal Hermitage Ex-Voto
2006  Guigal St Joseph
2007  Guigal St Joseph Vignes de l'Hospice
2007  Domaine Les Aphillanthes Cotes du Rhone-Villages le Cros
2007  René Rostaing Cote Rotie Cote Blonde
2006  René Rostaing Cote Rotie Cote Blonde
2007  René Rostaing Cote Rotie La Landonne
2006  René Rostaing Cote Rotie La Landonne
2008  Sacred Hill Syrah Deerstalkers
2007  Sacred Hill Syrah Deerstalkers
2006  Sacred Hill Syrah Deerstalkers
2009  Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone
2007  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose
2007  Yves Cuilleron Cornas les Vires
2007  Yves Cuilleron Cote Rotie Bassenon
2007  Yves Cuilleron St Joseph L'Amarybelle
2007  Yves Cuilleron St Joseph les Serines
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre & related blends
2008  Delas Cotes du Ventoux
2009  Domaine Fondreche Cotes du Ventoux O'Sud
2009  Domaine Fondreche Vaucluse Nature Vin de Pays
2006  Guigal Cotes-du-Rhone Rouge
2006  Guigal Gigondas
2009  Domaine l'Ameillaud Cairanne Cotes du Rhone-Villages
2009  Domaine l'Ameillaud Vaucluse Vin de Pays
2007  Domaine Les Aphillanthes Cairanne Ancestrale
2008  Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone les Deux Albion
2008  Saint Cosme Gigondas Tradition
2007  Domaine Vindemio Cotes du Ventoux Imagine
2007  Domaine Vindemio Cotes du Ventoux Regain
All other red wines, blends etc
From the Cellar. Older wines.

2008  Kumeu River Chardonnay Coddington Vineyard   19  ()
Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $43   [ screwcap;  mainly clone 15,  hand-harvested;  whole-bunch pressed @ 1.75 t/ac (lower than usual);  wild-yeast fermentation entirely in French oak;  100% MLF;  11 months in barrel with LA;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lemon-straw.  Bouquet is sensational,  showing the subtle acacia blossom floral qualities of finest chardonnay,  very sensitively handled in oak.  There is fine potential mealyness and white more than yellow stonefruit.  Palate shows outstanding poise and elegance,  no borderline reduction / toastyness as mentioned for the 2007 Riflemans,  just the Meursault-like potential mealyness.  This is not a big wine compared with Riflemans,  but it is exquisitely fine,  and tauter,  illustrating New Zealand chardonnay at the highest international level.  Cellar 3 – 10 years,  if older chardonnay appeals.  GK 10/10

2008  Kumeu River Chardonnay Maté's Vineyard   19  ()
Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $49   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested clone mendoza planted in 1990;  whole-bunch pressed;  wild-yeast fermentation entirely in French oak up to 30% new;  100% MLF;  11 months in barrel with LA;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
This magnificent chardonnay bridges the gap between the subtle 2008 Coddington and the bolder 2007 Riflemans,  being richer and more yellow-fruited than Coddington,  but with the same great finesse.  Palate is firmer and finer than the 2007 Riflemans,  so some may prefer the greater flesh of Riflemans,  some the leaner thoroughbred Maté's.  Both are magnificent New Zealand chardonnays,  which can be shown confidently to overseas visitors.  Cellar 2 – 10 years.  GK 10/10

2007  Sacred Hill Chardonnay Riflemans   19  ()
Dartmoor Valley,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $55   [ screwcap;  hand-picked clone mendoza,  whole-bunch pressed to barrel;  wild-yeast ferments;  100% MLF,  12 months LA and some batonnage in French oak up to 40% new and balance 1-year;  RS 2.3 g/L;  www.sacredhill.com ]
A wonderful glowing full lemon.  Bouquet opens just a little reluctantly in the New Zealand context,  but considering the French prototype and the barrel work this winestyle may be subjected to,  it is understandable.  With only slight aeration / decanting it clears to mealy / toasty / autolysed chardonnay fruit,  the oak marrying away now,  and the autolysis giving a baguette-crust quality of complexity.  For chardonnay with its considerable barrel elevage,  it is a fine line between a positive nett impression,  and tending reductive.  The fact some French chardonnays are patently reductive is not a reason to introduce any more of this character into our fresher New Zealand chardonnays,  I believe.  Like the 2007 Sauvage,  the palate is magical,  showing a saturation of nectarine fruit and subtle white-butter MLF complexity and texture which is enchanting.  Acid balance is fresh and firm,  and the length of flavour astonishing.  This is great New Zealand chardonnay,  which will cellar 2 – 8 years.  GK 10/10

2005  Sacred Hill Chardonnay Riflemans   19  ()
Dartmoor Valley,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $ –    [ screwcap;  hand-picked clone mendoza,  whole-bunch pressed to barrel;  wild-yeast ferments;  partial MLF,  12 months LA and some batonnage in French oak;  RS <2g/L;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Lemon-straw with a light gold wash,  deeper than the 2005 Sauvage.  The contrast between the 2007 and the 2005 Riflemans is vivid,  but both are great chardonnays.  The 2005 is now at its first point of maturity,  with mellow and enticing aromas of golden queen peach rather than nectarines,  yellow butter rather than white,  and stunning baguette-crust complexity.  The oak component is now completely integrated and invisible.  Palate is rich and round yet still fine and fresh.  Though you can smell butter in the best sense,  it does not taste of it,  and there is no hint of flabbyness.  Oak is apparent on the later palate – compared with the top Kumeu chardonnays oak is at a maximum in Riflemans.  This will hold for another 2 – 4 years,  depending on how old you like your chardonnay.  GK 10/10

2007  Kumeu River Chardonnay Estate   18 ½ +  ()
Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $36   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested from 6 vineyards;  whole-bunch pressed;  wild-yeast fermentation entirely in French oak;  100% MLF;  11 months in barrel with LA;  the Brajkovichs see this vintage as epitomising their style;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lemon to lemon-straw.  Bouquet is bigger and richer in this wine than the Coddington,  with clear  stonefruit framed by oak,  the whole wine marrying up attractively into its first suggestion of maturity.  Though the wine seems leaner than Riflemans,  the intensity,  ripeness and purity of varietal fruit is enchanting.  Cellar 2 – 8 years.  GK 10/10

2008  Kumeu River Chardonnay Estate   18 ½  ()
Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $36   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested from 6 vineyards;  whole-bunch pressed;  wild-yeast fermentation entirely in French oak;  100% MLF;  11 months in barrel with LA;  5,500 cases;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lemon.  The similarity of style between the 2008 Estate and the 2007 Estate is remarkable,  the 2008 simply being less integrated and seemingly less rich at this stage,  and the oak showing a little more.  Both this wine and the 2009 Riflemans illustrate delightfully how the oak marries away in the third year,  in fine chardonnay.  This is another benchmark New Zealand chardonnay:  anything better than this is really special.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 10/10

2009  Sacred Hill Chardonnay Riflemans   18 ½  ()
Dartmoor Valley,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $55   [ screwcap;  hand-picked clone mendoza,  whole-bunch pressed to barrel;  wild-yeast ferments;  100% MLF,  12 months LA and some batonnage in French oak up to 40% new and balance 1-year;  RS < 2g/L;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Lemon-straw.  Bouquet is still very young,  showing the building-blocks rather than the finished item.  Oak is overtly apparent at this stage,  with rich fruit,  yeast autolysis and stonefruit chardonnay behind it.  Palate builds up the fruit component,  with waxy MLF richness still to marry with the oak,  and make both less apparent.  Total style is softer richer and bolder than the Kumeu examples,  so the two wineries make a beautifully complementary tasting.  I am hoping to re-rate this wine,  the next time I see it.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 10/10

2006  Kumeu River Chardonnay Estate   18  ()
Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $46   [ screwcap;  library stock price;  hand-harvested from 6 vineyards;  whole-bunch pressed;  wild-yeast fermentation entirely in French oak up to 25% new;  100% MLF;  11 months in barrel with LA;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lemon-straw.  A little age is starting to show here,  a hint of biscuits and early maturity apparent on bouquet.  Palate is much fresher,  clear mealyness from the barrel-fermentation and lees-autolysis,  mixed stonefruit palate,  oak invisible,  all lingering delightfully.  Attractive wine,  which will hold for several years yet.  GK 10/10

2007  Kumeu River Chardonnay Maté's Vineyard   17 ½ +  ()
Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $59   [ screwcap;  library stock price;  hand-harvested from vines planted in 1990;  whole-bunch pressed;  wild-yeast fermentation entirely in French oak;  100% MLF;  11 months in barrel with LA;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lemon,  a little deeper than the 2008.  This is more a winemaker's chardonnay,  with more yeast and barrel intervention apparent than the wines marked more highly.  The yellow stonefruit mendoza clone shows clearly,  and there is a suggestion of char / toast on the autolysis reminiscent of the 2007 Riflemans.  It is a richer and oakier wine than the 2007 Kumeu River Estate,  so if size is of more appeal than translucent purity,  this is the '07 to go for.  The length of fruit and aftertaste is good.  Intriguingly,  when I reviewed 2007 Maté's and the Estate wine a couple of years ago,  I had them the other way round,  a reminder perhaps that restraint is all,  if chardonnay is to age gracefully.  Cellar 2 – 8 years.  GK 10/10

2006  Kumeu River Chardonnay Maté's Vineyard   17 ½  ()
Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $59   [ screwcap;  library stock price;  hand-harvested from vines planted in 1990;  whole-bunch pressed;  wild-yeast fermentation entirely in French oak;  100% MLF;  11 months in barrel with LA;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lemon-straw.  The comments for the 2007 Maté's apply here too,  for this is a bigger and more complex wine than the 2006 Estate.  The suggestion of reduction many winemakers want in chardonnay,  as discussed for the 2009 Riflemans,  is here a little too obtrusive.  For those sensitive to reduction,  a splashy decanting is best.  Palate is richer than the 2006 Estate,  but the winemaker influence with mealy almost cheese-like (good cheese !) complexity notes plus oak makes this a flavoursome wine,  for rich foods.  This too will hold for several years yet.  GK 10/10

2008  Kumeu River Chardonnay Hunting Hill   16 ½  ()
Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $43   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested,  mainly clone 15;  whole-bunch pressed;  wild-yeast fermentation entirely in French oak;  100% MLF;  11 months in barrel with LA;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Pale lemon.  This year's Hunting Hill is not a success for those sensitive to sulphide,  the whole wine being too reductive.  This pinches the bouquet back to austere white stonefruit,  and makes the palate hard and cardboardy.  Those who like this approach (or think they like it,  from similar French experiences) romantically describe such a palate as flinty,  but tending sour is more accurate.  It improves somewhat with a good splashy decanting,  and the cropping rate and fruit richness is clearly streets ahead of the Village wine.  But even so,  this wine will never sing.  Cellar 4 – 10 years,  in its style.  GK 10/10

2008  Kumeu River Chardonnay Village   16  ()
Kumeu,  north of Auckland,  New Zealand:  13%;  $21   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested,  mostly clones 6 & 15;  whole-bunch pressed;  wild-yeast fermentation,  c.33% BF in 10% new oak,  balance s/s;  100% MLF,  c.8 months LA;  RS nil;  formerly labelled Brajkovich Chardonnay;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lemon-straw.  Kumeu River's Village Chardonnay varies quite considerably from year to year.  In low-cropping years,  when there is a lot of oak to be kept wet,  the Village wine may all have seen oak.  Some of these have been quite lovely – for example the 2005.  In more productive years,  where a significant percentage of the wine stays in stainless steel,  it can tend to be a bit reductive.  If there is some less ripe fruit,  any stalkyness is exacerbated by the reduction.  This 2008 is a lesser year,  with suggestions of cardboard through bouquet and palate,  in reasonable fruit.  Many a Macon blanc is like this.  Cellar 2 – 5 years,  though more as QDW chardonnay.  GK 10/10

Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
2007  Sacred Hill Sauvignon Blanc Sauvage   18 ½ +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ screwcap;  hand-picked,  whole-bunch pressed to barrel;  wild-yeast ferments;  no MLF,  8 months LA but no batonnage in French oak 30 – 40% new and balance 2-year;  RS <1g/L;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Gorgeous lemon.  Bouquet is rich,  just marrying-up into the first phase of full development,  the fruit,  oak and autolysis combining to produce a tangy sautéed red capsicum aroma with hints of Castrol GTX (+ve).  Palate brings out the baguette-quality barrel-ferment and autolysis in the fruit,  which seems finer,  richer and cooler than the 2008,  with black passionfruit lingering delightfully.  This is a benchmark example of the style,  to cellar 2 – 8 years at least.  The 2007 illustrates why Sacred Hill's Sauvage is becoming one of New Zealand's most famous serious sauvignons.  Along with Te Mata's Cape Crest,  Cloudy Bays' rather different Te Koko,  and a few other more recent examples of the barrel-fermented style,  they provide a satisfying and contrasting alternative to the ubiquitous stainless-steel Marlborough sauvignons.  GK 10/10

2005  Sacred Hill Sauvignon Blanc Sauvage   18 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $ –    [ screwcap;  hand-picked,  whole-bunch pressed to barrel;  wild-yeast ferments;  no MLF,  8 months LA but no batonnage in French oak 30 – 40% new and balance 1-year;  RS <1g/L;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Lemon-straw,  with a wash of brass.  There is intriguing variation in the nature of the fruit in these three examples of Sauvage,  the 2005 showing a slightly cooler rendering of sauvignon blanc than the 2007,  with slightly more Marlborough cues:  sweet basil and yellow as well as red capsicums,  plus the same elevage complexities the younger two wines show.  Palate brings up the fruit qualities to show beautiful richness and texture,  clear baguette-quality yeast autolysis,  oak now attractively married away.  It is not quite as perfectly ripe as the 2007,  and is at the beginning of full maturity now.  It will cellar for several years more,  but not as long as the 2007.  GK 10/10

2008  Sacred Hill Sauvignon Blanc Sauvage   18  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ screwcap;  hand-picked,  whole-bunch pressed to barrel;  wild-yeast ferments;  no MLF,  8 months LA but no batonnage in French oak 30 – 40% new and balance 2-year;  RS 3g/L;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Lemon.  Bouquet is in the Hawke's Bay / ripe-fruits spectrum of sauvignon blanc,  more pepino,  red capsicum and English gooseberry ripened through to the red stage.  Oak is yet to fully marry away,  and the fruit seems not as deep in this year's wine.  Nonetheless,  the barrel-ferment and lees-autolysis components are impressive,  with the play of almost baguette-crust aromas on gooseberry fruit attractive.  This year's wine is not as bone dry as some have been,  but the residual sugar is not apparent.  Cellar 2 – 5 years.  GK 10/10

Pinot Gris
2009  Kumeu River Pinot Gris   17 ½  ()
Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $28   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested including a little botrytis this year;  wild-yeast fermentation;  the Brajkovichs prefer no MLF in the wine;  8.5 g/L RS;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Straw.  Unlike pinot noir,  pinot gris has performed well in North Auckland,  with both Kumeu River and several Matakana examples showing good varietal character and texture.  This wine is fragrant in a white nectarine way,  the bouquet being particularly good.  Palate is only slightly less,  white stonefruit,  pear flesh and a touch of cinnamon,  the finish near-dry,  tasting drier than the given number would suggest.  Cellar 2 – 6 years.  GK 10/10

2008  Guigal Condrieu la Doriane   19 +  ()
Condrieu,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $152   [ cork;  BF and MLF in new French oak,  plus 9 months LA and batonnage;  www.guigal.com ]
Lemon-straw,  faintly fresher than the village Condrieu.  2008 may have been lesser for the northern Rhone reds,  but these whites from Guigal are delightful.  Perhaps they are not quite as rich as Americans prefer,  which brings them even more exactly into relevance for New Zealanders.  The Doriane is the best I can recollect,  simply because there is less oak,  and brilliant exposition of citrus florals grading to fresh-cut apricots on bouquet,  followed by apricot fruit and subtle oak.  In mouth,  the MLF component is attractively subtle and only just noticeable,  the oak is a little more apparent than at the bouquet stage,  and the varietal definition is exquisitely accurate.  The wine is rich enough to not seem bone dry,  benchmark viognier,  but a wine for the short term though,  I suspect,  2 – 4 years.  GK 10/10

2008  Guigal Condrieu   18 ½  ()
Condrieu,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $83   [ cork;  33% BF in new French oak,  67% s/s,  100% MLF;  www.guigal.com ]
Lemon-straw.  If one prefers beauty and varietal elegance over size and oak,  this is the best Guigal Condrieu for several years.  Varietal fruit clearly dominates the oak this year,  with clear-cut citrus blossom very evocative.  Fruit notes on bouquet include both suggestions of mandarin and explicit apricots ranging from fresh to canned.  Palate is much subtler in its oaking than recent years,  and the wine is admirably fresh,  as if this year a percentage stayed in stainless steel without MLF.  Not a big or rich wine,  but a beautiful illustration of all the yellow-tinged floral and fruit notes which make good viogniers so distinctive.  New Zealand producers of pallid pinot gris-like viogniers need to study wines like this,  and accept the facts,  that this variety needs warmth on a warmest Hawkes Bay and best sites on Waiheke Island scale,  if the grape is to display appropriate varietal smells and flavours.  Cellar 1 – 3 years.  GK 10/10

2008  Delas Viognier Vin de Pays d'Oc   15 ½ +  ()
Vin de Pays d'Oc AOC,  France:  13%;  $17   [ plastic Normacorc;  www.delas.com ]
Straw.  Bouquet is nearly clean,  modestly varietal in the faintest canned fruit salad and apricots way,  but a bit cardboardy.  Palate is hard,  short and bone-dry,  which will come as a shock to New Zealand consumers moving on to this variety from pinot gris.  The good thing about the wine is it is ripened to a more appropriate point in the flavour spectrum than so many New Zealand examples of the grape,  a hint of yellow apricots,  but then that is let down by the hardness and phenolics on palate.  The nett result is wholesome,  straightforward but tending coarse wine.  Cellar a year or two only,  doubtfully.  GK 07/10

Sweet / Sticky
2008  Delas Muscat de Beaumes de Venise la Pastourelle   18  ()
Muscat de Beaumes de Venise AOC,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  15%;  $38   [ plastic Normacorc;  Mu 100%;  RS 100 g/L;  www.delas.com ]
Straw,  a slight flush of orange.  Bouquet is essence of oil of muscatel,  very fragrant indeed,  with an under-current of almond.  Palate is fumey on the alcohol,  naturally enough,  but this has given great lift to strong but not coarse muscatel flavours,  which linger remarkably long in mouth.  One or two tasters thought the wine is tending forward for its age,  and certainly the advanced colour suggests a little oxidation,  but it doesn't taste so.  Muscat a Petit Grains often has reddish skins,  and this wine has had skin contact.  The latter has provided good structure in the wine,  the acid balance and tannin contrasting with the sweetness and fruit to provide a neat dry finish,  which is particularly good.  Cellar 1 – 3 years only,  noting the plastic 'cork'.  GK 07/10

All other white wines, blends, etc.
2008  Guigal Cotes du Rhone Blanc   17 ½ +  ()
Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $24   [ cork;  Vi 55%,  Ro 20,  Mar 10,  clairette 10,  bourboulenc 5;  s/s;  www.guigal.com ]
A flush of straw in lemon.  Like the two Condrieus,  there is a freshness and elegance about this white Cotes-du-Rhone which totally upsets expectations for this generic label.  Bouquet is white-winey to the n-th degree,  the blend of varieties working very well,  the viognier not at all dominant on smell or taste.  On palate the blending varieties firm the wine in an elegant way,  producing an oak-free wine with backbone and substance.  This will be a great food wine,  well worth trying,  quite remarkable !  Cellar 1 – 2 years probably best.  GK 10/10

Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2007  Church Road Cabernet / Merlot Reserve   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels 72% & Ngatarawa Triangle 28,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $38   [ cork;  CS 54%,  Me 41,  CF 5,  all hand-picked at c.6.25 t/ha = 2.5 t/ac from (on average) 10-year old vines;  cuvaison extended to 35 days for some components;  MLF and 22 months in 100% French oak c.50% new,  with no BF or lees stirring,  just racking;  not fined,  coarse filter only;  RS < 0.2 g/L;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
This wine was part of the Lincoln tasting – these were documented in more detail.  It was one of the three blends designed to show complete wines,  in contrast to the single varieties introducing the tasting.  Being the richest of the three,  it was placed last in the line-up.  It opened completely consistently with previous bottles and previous notes on this site.  It is a much bolder and richer style of Bordeaux blend,  emulating something like an antipodean Las-Cases maybe.  It will be a great New Zealand red,  when cellared 5 – 20 years.  GK 10/10

2007  Babich [ Cabernets / Malbec ] Patriarch   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ 48 mm supercritical cork; CS 49%,  Ma 29,  CF 22,  hand-harvested @ c.6 t/ha = 2.4 t/ac;  cuvaison from 15 days to 22 for the CS;  21 months in all-French small oak 40% new;  egg-white fined and filtered;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
This was the second of the complete wines in the Lincoln tasting.  It opened beautifully,  with even more harmony,  delicacy and finesse than in the Hot Reds review.  It is a marvellous example of a Medoc / Ch Cantemerle weight of classed Bordeaux,  with remarkable fragrance and near-violets florality,  all beautifully fine-grained.  It contrasts dramatically with the Church Road Reserve,  yet both are great Hawkes Bay blends.  It is exciting to see Hawkes Bay blends developing exactly the same variation in demonstrated style as Bordeaux,  where provided the basic quality parameters are observed,  the variation is celebrated.  With a straight malbec in the introductory lineup,  you could see the zingy character it added to the Patriarch,  but blind,  one would be hard-put to identify that component.  This is an elegant Hawke's Bay blend to cellar 5 – 15 years,  perhaps longer.  It is the greatest red wine ever to emerge from the Babich stable.  GK 10/10

2009  Black Barn Merlot   18 ½  ()
Havelock North district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $60   [ natural cork 54 mm;  Me 100%,  hand-picked @ c.2.5 t/ha = 1 t/ac from vines 10 years old;  23 days cuvaison,  c. 14 months French oak;  not fined,  scarcely filtered;  release several months away;  the firm's top wine;  www.blackbarn.com ]
In any display / discussion of the Bordeaux / Hawkes Bay blended winestyle in New Zealand,  a good example of merlot is of paramount importance.  Like the cabernet franc component,  however,  too many New Zealand merlots are either over-oaked if ripe,  or both over-oaked and not sufficiently carefully ripened to accurately express the grape's trademark violets florals.  Again,  the Black Barn 2009 Merlot shows real appreciation of the Bordeaux model for this grape.  It is recently bottled and thus still shy and awkward,  so I gave it several decantings and a lot of air-time before the Lincoln showing.  It then communicated very well,  with real florality and plummy fruit.  In a couple of years,  I think it will be one of the most varietal and expressive merlots ever made in New Zealand.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 10/10

2009  Black Barn Cabernet Franc   18 ½  ()
Havelock North district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $35   [ supercritical cork 47 mm;  CF 100%,  hand-picked @ c.3.4 t/ha = 1.4 t/ac from vines 10 and 14 years old;  18 days cuvaison,  c. 14 months French oak 66% and balance subtle American oak;  not fined,  scarcely filtered;  release several months away;  www.blackbarn.com ]
Good ruby,  much lighter than the Babich Patriarch.  It is so hard to get clear-cut cabernet franc in New Zealand,  most makers thus far not respecting the delicate red fruits fragrance and fine grain of the grape,  instead oaking the hell out of it and forcing it into some ugly Australasian vision of one kind of cabernet sauvignon.  This Black Barn wine is quite the opposite,  with a delicacy to it which is almost burgundian – as is not infrequently said of some St Emilions,  where the grape achieves its peak performance.  It is not a big wine,  but nor is it weak,  and the ripeness is pinpoint.  This is much the best illustration of the variety I have seen in New Zealand,  to cellar 3 – 10 years,  maybe longer.  GK 10/10

2007  Sacred Hill Merlot Brokenstone   18 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $55   [ screwcap;  Me 90.5%,  CF 4.5,  CS 4,  hand-picked from 7 year old vines @ just under 2.5 t/ac;  18 months in French oak 75% new;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  about the same weight as the Black Barn Merlot,  but naturally not as vivid.  This is a bigger,  richer,  riper and oakier wine than the Black Barn,  but being two years older,  it communicates better.  Even so,  there is a robustness about it which did not suit me for the varietal exposition at Lincoln,  where I wanted to display the essential florality of fine temperate-climate merlot.  But that said,  this merlot still displays a quality Australia can only dream off,  in such a subtle variety.  The plummyness of the fruit is a notch riper than the Black Barn,  probably explaining the lesser floral component.  Oak is a little high.  Cellar 5 – 15 + years.  GK 10/10

2007  Church Road Cabernet Sauvignon Cuve   18  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle 52% & Gimblett Gravels 48,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $25   [ screwcap;  cropped @ c. 6.5 t/ha = 2.6 t/ac from close-planted vines,  half hand-picked;  cuvaison in s/s,  oak,  and concrete fermenters for 21 - 35 days,  22 months in French oak 50% new;  RS < 1 g/L;  no fining,  coarse filter only;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  This was the lead wine in the Lincoln tasting,  to set the tone and show the extrovert cabernet part of the components in the Bordeaux / Hawkes Bay blend equation.  Cassis is the key descriptor for cabernet sauvignon (as well as syrah – the florality differing),  and the ripeness level captured that well,  on bouquet.  The aromatic component of the grape was admittedly augmented by the oak,  which is a bit boisterous,  but many like the wine for that.  The remarkable fruit richness nearly carries it.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  VALUE  GK 10/10

2008  Sacred Hill Merlot Brokenstone   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $55   [ screwcap;  Me 90%,  CS 10,  hand-picked;  18 months in French oak,  some new;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  lighter than the 2007.  This is a lighter and prettier wine than the 2007,  the plums a little redder.  In mouth,  it is a little oaky and austere alongside the Black Barn,  needing more time in bottle to blossom.  It makes an interesting comparison with the 2007,  illustrating the difference in the two vintages well.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 10/10

2008  Coopers Creek Malbec   17 ½  ()
Kumeu district,  Auckland,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $24   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested @ c.4.3 t/ha = 1.7 t/ac;  17 days cuvaison;  13 months in French oak 50% new;  RS 3 g/L;  www.cooperscreek.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  This was the fourth of the key blending varieties for the Hawkes Bay blends.  It showed what winemaker Simon Nunns refers to as the 'wild berry character' of malbec well.  Unlike so many Cahors wines,  it is technically razor-sharp.  To those using Argentina as a yardstick for malbec,  it is a bit on the delicate side,  but like the Black Barn Cabernet Franc,  the winemaker has respected the grape and not over-oaked it,  so it was a useful illustration of the New Zealand viticultural regime for our lecture format.  It is not stalky,  but nor is it black-fruits ripe.  It illuminated the composition of the Babich Patriarch brilliantly.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 10/10

2005  Sacred Hill Merlot Brokenstone   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $ –    [ screwcap;  Me 91%,  CS 5,  CF 4,  hand-picked;  cuvaison approx 41 days;  14.5 months in French oak 100% new,  no lees stirring;  RS < 0.1 g/L;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  clearly older than the field.  Freshly opened,  bouquet is older too,  with both a hint of maturity and a lot of oak,  in plummy fruit.  Palate is rich but very oaky for the variety,  tip-toeing towards the Pask Declaration Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec of the same year.  Mellow now,  but may become unbalanced with age.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 10/10

2005  Ch Potensac   17 ½  ()
St Yzans district,  Medoc,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $50   [ cork;  CS 60,  Me 25,  CF 15,  average age c. 35 years,  8,000 vines / ha,  cropped on average @ 7.1 t/ha = c.2.85 t/ac;  up to 18 days cuvaison in s/s and concrete,  12 – 16 months in barrel,  10 – 15% new;  owners Delon family,  also owners of Ch Leoville-Las-Cases;  website under construction ]
This was one of the two oldest wines presented in the Lincoln tasting.  It was the first of the three complete wines shown,  and was intended to illustrate the harmony and balance of a good cru bourgeois,  particularly where the grapes / varietal character of the wine is not obscured by new oak.  In that respect it communicated particularly well,  and quite surprisingly,  was (by the group) rated ahead of the richer and (I thought) more complete Patriarch and Church Road Reserve wines.  Glengarry recently landed a shipment of this wine,  and offered it at $49.  With the prices for the 2005 vintage and 2009 en primeurs so buoyant,  this is fair value for a good illustration of the Bordeaux style,  at best cru bourgeois level.  Cellar 3 – 15 years.  GK 10/10

Pinot Noir
2007  Kumeu River Pinot Noir   14 ½  ()
Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13%;  $36   [ screwcap;  11 months in barrel;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby,  a little deeper than 2006.  This is 'classic' Kumeu River Pinot Noir,  showing strawberry and red currants leafy fruit complexed by tarry oak strong enough to be reminiscent of older Chilean cooperage.  Actual fruit weight is clearly richer than the 2006,  but the oak flavours are awful,  disqualifying it from the concept of antipodean burgundy.  The Brajkovichs and I have more or less agreed to disagree about their pinot noir,  for which they show a puckish determination in the face of overwhelming evidence that their climate is not suitable for achieving appropriate physiological and flavour maturity in this demanding variety.  This 2007 will cellar for several years,  in its style.  Scored as QDR.  GK 10/10

2006  Kumeu River Pinot Noir   14 +  ()
Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ screwcap;  11 months in barrel;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lightish pinot noir ruby,  some age showing.  Bouquet is lightly varietal in the strawberry and stalks way of warm climate pinot noir,  complexed by the unusual tarry cooperage Kumeu River reserve for this wine.  Palate shows some flesh in a skinny way,  though with varietal quality only hinting at even lesser Savigny-les-Beaune.  Fruit is complexed by the dubious oak,  though admittedly it is less obtrusive than some years.  QDR pinot,  but not priced as one,  to cellar a year or two.  GK 10/10

Syrah = Shiraz
2006  Guigal Hermitage Ex-Voto   19  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $535   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  5 weeks cuvaison;  42 months in new French oak;  www.guigal.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a good weight of colour,  not too different from the 2006 Sacred Hill Deerstalkers,  though not as dense as the 2007.  Bouquet has an extraordinary combination of the wallflower florals indicative of the finest syrah,  plus an aromatic cassis and oak lift,  which is almost subtlest / coolest-year Grange in quality.  Palate is certainly oaky,  much oakier than the Cote Rotie grands crus including the straight syrah La Landonne,  and palate weight is not as rich as even light year / cool Grange.  Varietal accuracy is vastly greater,  though.  This is gorgeous syrah,  not quite the richness of the 2005,  the oak at a maximum for European-styled finesse,  and with scarcely any hint of brett.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 10/10

2007  Sacred Hill Syrah Deerstalkers   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $49   [ screwcap;  hand picked,  100% de-stemmed without crushing,  extended cuvaison followed by 18 months in French oak,  some new;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the richest and deepest of the various wines in this set.  Bouquet on this 2007 Deerstalkers Syrah is sensational,  by far the finest under this label so far,  with much more careful use of oak.  The berry component is a notch riper than the Guigals,  quite a measure of blueberry in the cassis softening the aromatics and hiding the florality somewhat.  In mouth,  the richness and balance is wonderful,  though more new oak is evident now,  but the length of berry and flavour is excellent.  The total style is astonishingly reminiscent of great Hermitage,  in a warmer year than 2006 or 2005.  Cellar 5 – 20 years,  maybe longer.  GK 10/10

2006  Guigal Cote Rotie La Turque   18 ½ +  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $535   [ cork;  Sy 93%,  Vi 7;  42 months in new French oak;  www.guigal.com ]
Ruby and some velvet.  Bouquet is enchanting,  with an almost Cote de Nuits dark rose and violets florality on limpid cassis and dark plum berry.  Oak is extraordinarily subtle,  considering the 42 months spent in new.  Palate is magic,  a softness and succulence not apparent in the two Hermitage wines,  though it is smaller than both.  Oak creeps up on the palate,  with hints of chestnutty complexity / subtlest brett.  It is not as rich as great years of the Guigal grands crus,  but it is very beautiful.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 10/10

2007  Guigal St Joseph Vignes de l'Hospice   18 ½  ()
St Joseph,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $535   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  new oak for 30 months;  www.guigal.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  as bright as any of the Sacred Hill wines.  It is staggering how close this wine is to really good New Zealand syrah.  In particular its wallflower and violets florality is benchmark,  on great cassis berry.  Palate is a little lighter than the other wines ranked so highly,  but the precision of varietal character and the ripeness of the berry including cracked black peppercorns is stunning.  It is significantly purer than the grands crus.  The wines of Yves Cuilleron,  and Te Mata's Bullnose,  both come to mind,  as analogues.  New oak is unobtrusive,  in the mysterious Guigal style.  This is another benchmark French syrah for New Zealand makers to study closely.  Cellar 5 – 15 + years.  GK 10/10

2006  Guigal Cote Rotie La Mouline   18 ½  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $535   [ cork;  Sy 89%,  Vi 11,  co-fermented;  42 months in new French oak;  www.guigal.com ]
Ruby,  nearly richest pinot noir,  the lightest of the grands crus.  I admire the florality of La Mouline,  and the fragrant and sensuous charm it displays with 11% viognier.  Those many New Zealand winemakers who are too timid to deploy more than 5% viognier in their syrah blends really need to think again,  and try La Mouline more often (and John Hancock's 2007 Homage with 9% viognier).  And in any case,  what is wrong with presenting two premium syrahs,  one straight wine emulating Hermitage,  and one with viognier emulating Cote Rotie.  Though with Australia hell-bent on devaluing the concept of Shiraz / Viognier to the lowest common denominator level,  perhaps any premium offering is now best simply labelled as Syrah.  Palate shares much with pinot noir,  but is so much richer.  In the Guigal range,  the Brune & Blonde is the closest match,  but a fraction the weight.  Cellar 5 – 15 + years.  GK 10/10

2007  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose   18 +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $43   [ cork;  16 months in French oak 40% new;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  the same weight exactly as the Cuilleron Cote Rotie,  but fresher.  This reference-quality New Zealand syrah was put into the subsequent blind assessment for calibration.  The degree to which the bouquet matches the Cuilleron Cote Rotie is uncanny.  There is not quite the dianthus perfume,  and the blueberry quality is different in detail,  but the similarity of wallflower and cassis is a delight.  In mouth,  the main difference is the percentage of new oak is more noticeable in the new world wine,  but the fruit quality,  weight and style are all extraordinarily close.  The achieved ripeness in Bullnose is a little greater,  which fits in with the greater blueberry dimension,  a fruit quality which comes in just above cassis in the ripening curve.  Lovely wine to cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/10

2008  Sacred Hill Syrah Deerstalkers   18 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $50   [ screwcap;  hand picked,  100% de-stemmed without crushing,  extended cuvaison followed by 18 months in French oak,  less new than 2007;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  brighter and fresher than even the Hospices wine,  and a similar weight.  Bouquet is close to the best Guigals here,  but purer,  displaying a cassis-led aromatic profile with less blueberries than the denser Deerstalker 2007.  It is still very youthful,  with wallflower florals and vanillin from oak still to marry in.  Palate is the lightest of the three Deerstalkers,  but precision is in one sense the greatest,  due to restraint with the oak.  It was exciting to hear winemaker / CEO Tony Bish comment that they are more and more treating syrah as pinot noir,  to respect the fruit more – a thought which has long been close to my heart.  The close rapport between this fresh Deerstalkers and the St Joseph Hospices wine is an eye-opener.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 10/10

2006  Guigal Cote Rotie La Landonne   18 +  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $535   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  42 months in new French oak;  www.guigal.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  the deepest of the three grand cru Cote Roties.  This is the most demonstrative of the three grand cru Cote Roties,  with the clear aromatic cassis of straight syrah seeming more concentrated.  But there is also a subtle leather and venison complexity note bespeaking some brett.  Palate is the firmest of the three grands crus Cote Roties,  but is somewhat cluttered by the elevage elements,  so it does not illuminate syrah the variety as well as for example the pure village Hermitage.  As a total wine it is pretty good though,  and it's cellaring should not be curtailed,  5 – 15 + years.  GK 10/10

2007  Yves Cuilleron Cote Rotie Bassenon   18  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $157   [ cork;  Sy 90%, Vi 10;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  not as deep as the Serines but a lovely colour.  Bouquet is closely related to les Serines,  but more floral,  with lighter sweeter qualities in which one can imagine the benison of viognier,  and the perfume of bush honey.  Palate is taut,  a lovely sweetness in the cassis,  almost blueberry and plum which differentiates it from the sterner St Joseph,  and really exemplifies Cote Rotie.  Yet taken as a whole,  it is also slightly cool,  just the thought of white pepper and sub-optimal ripeness.  It is not a big wine,  it is almost pinot noir like in one sense (textural),  and like the Serines,  there is a wish for a little more richness.  But then there might be less florality.  The bush-honey quality was a feature of 1982 Les Jumelles,  too.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/10

2007  Yves Cuilleron St Joseph les Serines   18  ()
St-Joseph,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $104   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  classic.  Bouquet is a dramatic expression of syrah,  with exhibition-quality syrah florality ranging through dianthus,  wallflowers,  violets and roses,  with good black pepper spice,  seeming ripe.  Trace VA adds lift.  Below is cassis and bottled omega plums.  Palate is just a little leaner than bouquet,  suggesting this is not a perfect season,  though one would not go so far as to say there is a touch of leaf (unless you were an Australian),  but there is some white pepper,  and the cassis is not quite rich enough.  But the bouquet is fabulous,  making this a great demonstration wine for syrah character not marred by excess oak.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/10

2006  Sacred Hill Syrah Deerstalkers   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $ –    [ screwcap;  up to 18 months in French oak,  some new;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  a little richer than the 2005 village Guigal Hermitage.  Comparing the bouquets,  the Deerstalkers is a little oakier and a little older than that wine,  with more blueberry.  These qualities follow through on the palate,  with attractive berry weight and a suggestion of black pepper,  but it is all oakier than the 2008 Deerstalkers.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 10/10

2007  Yves Cuilleron Cornas les Vires   17 ½ +  ()
Cornas,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $133   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  between the St Joseph and the Cote Rotie in depth.  Bouquet is a little different to other two top Cuilleron wines,  in that the carnations and wallflower florals are complexed by a hint of meat extract aroma,  which is attractive at this level.  Palate is sturdier than the Cote Rotie,  a suggestion of mixed ripeness now,  some white pepper creeping into quite rich cassis and dark plum,  some new oak.  A wine that earns the Cornas reputation of tending 'rustic'.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 06/10

2008  Domaine Fondreche Cotes du Ventoux Persia   17 ½  ()
Cotes du Ventoux AOC,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $33   [ cork;  Sy 90%,  Mv 10;  extended cuvaisons up to 4 weeks,  lees maturation 12 months in small oak;  designed to be the top wine of the property;  proprietor qualified in oenology;  www.fondreche.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the deeper wines,  a superb colour.  This wine shows a great volume of bouquet,  in a clearly modern oak-influenced style,  but also with a little brett to tie in with tradition.  Bouquet is darkest bottled plums and dark high-cocoa chocolate,  as well as oak aromatics.  Palate brings up the floral beauty and fragrance of syrah,  quite surprisingly so considering the initial bouquet impressions.  There is good fruit weight,  and despite the trace brett,  this should cellar very happily indeed for 5 – 15 years.  So many high-syrah Cotes du Rhone wines are blackberry-plain,  but this is more appealing.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/10

2006  Guigal Cote Rotie Brune & Blonde   17 +  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $103   [ cork;  Sy 96%,  Vi 4;  36 months in French oak,  60% new;  www.guigal.com ]
Medium ruby,  markedly the lightest of the northern Rhone syrahs so far in the ranking,  more on a par with the Gigondas.  Bouquet is both pretty and clearly wallflower-perfumed,  with a red fruits component which in a blind tasting could be confused with fine grenache.  Palate this year distinctly lacks concentration,  and is pro rata lightly oaked,  the whole wine bridging the gap to pinot noir remarkably closely.  It seems distinctly delicate alongside even the village Gigondas.  But what is there is pleasing and nearly pure in mouth,  and very easy to drink.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 10/10

2007  Domaine Les Aphillanthes Cotes du Rhone-Villages le Cros   17 +  ()
Cotes du Rhone-Villages AOC,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $36   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  12 months in barriques;  no website ]
Ruby and velvet,  a little carmine.  What a mixed message this wine conveys on bouquet,  with the fragrance of seemingly 'Spanish' oak implying American,  on fragrant almost cassisy and dark plum syrah very much in the background – very modern.  Palate is soft,  rich,  dry and oaky,  still all surprisingly youthful.  There must be American oak in this modern winestyle (though it seems unlikely),  it seems excessive now,  but given the richness it should marry up well in cellar over 5 – 15 years.  An intriguing wine,  which the American Robert Parker rates highly – 90 points,  though not all his descriptors click with me.  GK 07/10

2007  Delas Hermitage Marquise de la Tourette   16 ½ +  ()
Hermitage AOC,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $76   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  www.delas.com ]
Ruby.  Freshly opened,  the wine is much too oaky for syrah to reveal its beauty.  Decanting it a couple of times softens and freshens the wine,  by taking the edge off the oak.  There is then clear cherry and cassis syrah fruit,  and whereas initially there was no hint of varietal florals,  now there is just a suggestion of rose aroma in the oak aromatics.  Palate is fresh,  lean like a lesser Medoc,  but long and fragrant on the tongue,  even some black peppercorn later.  On the night I criticised this wine,  but on reflection I suspect,  given time,  it will marry up into a fragrant but lean and acid young syrah.  It is a pity that Delas are pandering to the new-world obsession with new oak.  Cellar 3 – 10 years,  in its small-scale and oaky style.  GK 07/10

2006  Guigal St Joseph   16 ½  ()
St Joseph,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $52   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  c.16 months in older French oak;  www.guigal.com ]
Medium ruby.  Bouquet on this syrah is interesting,  overlapping with both some New Zealand renderings of the grape in its white pepper and slight rustic complexities,  and also with some lighter Great Western district shirazes.  Palate is not as perfectly ripe as the more highly ranked Guigals,  but it would be harsh to use the word stalky.  It is a lighter but fragrant example of the grape,  with the white pepper of imperfect ripeness.  Cellar 3 – 12 years.  GK 10/10

2007  René Rostaing Cote Rotie La Landonne   16 ½  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $260   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  no website ]
Ruby,  a good pinot noir weight.  Once well breathed,  bouquet immediately stands apart from the precision of the top syrahs,  an old cooperage / potentially varnishy note being apparent on lightly floral (wallflower) and cassisy fruit.  In mouth the impression is not quite so good,  a thought of canned peas until the wine is well aerated,  some cassis,  white and black pepper,  and Cote Rotie softness.  A less desirable jonquils / paper-whites note through bouquet and leading to leafyness on the palate bespeaks imperfect ripeness.  This is the only Rostaing achieving a reasonable technical level,  and which might win a modest medal in an Australasian wine judging.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/10

2006  Guigal Crozes-Hermitage   16  ()
Crozes-Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $42   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  18 months in older French oak;  www.guigal.com ]
Ruby,  deeper than the St Joseph.  Initially opened,  this is clearly lesser,  with rustic notes which when teased out include some reduction,  some brett,  and some stalks.  It responds well to vigorous jug to jug decanting.  Thus aerated,  fruit richness is reasonable,  the ripeness level is white pepper and cassis (just),  and the oaking is all old.  This is modestly representative commercial Crozes-Hermitage,  and therefore tending expensive.  Score is aerated.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 10/10

2007  Delas Cote Rotie Seigneur de Maugiron   16  ()
Cote Rotie AOC,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $93   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  www.delas.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  both deeper and older than the Hermitage.  Initially poured,  this wine is simply ugly,  an unfortunate crucifying of the beauty of syrah,  and the tradition of Cote Rotie,  on the altar of the new world obsession with new oak.  The defining florality of true syrah is completely lost,  and indeed the specifics of berry fruit character are hard to make out too.  It is best vigorously decanted several times,  and left for a few hours to breathe,  so that some of the aggression of pure oak dissipates.  Gradually some cassisy fruit appears,  in a wine of greater ripeness and concentration than the Hermitage,  though the acid is noticeable here too,  and is aggravated by the oak.  When I reflect on the attractively varietal medium-weight berry-dominant wines from this house in the 1980s,  and notably the 1985,  which is still a lovely old wine today,  it is sad to find the company has gone backwards in the meantime,  despite new ownership.  Cellar 5 – 12 years, in its oaky modern style.  GK 07/10

2007  Yves Cuilleron St Joseph L'Amarybelle   15 ½ +  ()
St-Joseph,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $68   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  close to the Cornas in weight.  Bouquet here is much less ripe than the wines rated more highly,  even though the volume of bouquet is considerable.  The mix of paper-whites and carnations is analogous to the leafy florality of under-ripe pinot noir.  Palate is clean and pure,  but leafy going on stalky,  which interacts negatively with the oak to make the wine austere,  though still highly varietal at its point of ripeness.  A cautionary lesson for New Zealand,  in this wine.  Cellar 3 – 8 years,  in its style,  if desired.  GK 06/10

2008  Delas Cotes du Rhone St Esprit   15 ½  ()
Cotes du Rhone AOC,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $20   [ cork;  Sy 85%,  Gr 15;  30% sees old oak;  www.delas.com ]
Fresh ruby.  Initially opened,  the wine is closed,  hard,  tending reductive and disappointing.  Poured from jug to jug ten times,  the transformation is astonishing.  A fragrant simple clean modern Cote du Rhone emerges,  with red plum and raspberry fruit as if grenache dominated (not so),  and some darker cassis below,  with a hint of stalk.  Palate is fresh,  aromatic,  a bit acid and skinny,  but what is there is pure and austerely plummy.  Pity it wasn't tidied up more before bottling,  for when did you last see a person aerating a wine in a restaurant ?  Cellar 3 – 8 years max.  GK 07/10

2006  René Rostaing Cote Rotie La Landonne   15  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $214   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  no website ]
Older ruby.  Bouquet is 1950s grubby,  some oxidation,  really quite plain.  Flavour has an edge of beef extract on recognisable syrah,  some oxidised cassis and black and white pepper,  not exactly brett maybe,  but the whole wine degraded by unclean old oak.  Plain old wine,  which won't improve in cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 06/10

2007  Delas Crozes-Hermitage les Launes   15  ()
Crozes-Hermitage AOC,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $31   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  www.delas.com ]
Ruby,  old for age.  Bouquet is classical old-fashioned Crozes-Hermitage,  slightly reductive,  clearly under-ripe,  frankly commercial.  The dominant aroma is a fragrant leafy scarcely red berry note,  but there is pale cassis and white pepper below.  Total acid on palate is high,  the fruit is leafy grading to stalky and greatly under-ripe, and the wine is a bit dilute as well.  It is perfectly wholesome as QDR,  and will cellar 3 – 6 years if required.  But this too is disappointing wine,  from a northern Rhone vintage that was not too difficult.  GK 07/10

2006  René Rostaing Cote Rotie Cote Blonde   14 ½  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $260   [ cork;  Sy >90%,  5 – 8% Vi;  no website ]
Mature ruby,  big pinot noir in weight.  Bouquet is first and foremost oxidised,  the kind of smell associated with knapping terracotta bricks,  on (vaguely) old bottled red plums.  There is no suggestion of varietal freshness.  Palate is hard,  short and tired,  with phenolics apparent from the oxidation of the original fruit,  a touch of saline.  Again,  maybe not exactly brett,  but as with La Landonne,  a wine degraded by its cooperage.  This too won't improve in cellar,  3 – 8 years.  GK 06/10

2009  Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone   14 ½  ()
Cotes du Rhone AOC,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $20   [ cork;  Sy 100%,  matured in concrete vat;  www.saintcosme.com/en/wines.php ]
Ruby,  some velvet.  Initially opened, this wine is rubbery and reductive,  and it doesn't respond too well to aeration.  This is the ugly side of syrah,  for the variety is prone to reduction in elevation:  being alert to that is the key factor in locating wonderful Cotes du Rhone,  as opposed to disappointing ones.  In mouth the rubbery plain blackberry fruit has an almost sour note from the entrained sulphide,  even though ripeness is good.  Considering Cotes du Rhone over the years,  virtually every producer misses the boat now and then,  invariably on reduction.  If you are switched-on to sulphur issues in wine,  there is little choice but to taste them,  and buy accordingly,  if the at best wonderfully sunny and affordable Southern Rhone reds appeal as house wines.  Gleaning info elsewhere is hard,  since so many New Zealand winewriters are varyingly unaware of the negative side of sulphides � and we do not have this alone,  indeed it seemed almost the entire British wine trade was blind to sulphide till recently.  This one will not recover much,  and is not worth cellaring.  GK 07/10

2007  René Rostaing Cote Rotie Cote Blonde   14  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $260   [ cork;  Sy >90%,  5 – 8% Vi;  no website ]
Ruby,  more a big pinot noir colour.  Bouquet is simple,  oxidised,  and shows mixed ripeness characters ranging from stalks to prunes.  A vaguely nasturtium aroma could suggest the floral component of seriously under-ripe syrah.  Palate is extraordinarily stalky and short in fruit,  though the oak is cleaner than the two 2006s.  There are good Rostaing bottlings,  but they are rare.  They should never be bought for cellaring,  without careful prior tasting of a sample bottle.  Three of these four wines are travesties of their appellation.  As one experienced Wellington wine man put it,  at the tasting:  Given their unpredictable elevage,  any Rostaing bottle is a lottery.  It is extraordinary how British winewriters do not report on them accurately,  and no doubt correlated,  even more extraordinary the piffle which UK wine-merchants write about this frustrating producer,  who is not optimising the fine sites available to him.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 06/10

Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre & related blends
2006  Guigal Gigondas   18  ()
Gigondas,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $49   [ cork;  Gr 50%,  Sy 25,  Mv 25;  24 months in French oak,  50% new;  www.guigal.com ]
Medium ruby,  fresher than the Cotes-du-Rhone.  One sniff,  and here is enchantment.  This is more how the Cotes-du-Rhone smelt in the 1980s,  grenache dominant,  spiced by syrah and mourvedre.  Bouquet is red grading to black fruits,  clear aromatic zing,  a touch of nutmeg,  delightful.  Palate is soft and round yet exciting,  with great vinosity.  It is conceivable there is trace brett,  but at this level it is good.  If you like pinot noir,  but want more spice and zip,  try this.  Cellar 5 – 20 years,  if my still lovely 1985 wine is any guide.  GK 10/10

2007  Domaine Vindemio Cotes du Ventoux Regain   17 ½ +  ()
Cotes du Ventoux AOC,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $20   [ cork;  Gr 60%,  Sy 40;  said to be no oak use at all;  the website is nominal,  as yet;  proprietor trained as a pharmacist;  www.vindemio.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the deepest wine of the tasting.  Bouquet is in the same massive but not ponderous style of Vindemio's Imagine,  just a little quieter and less aromatic,  little or no taste evidence of oak.  Palate is enormously plummy,  rich and deep,  sur-maturité again,  not dull,  with great concentration of fruit and grape skins.  How such colour is achieved with 60% thin-skinned grenache is a mystery,  but this wine too will fine down in cellar.  Unlike the conventional wisdom from North America,  wines like this when well-constituted can cellar happily for up to 20 years.  Unusually dark for a Cotes du Ventoux,  but attractive wine.  Remarkable VALUE.  GK 07/10

2007  Domaine Les Aphillanthes Cairanne Ancestrale   17 ½  ()
Cotes du Rhone-Villages Cairanne AOC,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $36   [ cork;  Gr 90%,  Mv 10,  from 100-year vines;  35 days cuvaison (more classical than contemporary);  50% aged in old oak for 12 months;  no website ]
Ruby.  The two Aphillanthes wines (shown in Wellington) form an intriguing pair,  this one being distinctly traditional.  Bouquet is a little different in the blind tasting,  having a clear almond note in red plums,  a  suggestion of raspberry,  and light cinnamon – so it would almost have to be high-grenache.  Palate is richer than the bouquet suggests,  and the quality of the berry is delightful,  the mourvedre adding darker plum notes to the rich red fruit of the grenache.  Fruit richness is so good the finish seems nearly sweet.  The traditional style extends to old oak only,  maybe a touch of brett,  all very attractive.  It will cellar much better than one supposes,  5 – 20 years,  conventional wisdom notwithstanding.  Great the wines from this appealingly-named domaine,  about which one has read so often,  have now reached New Zealand.  GK 07/10

2007  Domaine Vindemio Cotes du Ventoux Imagine   17 ½  ()
Cotes du Ventoux AOC,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $26   [ cork;  Sy 50%,  Gr 50;  proprietor trained as a pharmacist;  said to be no oak use at all;  the website is nominal,  as yet;  www.vindemio.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the two deepest in the set.  Bouquet is soft,  lightly fragrant and deeply Cotes du Rhone / Chateauneuf-du-Pape in style,  but tending modern,  with suggestions of chocolate.  Palate is furry on grape tannins,  the chocolatey character may come from sur-maturité more than oak,  and the whole wine is faintly estery.  It needs two years to settle down,  develop some bouquet,  and drop a little tannin.  Wonderfully rich,  a lot of wine for the price,  showing more evidence of oak (these notes attempt to convey the taste,  note the admin section) than Regain.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/10

2008  Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone les Deux Albion   17 +  ()
Cotes du Rhone AOC,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $27   [ cork;  cepage along the lines of Sy 40%,  Gr 30,  Mv 10,  Ca 10,  clairette (white) 10%,  the Sy and clairette co-fermented,  the other three fermented separately;  note that from the 2007 vintage this wine (which is frequently Louis Barruol's best-value wine) has been from a single vineyard,  now owned by Saint Cosme,  and is therefore an Estate wine;  up to 70% of the wine is aged in 1 – 4 years-old barrels,  accounting for much of its charm,  and freedom from concrete-related faults;  www.saintcosme.com/en/wines.php ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  not as deep as some earlier years.  This is the first in the ranking to be reasonably 'mainstream' Cotes du Rhone,  being medium in colour,  and wonderfully grapey / winey / aromatic on bouquet.  Palate is more typical too,  not the sur-maturité and saturation of the higher-ranked wines,  instead intensely aromatic and grapey,  the grapes picked a little less ripe,  the slightest hint of stalks in cassis,  plum and cinnamon fruit.  It is not as rich as some Albions have been,  but it is also considerably more fragrant than some.  It seems fractionally richer than the same maker's Gigondas.  Cellar 3 – 12 years.  GK 07/10

2008  Saint Cosme Gigondas Tradition   17  ()
Gigondas AOC,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $43   [ cork;  Gr 62%,  Sy 20;  Mv 17,  Ci 1;  in a normal year,  up to 70% of the wine is aged in 1 – 4 years-old barrels,  but note there is no Valbelle in 2008,  so that fraction is all in this label,  presumably introducing more new oak than usual;  www.saintcosme.com/en/wines.php ]
Lightish ruby,  pinot noir weight,  a little age suggested.  Bouquet is more traditional on this wine,  more where Guigal was in the 1980s for Gigondas (in the best sense).  There is lovely warm cinnamon spice of grenache red fruits,  yet some omega plum depths too.  Palate is clearly spicy on the cinnamon and oak,  somewhat more fruit than the colour suggests,  no sign of age in the flavour,  but not a big wine,  not perfectly ripe maybe,  reflecting the lesser year.  These blends cellar deceptively well,  even so,  3 – 10 years,  maybe more.  GK 07/10

2009  Domaine l'Ameillaud Vaucluse Vin de Pays   16 ½ +  ()
Vaucluse AOC,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $15   [ cork;  Gr 60%,  Sy 20, Ca 20,  from 30-year-old vines east of Cairanne;  all de-stemmed;  said to be all raised in concrete vats;  www.domaine-ameillaud.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a deep rich colour.  An opportunity for wine education here,  since this one is tending a bit estery / oxidised / volatile,  so it can be compared and contrasted with the similarly priced O'Sud,  which is tending reductive.  One can then decide which 'fault' and which winestyle one prefers.  My preference is for the tending volatile one,  for such wines smell sweeter and more fragrantly of the berries,  and if the VA is only trace,  the palate is softer.  Many people actually like slightly volatile wines,  without recognising them,  in much the same way as they prefer overly oaky ones,  because they are more accessible and obvious.  Both bouquet and palate on this wine show clear blackberry syrah,  with some lift from spicy grenache,  though not as obviously as the O'Sud.  At the price,  this is a lot of berry fruit and flavour,  and it will be good with food.  You cannot tell there is no oak,  so much so that the question arises whether there may be some big old oak vats.  Cellar 3 – 8 years only,  probably,  as the 20% carignan component will age the wine prematurely.  GK 07/10

2009  Domaine Fondreche Cotes du Ventoux O'Sud   16 ½  ()
Cotes du Ventoux AOC,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $16   [ cork;  Sy 50%,  Gr 50;  not on website;  www.fondreche.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a great colour.  Initially opened the wine is a little closed – it benefits from a good splashy pouring from jug to jug ten times.  Palate continues a bit hard,  the blackberry side of warmer-climate syrah dominating,  but rich fruit of good length,  with some grenache spice appearing with air.  In the old days,  this was the kind of wine you put a copper coin in,  swirled that a couple of times,  and removed it.  Entrained sulphide is the key thing to look out for in cheaper Rhone valley syrahs,  when deciding whether to buy a case or two as  house wine.  Cellar 5 – 10 years,  if prepared to ventilate.  GK 07/10

2006  Guigal Cotes-du-Rhone Rouge   15 ½ +  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $27   [ cork;  Sy 50%,  Gr 40,  Mv 10;  one year old wood;  www.guigal.com ]
Medium ruby.  This year's Cotes-du-Rhone from Guigal is not the success the current whites are.  Bouquet has too much of the rusticity of certain Chilean syrahs,  with clear brett on grubby / leathery fruit,  these characters much more apparent than the 2005 – which was marginal.  Palate shows a good quantity of fruit,  but tending feral flavours.  In my view the quality of this wine has decreased with every upward movement in the syrah percentage,  which presumably comes from all over the appellation.  It is but a pale shadow (figurative,  it is darker in colour) of the quality the same label showed in the 1980s,  though now a volumetrically substantial shadow at 250,000 cases per annum.  More QDR than cellar wine now,  but will hold 3 – 8 years.  GK 10/10

2008  Delas Cotes du Ventoux   15 ½ +  ()
Cotes du Ventoux AOC,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $16   [ cork;  Gr c.80%,  Sy,  Ca;  www.delas.com ]
Pinot noir ruby,  clearly the lightest of the wines.  Bouquet is light and clean and fresh,  with explicit raspberry and cinnamon varietal grenache fruit,  but all a bit weak.  Palate confirms that impression,  a distinct lack of fruit for a Southern Rhone wine,  a suggestion of stalkyness too,  but such fruit as is there is clean.  You can't help thinking that most people would prefer a slightly grubbier but richer wine such as the similarly priced O'Sud from the same district,  which better exemplifies a more traditional Southern Rhone approach.  Cellar 2 – 5 years maybe.  GK 07/10

2009  Domaine l'Ameillaud Cairanne Cotes du Rhone-Villages   15 ½  ()
Cotes du Rhone-Villages Cairanne AOC,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $23   [ cork;  Gr 65%,  Sy 25,  Ca 10,  all de-stemmed;  elevage in concrete vats supplemented by barrels,  a few new;  www.domaine-ameillaud.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  These Cotes du Rhone cheapies really are all over the show.  This is one of the slightly volatile ones,  the bouquet having much the same aroma as a jar of insufficiently processed bottled plums where the lid hasn't quite sealed,  and a couple of months later,  there is that edgy smell of slightly fermenting fruit.  But it is perfectly wholesome,  and if the smell and taste of quite rich plums appeals,  without much complexity beyond stewed fruit,  then this should do well enough.  Cellar 3 – 8 years,  perhaps to marry up pleasantly.  GK 07/10

2009  Domaine Fondreche Vaucluse Nature Vin de Pays   12  (-)
Vaucluse Vin de Pays AOC,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $20   [ cork;  Mv 50%,  Sy 30,  Gr 20;  made without sulphur;  6 months on lees in s/s;  www.fondreche.com ]
Rich ruby,  carmine and velvet,  tending lurid – always a worrying sign.  And yes,  indeed,  the wine is reduced to the point of being ponderous and dull,  not appealing at all.  Initial palate is heavily stewed plums,  a little almond,  but within 30 seconds,  the feature the owner makes so much out of,  no sulphur,  becomes a major liability.  There is already quite marked evidence of spoilage yeast infection,  and if the wine has not been sterile-filtered to bottle,  this will rapidly worsen in cellar,  to develop the famous 'mousey' aftertaste.  Not everyone is sensitive to this chemical,  so if you like it,  it is perfectly wholesome.  But don't cellar it.  Hard to get good examples of this wine-fault,  nowadays !  GK 07/10