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

For several years now,  it has been a pleasure (and privilege) to be invited to give an annual 'illustrated' seminar and tasting to the Oenology and Viticulture group at Lincoln University.  The course is popular,  with this year over 50 enrolled.  My themes alternate:  Bordeaux grapes and wine styles relevant to New Zealand,  one year,  and the other Northern Rhone grapes and wine styles,  likewise.  This year was the Northern Rhone's turn.  The annual Hawkes Bay Hot Red Expo provides a near-ideal resource to review and identify candidate wines for this tasting.

The whole exercise provides a great opportunity to present a structured tasting illustrating not only the essence of the grapes themselves,  but also to try to touch on facets of the New Zealand approach to wine where we are sometimes resistant to change,  or reluctant to discriminate between adequate and good.  Appropriate ripeness in grapes,  absence of reduction in wines,  and exploring alternative strategies for elevation of the wine,  are examples.  

In such a seminar,  one paramount goal is to encourage and facilitate audience participation,  as well as critical engagement with the wines.  Thus some of the wines are presented as exemplars,  to illustrate defined attributes of the grape made clear in talking,  plus this year projection of a ripening curve for syrah,  also supplied as a handout.  Other wines,  which offer a more vital difference between themselves,  are presented semi-blind.  During and following tasting,  participants were asked (in for example,  the viogniers) to decide and indicate by hand,  which of the three wines shows:
#  highest apparent acid.
#  greatest citrus blossom character on bouquet
#  greatest Central Otago apricot character on palate
#  greatest richness / body irrespective of flavour,  on palate.

Such deceptively simple questions can work well in focussing attention on sensory appraisal.  I put the questions up on the whiteboard,  draw a grid,  and mark up the results as we go.  It is fair to say that some students find this approach discomforting.  Some are simply not used to smelling things carefully,  and filing this sensory impression away.  

One does not need to read much about French winemaking,  to know the more gifted winemakers constantly use floral descriptors.  Happily,  the Lincoln University tasting laboratory has an attractive garden around the building.  The plantings include a spectacular Viburnum X burkwoodii,  always beautifully in flower at the time of my spring lecture.  It is a worry to me that fewer than 15% or so of the group had paused to smell and soak up that wonderful floral aroma.  So we talk about the need for sensitive winemakers to be switched-on to all the smells of nature.  And go on to talk of roses and violets,  and cassis and blueberries ...

The Wines:  In all,  ten wines were shown to the group:

2012  Pask Viognier Gimblett Road
2011  Villa Maria Viognier Cellar Selection
     nv  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu La Petite Cote

2012  Coopers Creek Syrah [ wave label ]
2010  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol
2010  Penfolds Shiraz Coonawarra Bin 128
2011  Trinity Hill Syrah [ white label ]
  2009  Vidal Syrah Legacy Series
2010  Yves Cuilleron Cote Rotie Bassenon
2010  Yves Cuilleron Saint-Joseph Les Serines

Viognier:  This year,  it would be hard to imagine three white wines better illuminating the concepts of varietal quality and appropriate ripeness,  and simple vs complex winemaking.  They were shown in this order:  

2012  Pask Viognier Gimblett Road   14  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12%;  $23   [ screwcap;  some of the wine barrel-fermented in old oak,  some lees autolysis;  RS <1 g/L;  www.pask.co.nz ]
Pale lemon green.  Initial bouquet was lacking,  scarcely a hint of the variety,  and further diminished by trace reduction.  With swirling and air,  faintest pale citrus emerges.  In mouth,  the wine is a shock,  high total acid,  austere green stonefruit flavours at best,  the faintest taste of oak if you hunt for it,  the whole wine sour and short.  In this sense,  the goal was to illustrate that achieving viognier varietal character is critically dependent on appropriate ripeness.  In this difficult vintage,  a year totally unsuited to viognier,  this wine communicated well.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 09/13

2011  Villa Maria Viognier Cellar Selection   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $24   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested @ 1.5 – 2 t/ac,  100% de-stemmed,  up to 6 hours cold-soak,  80% barrel-fermented in French oak 25% new,  40% of the total wine through MLF,  10 months LA and occasional batonnage;  RS 1.8 g/L;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Lemon.  Bouquet is simply beautiful,  showing wonderful citrus and mock orange blossom aromas swirling from the glass,  on an underpinning of yellow-ripe apricots and other stonefruits.  This really demonstrates viognier.  In mouth the richness is attractive but not compelling compared with the same firm's Reserve bottling,  clearly yellow (though slightly austere) apricot flavours,  the nett impression augmented by skilful palate enhancement via lees-autolysis and partial MLF-fermentation.  This Villa Maria wine is dramatically more varietal but slightly less rich than the same-year Domaine J M Gerin Condrieu La Loye ($80),  currently on Maison Vauron's books.  It highlighted just how great the potential for viognier is in New Zealand,  if our people would take the grape and winestyle seriously,  taste good examples regularly,  and stop growing the grape in places totally unsuited to it.  Villa Maria have shown themselves to be the most skilful and enterprising viognier-makers in New Zealand,  aided by a more reliable climate in their Gimblett Gravels vineyards than Passage Rock enjoy on Waiheke Island.  Villa's wines have had an edge and depth of character and consistency which is impressive,  relative to longer-standing players such as Te Mata,  or Church Road latterly.  Because of its acid balance and subtle MLF flavours (and I am guessing,  the more familiar New Zealand style of the wine),  this was seen by the group as the best viognier,  on the day.  Fully mature,  hold a year or two only.  GK 09/13

nv  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu La Petite Cote   18  ()
Condrieu,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $92   [ cork;  the wine shown a 50/50 blend of the 2009 and 2011 vintages;  hand-picked from sites above Chavanay,  all BF on low-solids in older oak 2 – 5 years,  100%  MLF plus LA,  batonnage and 9 months in barrel;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Lemonstraw.  Bouquet on this wine is much deeper,  and in the context of these wines illustrating a ripening gradient through to orange-ripe apricots,  it spoke eloquently.  Since for this tasting the presentation of tasting concepts was more important than vintage veracity,  the wine shown was in fact a 50 / 50 blend of the 2009 (much riper) and 2011 (standard) vintages.  The latter introduced some citrus blossom notes,  and relative freshness,  thus bridging the wine wonderfully to the Villa Maria.  Palate however with its sensational ripe apricot flavours was a complete contrast to the Villa Maria,  the 100% malo producing a broader and softer palate than the Villa,  even though the orange apricot – even dried apricot – qualities persisted very well indeed.  The wine communicated well,  but was less well liked,  though some allowance must be made for unfamiliarity.  All good food for thought (and discussion),  on the winemaking side.  [ The 2009 is already fully to slightly over-mature but more dramatically and varietally flavoursome,  the 2011 lighter and fresher,  and can be held a year or two ].  GK 09/13

Syrah:  Once the whites were completed,  we talked about syrah the grape in terms of my Syrah Ripening Curve (as detailed in The World of Fine Wine,  Issue 34,  pp.130 –  137,  London,  2011).  I used two French syrahs from the exemplary 2010 vintage,  to better illustrate perfect grape ripeness without the complications of as much oak as the new world prefers.  One of the French wines showed a little clean (i.e. just H2S) reduction on initial opening,  so this was given my standard aeration treatment (pouring from jug to jug,  splashily ...).  Additionally in tutored tastings like this,  it is well worthwhile to assemble all bottles of cork-sealed wines into one master blend,  to preclude the possibility of distraction by 'clever' tasters seeking to establish there is bottle variation.

The two wines communicated well,  the Saint-Joseph cleaning up completely and showing perfect ripeness,  real cassis,  ripe black pepper,  and great balance as a young wine.  The Cote Rotie added to these the florality,  softness and suppleness achieved by co-fermenting 10% viognier,  thus taking that syrah a step closer to a strong pinot noir winestyle.

2010  Yves Cuilleron Saint-Joseph Les Serines   18  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $92   [ cork;  Sy 100%  hand-picked from vines planted at c.9,000 vines / ha on granitic soils;  some whole-bunch,  cuvaison c.21 days;  MLF and c.18 months in barrel;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  good depth.  Bouquet shows pure syrah ripened to the cassis point of physiological maturity,  some dusky florals reminiscent of violets,  some black pepper,  a hint of riper fruit such as bottled black doris plums.  Oak is near-invisible on bouquet,  but a few tasters noted subtle brett.  Palate simply crystallises the bouquet,  the wine showing admirable concentration and length in mouth,  a trace of new oak appearing on the later palate,  dry finish.  Brett at this level poses no hazard to the future of the wine,  which will cellar well,  5 – 15 years.  Note however that this is the wine which in youth needs ventilating,  to give of its best.  GK 09/13

2010  Yves Cuilleron Cote Rotie Bassenon   18  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $115   [ 55 mm cork;  Sy 90,  Vi 10,  hand-picked @ c.5.3 t/ha (2.1 t/ac) from vines planted at 9,000 vines / ha,  on mixed granite and gneiss soils;  some whole-bunch,  cuvaison c.21 days;  MLF and c.18 months in barrel;  700 cases;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  appreciably lighter than the Saint-Joseph.  Right from opening,  this wine is wonderfully floral on bouquet,  dark roses,  suggestions of wallflowers,  plus a softness and charm not apparent in the sterner Saint-Joseph.  Palate is pro-rata softer too.  Again the cassis aroma is reference quality for syrah ripeness,  but the florality extends right into the palate,  along with pepper in which there is a touch of white.  The whole ripeness level of the grapes in this wine is fractionally cooler than the Saint-Joseph.  Again sensitive tasters noted academic brett,  but at this level it is positive complexity.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 09/13

The balance of the tasting comprised five wines designed to consolidate the lecture and illustrate components mentioned during the session,  plus the handout detailing the ripening curve.  They were presented in the order below.  For the five wines,  six questions were asked / up on the board,  for tasters to think about:
#  your favourite wine
#  the over-ripe wine,  if a syrah winestyle is the goal
#  the under-ripe syrah
#  the reductive wine
#  the over-oaked wine
#  the best-balanced wine as syrah (oak,  ripeness,  acid balance,  etc).

As with the whites,  the pattern of answers did not accord exactly with the questioner's goals (prejudices ...),  and in no instance did the number of answers add up the number of participants,  so they did not find it easy.  Nonetheless,  the approach did promote participation,  and it was a thrill to see the under-ripe,  over-ripe,  and reductive wines achieving clear recognition.  The seminar concludes with a little discussion of the qualities needed in wine for them to cellar well,  using the wines before the tasters to illustrate details such as balance and richness.

2012  Coopers Creek Syrah [ wave label ]   16  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $22   [ screwcap;  no info on website;  small % Vi;  some oak;  RS c.3 g/L;  www.cooperscreek.co.nz ]
Surprisingly good ruby,  some fresh carmine and velvet,  for the year.  Bouquet shows red fruits and almost cassis,  clear white pepper rather than black,  all fresh and fragrant as a cooler-year example of syrah.  Palate confirms the coolness,  higher total acid,  short red berry flavours,  the acid neatly masked by the residual.  Aftertaste is clearly stalky,  but it is a good achievement for the year.  Some of the marginal zones adjoining Cote Rotie etc are akin to this wine in style,  though dry.  The components here achieved good recognition.  Cellar 2 – 6 years.  GK 09/13

2010  Penfolds Shiraz Coonawarra Bin 128   17  ()
Coonawarra,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $31   [ screwcap;  12 months in French hogsheads 32% new;  www.penfolds.com ]
[ Firstly,  the confusion.  It seems to me highly probable that there has been a bottling / labelling foul-up for the 2010 Bins 128 and 28 at Penfolds.  In every respect,  the wine labelled Bin 128 shows the usual colours,  smells,  and tastes of the warmer-climate older-oak Bin 28,  though better than the recent average.  The wine on sale as Bin 28 illustrates even more perfectly the darker,  more aromatic,  subtler Coonawarra wine,  with new French oak.  My experience with both labels goes back to the 1969 vintage.]
Ruby and velvet.  Bouquet is clean fresh juicy blackberry grading to boysenberry,  clearly ripe and well past the cassis / syrah point of physiological maturity.  Even so,  if it is Bin 28 mislabelled,  it is the freshest in years.  Palate shows exact boysenberry varietal character,  fitting the ripening curve perfectly as over-ripened syrah.  This wine achieved by far the highest recognition,  for the questions on the board.  Oak is subtle and the wine is not euc'y,  though there is a hint of saline.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 09/13

2011  Trinity Hill Syrah [ white label ]   16  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $22   [ screwcap;  Sy 96%,  Vi 4,  hand-harvested;  mostly Gimblett Gravels,  destemmed;  limited exposure to older French and American oak;  RS 2.4 g/L;  www.trinityhill.co.nz ]
Older ruby.  Bouquet is muted by light H2S,  cutting out any floral or precise varietal characters on bouquet.  There is however pleasant light plummy fruit,  and the reduction is easily dissipated by swirling.  In mouth the wine shows more signs of oak elevation than the Coopers,  at a similar price-point.  Because the French demonstration wines were so beautifully floral / varietally complex,  tasters picked up the muted character in this wine,  with fair recognition of the reduction question as asked (even though the reduction is not severe).  Needless to say I did not ventilate the wine before presentation.  Cellar 2 – 7 years.  GK 09/13

2010  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol   19 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.7%;  $105   [ 51mm cork;  Sy 100%,  hand-harvested @ 5.4 t/ha (2.2 t/ac);  100%  de-stemmed;  no cold-soak,  inoculated, total cuvaison 20 days;  MLF and 17 months in French oak 38%  new,  no American oak;  RS < 1 g/L;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the deepest and finest colour in the set.  I have written about this wine before.  Revisiting it,  it seems to me one of the greatest red wines made so far in New Zealand.  The depth of precise cassis-laden and deeply floral berry is magic,  the richness in mouth is thrilling,  comparable with fine Hermitage,  and the oak is relatively restrained.  It is wonderfully varietal.  In the tasting,  the wine did not appeal to the group as unequivocally as I hoped.  I interpret this as the subconscious predilection New Zealanders have for more oak in their reds than Europe (in general) considers necessary or desirable.  Accordingly,  this wine shared line honours with the Vidal Legacy,  which I had placed last in the sequence,  so its greater apparent oak would not carry over into Le Sol (had it been last).  Also,  in tastings like this,  there is a subconscious tendency for tasters to assume the last wine will be the best wine.  This 2010 Le Sol will give immense pleasure for many years,  and cellar for 10 – 20,  maybe 25 years.  Buy as much as you can afford.  GK 09/13

2009  Vidal Syrah Legacy Series   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $70   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  hand-harvested,  all de-stemmed;  cold soak,  cuvaison up to 25 days;  MLF and c.20 months in French oak 33% new;  RS nil;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the second deepest colour,  scarcely less rich or less fresh than the Le Sol,  remarkable.  First impressions are cedar and vanillin,  rather more than cassis as in Le Sol,  so I hoped that would be recognised as a greater ratio of oak in the wine,  or a less vivid expression of varietal / fruit character.  This was not achieved,  both wines being thought equally oaky.  In mouth,  this Legacy Syrah is rich and long flavoured,  on syrah berry fractionally riper than Le Sol.  This faithfully reflects the two vintages.  It is a lovely wine,  but alongside the leading-edge Le Sol,  it does reflect the greater oak ratio we as a nation are still addicted to.  This too will cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 09/13