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

Jancis Robinson,  2006:  Good Hermitage is always majestic.  Slow to mature, very deep in colour, magnificently and hauntingly savoury rather than sweet and flirtatious, the quintessential Syrah.

This tasting was held in the Lake Dunstan Boat Club's pleasant rooms in Cromwell,  on the shores of the lake,  on Monday 29 Sept. 2014.  My goal in this tasting was to highlight how very beautiful the syrahs of the classical Northern Rhone appellations Cote Rotie,  Hermitage and Cornas can be,  as illustrated through a diversity of producers.  The sub-theme will be that syrah can perhaps be regarded as pinot noir on steroids,  aromatic pinot noir maybe,  and the winestyle in maturity has much in common with fine pinot noir from the Cote de Nuits.  But then,  a claret lover would point out that in the later 1800s,  it was exactly the cassis-like aromatics of perfectly ripe syrah which allowed it to be used to reinforce the great wines of bordeaux:  hence Lafite-Hermitagé.  A sensory dilemma,  but a pleasant one.

Syrah as it ripens displays a consistent sequence of bouquet and flavour characters,  which develop in complexity with increasing ripeness in much the same way pinot noir does.  I published an account of this sequence in The World of Fine Wine,  London,  a couple of years ago,  and will include a photocopy with the notes at the tasting.  And like pinot noir,  with over-ripening there is loss of florality,  beauty and complexity in syrah,  and increase in weight.  It can be argued that for syrah grown in Australia,  in a climate often too hot for the grape to retain these attributes,  they made the mistake of seeking to restore aromatics in the wine via oak.  And like pinot noir,  too much oak obliterates beauty in syrah.  Marketing it as shiraz therefore makes sense,  and helps New Zealand exports too !  Thus we have no Australian wines in the tasting (though occasional syrah-like examples do exist).  I hope the wines will amplify these viewpoints.

The tastings will be presented in a format I have found works,  using smaller samples which both allows more wines to be reviewed,  and reduces the cost.  Please note therefore the pours are only 30ml,  which can easily be consumed before the wine is even tasted.  The logistics of bringing the wines from Wellington are such that I cannot have duplicate bottles for each wine.  For some,  there is not one.  So it will be just like a wine in your cellar:  in paying for the tasting,  participants accept the risk of corked bottles.  I will bring some reserve bottles,  so you will get 12 wines,  but the exact wines listed cannot be guaranteed.  Prices shown below are the current average in New Zealand dollars as recorded by www.wine-searcher.com  Local auction realisations are usually much less.  Tonight's pricing reflects that.

The Tasting:
The introductory notes for the matching pinot noir tasting two days later will suffice for this tasting too.  I will just repeat a couple of important details.  The following notes and rankings reflect my views alone,  not the group's – though some clues as to individual taster appraisals are scattered throughout.  Further,  the descriptors describe the wines at their best,  variously on the night or the next day.

These two tastings came about thanks to the long-standing interest and encouragement of Blair Walter of Felton Road.  Once on the spot,  there seemed no limit to the efforts he made to facilitate my stay in the district as well.  Antony Worch of Alexandra Vintners and Natalie Wilson of Central Otago WineGrowers Association in turn also helped enormously in all the administration and logistics involved in presenting tastings with 250-odd glasses.  Thank you.

Broadbent,  Michael 2003:  Michael Broadbent's Wine Vintages.
Mitchell Beazley,  223 p.
Livingstone-Learmonth,  John 2005:   The Wines of the Northern Rhone.  University of California Press,  720 p.
www.drinkrhone.com  =  John Livingstone-Learmonth
www.erobertparker.com  =  Robert Parker and increasingly the associates
www.jancisrobinson.com  =  Jancis Robinson and associates


1995  Chapoutier Cote Rotie La Mordorée
1985  Domaine A Clape Cornas
2003  Craggy Range Syrah Block 14
1985  Delas Hermitage Cuvée Marquis de Tourette
1985  Guigal Cote Rotie Brune & Blonde
1979  Jaboulet Cote Rotie Les Jumelles
  1979  Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle
1986  Jasmin Cote Rotie
2004  Domaine J L Chave Hermitage
1984  H Sorrell Hermitage Le Greal
1998  Tardieu-Laurent Hermitage
2003  Domaine Yann Chave Hermitage

1995  Chapoutier Cote Rotie La Mordorée   19 +  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.8%;  $218   [ 49mm cork;  a 4 – 5-star vintage in the Northern Rhone,  according to Broadbent,  the wines concentrated with good acid and tannin balance,  90 and tannic for Parker;  Sy 100% from the Cote Brune,  cropped at c.3.2 t/ha (1.3 t/ac);  12 months in barrel 100% new;  Harding in Robinson,  2011:  Deep garnet and touch of mahogany at the core. Strong notes of forest floor but still has sweet cherry fruit, a little cooked. Certain amount of VA. Dry papery tannins, quite austere though fresh on the palate, a little angular but not drying (yet). Tea leaves. Slightly awkward wine,  16;  Parker,  1997:  … The 1995 La Mordoree may turn out to rival the phenomenal 1991. It is the most complex, elegant, and multi-dimensional young Cote Rotie I have tasted from Chapoutier. The awesome aromatics include scents of coffee, black raspberries, vanilla, chocolate, hickory smoke, flowers, and Provencal olives. Super rich, with exceptional delicacy and precision, this wine is less massive than the 1991, but perhaps more compelling because of its extraordinary delicacy. This wine's texture and complexity suggest that Cote Rotie truly is the Musigny of the Rhone Valley,  95;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  glowing,  the third deepest,  some age showing.  This wine has the most beautiful floral components of any of the batch.  The bouquet is sweet,  combining red roses with boronia and lilac in a rich,  velvety almost pinot noir-like way,  but then adding a depth not found in pinot noir.  That depth includes shadows of cassis and sweet cracked black pepper corn,  almost subliminal.  Palate is richly fruity,  cassis and bottled plums again all faintly spiced,  with some oak framing the fruit.  It has reached a perfect peak of maturity,  which it will hold for some years.  An absolutely glorious wine achieving true Cote Rotie florality and burgundian softness,  yet without any viognier.  Remarkable.  Cellar 5 – 12 years,  though the balance is so perfect it will hold longer.  Decant well beforehand.  Top wine for two people.  GK 09/14

2003  Domaine Yann Chave Hermitage   18 ½  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $61   [ 50mm cork;  a ripe and warm year,  96 and ready for Parker;  Sy 100;  90% Beaume vineyard,  10 Peleat;  21 days cuvaison,  16 months in new and 1-year 600-litre barrels;  Parker,  2006:  Closed and backward, the 2003 Hermitage’s saturated ruby/purple hue is followed by a smoky perfume of licorice, white flowers, and creme de cassis. With firm tannin, freshness, medium body, and a spicy finish, it is more tannic and backward than the Tete de Cuvee, with more potential complexity. Give it 2-3 years of cellaring and drink it over the following 15,  90;  www.yannchave.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  the second deepest wine.  Bouquet is rich,  dark and exotic on this wine,  yet within the  bounds of syrah,  not shiraz.  It is wonderfully pure and fragrant,  but not exactly floral – a function of the hot season it seems safe to say.  Instead there is this deep translucent berry and dark fruit aroma,  more aromatic than bottled black doris plums,  more bottled omega.  Additionally there is exotic note to it reminiscent of canned blueberries or even guavas.  In mouth it is velvety rich,  with surprisingly low oak and no new oak apparent at all,  contra the general understanding.  Grape tannins are soft and furry,  and acid balance is slightly on the soft side,  so with the low apparent oak it may not cellar ideally for the longest term.  But though it may lack a little typicité,  it is a gentle giant of a wine,  and surprisingly fresh for its style.  It is engaging now,  and should be lovely over the next 5 – 15 years.  Top wine for three people.  GK 09/14

1985  Guigal Cote Rotie Brune & Blonde   18  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $154   [ 49mm cork;  a 5-star vintage for Broadbent,  outstanding reds,  rich and long-lasting,  Parker 90 and ready;  Sy 96,  Vi 4;  c.36 months in barrel and foudre,  a little new;  this single label estimated to be 40% of the total production of Cote Rotie;  Parker,  1996:  Like many northern Rhones from this vintage, the 1985 regular cuvee has always been a deliciously ripe, round, precocious-tasting wine, with a concentrated, creamy texture, and smoky bouquet. Mature now,  90;  www.guigal.com ]
Mature ruby with appreciable garnet,  exactly midway in depth.  This is an understated wine,  yet it is so immaculately tailored,  and so keeps on blossoming in the glass,  that it works its way up the ranking.  It  opens up with air to be nearly floral,  with lilac and dianthus suggestions,  on red more than black fruits which initially are a little chestnutty,  but clear dramatically.  In flavour it is model Cote Rotie,  not dramatically big or powerful,  but beautifully fruited and fragrant in mouth.  The oak is really clean,  shaping the wine delightfully,  but unobtrusive.  A masterly example of the Guigal style,  at a perfect peak of maturity and complexity (once breathed),  for people who like old wine.  Some will consider it a little too old.  Will cellar some years yet,  fading gently with time.  Top wine for four people,  and certainly a perfect food wine.  This bottle perhaps best answers the question in the title for the tasting:  Does Syrah Age ?  GK 09/14

2004  Domaine J L Chave Hermitage   18  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $267   [ 49mm cork;  an unreliable vintage for Parker,  85;  Sy 100;  9.3 ha of Sy at Hermitage,  Bessards most,  then L'Hermite and 5 other vineyards;  all de-stemmed,  most of fermentation in s/s;  cuvaison can be to 4 weeks;  traditionally up to 18 months in barrel,  less than 20% new,  the remainder to 5 years old,  now sometimes to 26 months;  minimal fining,  no filtration;  [ father ] Gerard Chave:  The uniformity imposed by new oak and over-extraction are what I deplore most these days;  Robinson,  2009:  Big and bloody on the nose - very complex. Some liquorice. Heady and rich. Lovely broad palate-covering stuff. Really fills all the corners of the palate. Quite rich and reverberant. Already quite rewarding - quite surprisingly approachable, although there is lots of dusty tannin on the finish. Very complete and subtle. Great balance,  18+;  Parker, 2007:  The 2004 red Hermitage, which was given a much longer time in barrel and small foudre than normal because the Chaves determined the tannins and the acids needed a longer time to integrate, is a beauty. The wine exhibits a dense ruby/purple color, a big, sweet nose of creme de cassis, black cherry, licorice, pepper, and a hint of olive paste. It is a full-bodied wine that tastes atypical for this vintage with its beautifully integrated acidity and sweet tannin. The wine is structured, more masculine and backward than the over-the-top, full-throttle 2003,  94;  no website found ]
Ruby and velvet,  just above midway in depth.  A little unusual,  this wine.  Initially opened there is a leathery quality,  and trace oxidation was suggested.  Not so,  said one perceptive taster,  think of it as a cola quality,  reflecting good ripeness.  Sure enough the next day the wine had breathed up considerably,  to reveal good berry still with this brown cola note,  and nearly cassis in a browning way.  Flavour shows a beautiful berry / fruit / oak ratio,  and excellent richness giving length and persistence.  Despite being a lesser year,  there is not exactly black pepper,  let alone white,  but there is a hard-to-characterise aromatic quality.  Interesting wine therefore,  in its flavour profile contrasting vividly with the warm-year 2003 Hermitage,  this much 'cooler'.  There is still plenty of life ahead of it,  to cellar 5 – 15 years say.  Open and decant this wine well beforehand;  it was much better and more 'classical' several days later,  and the score reflects that – though for most the wine didn't show it on the night.  The top wine for two.  GK 09/14

1985  Delas Hermitage Cuvée Marquis de Tourette   17 ½ +  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:   – %;  $91   [ 45mm cork;  a 5-star vintage for Broadbent,  outstanding reds,  rich and long-lasting,  Parker 90 and ready;  Sy 100,  much of it from Les Bessards;  not so much de-stemming then;  18 – 24 months in two-year old Burgundy barrels;  Parker,  1993:   the fully mature 1985 is fat, ripe, richly fruit, full-bodied, and low in acidity. The attractive flavors of cassis, tar, and roasted herb remain fresh and intense. Anticipated maturity: now-2002. Last tasted 12/93,  88;  www.delas.com ]
Mature ruby and garnet,  the second to lightest.  Bouquet is highly varietal,  clearly browning cassis and fading dianthus florals,  really fragrant,  as great Hermitage should be.  Two of 19 tasters thought there was trace brett,  but not to detract.    Flavours are leaner than the Guigal of the same year,  yet more clearly cassis though browning,  slightly more new oak and slightly higher acid,  in a sense more clearly syrah varietal,  but not so generous.  This case of Hermitage has been a delight from day one,  each bottle opening consistently,  except one or two have had slightly more brett metabolites aroma detectable.  Fully mature now,  and starting to dry.  Top wine for one person.  GK 09/14

2003  Craggy Range Syrah Block 14   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $35   [ 45mm cork;  the least vintage of the decade in Hawkes Bay;  hand-picked,  classical triage on sorting table;  8 – 10 day cold soak,  wild yeast,  20 – 30 day cuvaison,  MLF in barrel,  all French oak 35% new,  not fined or filtered;  no northern hemisphere reviews;  GK,  2004:  … not as concentrated as the top '02s.  This wine cheats a bit,  for in addition to its carnation florals from the cooler,  more aromatic '03 vintage,  there is very fragrant oak adding a balsam-like aromatic lift to the sweet cassis,  black pepper and rich berry.  It is clearly beautiful varietal syrah ... oak carries through to the palate,  and melds happily with the intensely aromatic berry.  This is another outstanding example of Gimblett Gravels syrah,  showing all the advantages of a slightly cooler vintage relative to the sometimes over-ripe 02s.  In 2003,  very little fruit met the firm's requirements for this label,  and the wine will be scarce.  There will be no '03 le Sol at all.  Cellar 10 – 15 years,  18.5;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  still bright and youthful,  clearly the darkest and youngest wine.  Bouquet is ample,   reflecting astonishing richness and ripeness for a year widely-considered poor in Hawkes Bay.  Berry quality is clearly in the cassis grading to bottled black doris plums zone,  with some hints of sur-maturité as syrah.    Fine detail on bouquet is obscured by some VA,  but only four or so tasters were worried by it.  Fruit in mouth is as rich and strong as the Yann Chave 2003,  but cooler in ripeness profile,  thus closer to the (well-breathed) J L Chave.  The complementarity of the three wines is phenomenal,  though none is 'perfect  Hermitage' (in style).  Even though this Block 14 is slightly flawed,  when considered alongside the 2003 Yann Chave Hermitage,  it illustrates dramatically just how patronising the British wine writers are in comparing our syrah mainly with Crozes-Hermitage.  This should cellar a further 5 – 15 years,  VA not usually increasing in bottle.  GK 09/14

1984  H Sorrell Hermitage Le Greal   17 ½  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $78   [ 45mm cork;  a 2-star vintage for Broadbent,  who notes however that some syrahs are holding well,  75 and frail for Parker,  who has always been hard on this vintage in both the north and south,  the smaller scale not suiting him;  Sy 100% mostly from Le Méal;  at that time some stalks,  18 – 22 month in oak 4 – 5 years old (from Burgundy);  Parker,  1986:  ... full-bodied,  quite tannic,  concentrated and deep,  with fine length.  It requires cellaring,  86;   no website found ]
Ruby and garnet,  below midway in depth.  This is one of the older-smelling wines,  and freshly opened there is a little bottle-stink / decay,  quickly evaporating with decanting.  It clears to a fragrant version of mature syrah,  good browning cassis,  clear dianthus florality also browning,  and great purity.  In mouth it is lean and focussed,  subliminal cedary oak giving it a character very reminiscent of (for example) Grand-Puy-Lacoste the way it used to be,  before it put on weight.  Thoughts of Pauillac,  in other words,  and though petite,  a lovely depth to these mellow mature yet still fresh (in a sense) flavours.  Intriguing wine,  fully  mature to fading a little now.  The top wine for four people.  GK 09/14

1979  Jaboulet Cote Rotie Les Jumelles   17 +  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $ –    [ 53mm cork;  2 – 4-star vintage for Broadbent,  some good wines in the north,  87 and unreliable now for Parker;  Sy 95 – 99,  Vi 1 – 5,  grapes or juice all bought-in;  traditionally no new oak,  9 – 12 months in 2 – 5 year oak;  < 1,000 cases;  Parker, 1986:  Ripe, rich, open-knit, toasty,  soft fruity flavours show little tannin.  While the 1979 could use a bit more stuffing, it is quite pleasant but should be drunk up,  84;  www.jaboulet.com ]
Light garnet and ruby,  but wonderfully clear,  the lightest colour.  Considering that Robert Parker implied this wine should be finished up in 1986,  reflecting the American consumerist norm,  the first thing to say is:  decant the bottle the day before,  prepare a lightly-styled main meal,  poultry or veal for example,  and prepare to be enchanted.  Once breathed,  the faded carnations / dianthus florality on this wine 35 years later is an absolute delight.  There is clear cassis also browning,  delicate cracked peppercorns,  and lovely flesh – considering its age.  I used it for a birthday dinner recently,  and it pleased greatly.  The wine is light but pure and wonderfully true to its appellation,  clearly burgundian in structure.  Incidentally,  nobody rated this is their least wine,  so these notes are not too fanciful.  Fully mature to fading a little now,  naturally enough.  GK 09/14

1985  Domaine A Clape Cornas   17  ()
Cornas,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $448   [ 46mm cork;  a 5-star vintage for Broadbent,  outstanding reds,  rich and long-lasting,  Parker 90 and ready;  Sy 100%,  much old-vine;  no de-stemming,  then was 16 – 20 months or so in foudre only,  no small wood;  Cornas' most famous grower;  Parker, 1996:  ... more depth of fruit and length when compared to the 1983. It is a fat, soft, lush wine with gobs of licorice, black pepper, and cassis fruit … about as ripe and round as Cornas gets. It is an unctuous, gorgeous Cornas that will provide tantalizing drinking young, but will also keep. Anticipated maturity: now-2005,  90 ]
Ruby and garnet,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is pleasing in an old-fashioned way,  all tending mature and a bit leathery,  but no faults.  There is no clear varietal berry,  and certainly no flowers or aromatics,  just older wine.  Flavours are burly,  tending tannic,  still astonishing fruit richness,  but the whole winestyle does reflect the oft-used descriptor for traditional Cornas – rustic.  There is plenty to like,  but the wine doesn't quite suit a clinical tasting in which winemakers predominated.  Conversely,  several commented the wine cried out for food.  Portobello mushrooms would be a great place to start.  Fully mature,  but still rich with lovely fruit,  no hurry at all,  cellar another 5 – 10 years.  GK 09/14

1979  Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle   16 ½ +  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $440   [ 54mm cork;  2 – 4-star vintage for Broadbent,  some good wines in the north,  87 and unreliable now for Parker;  Sy 100,  all from owned vineyards;  winemaking then unclear,  but thought to be all destemmed,  cooled,  usually around 21 days cuvaison,  new oak then a very small percentage,  all barrique-sized,  c.12 – 18 months depending on season,  then 3 months in vat,  production 2,000 –  5,000 cases;  1979 initially an overlooked year,  after the 1978s there,  but on average the 1979 Northern Rhones had more substance than the 1979 Medocs;  Robinson,  2006:  Dark ruby. Very meaty indeed – much more concentrated than many younger wines even if there’s a little hint of oxidation on this decanted bottle. Starting to age but there is impressive body. Not subtle but very vigorous for its age. Dry, inky finish,  16;  Parker,  2000:  … still retains a youthful vigor. Spicy, with plenty of smoke, dried herb, pepper, and cassis fruit, this outstanding, smoky, gamy (smoked meats galore), full-bodied La Chapelle reveals some angularity and rough tannin in the finish, but all other signs are positive. While it does not possess the weight of the biggest, most muscular vintages of La Chapelle, it is an exciting wine. Anticipated maturity: now-2016,  90;  www.jaboulet.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  well below midway.  Bouquet is clean,  clearly cassis-related though browning now,  and fragrant,  a good wine to use as a sighter in a tasting like this,  you'd think.  In mouth however,  the fruit shrinks,  the total acid is a bit high,  and the whole palate becomes a little hard with some phenolics showing.  Some of the tannin can be interpreted as black pepper / spice,  and hence the wine is in one sense true to its variety and appellation.  It is not quite in balance,  however,  and past its prime.  It will hold its present style for some years to come,  becoming shorter and drier.  GK 09/14

1986  Jasmin Cote Rotie   15 ½ +  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $ –    [ 45mm cork;  2 – 4 star vintage for Broadbent,  many (but not all) dilute,  84 and unreliable for Parker;  Sy 95,  Vi 5;  no de-stemming then;  12 – 18 months in mostly barrel,  probably none new then,  c.1000 cases;  Parker,  1996:  Some green-pepper and raspberry scents make an initial appearance, but they are easily forgotten given the wine's tart acidity and tannic finish. Jasmin's 1986 appears to be drying out,  76;  no website found ]
Garnet and ruby,  one of the lightest.  For a small wine,  there is an awful lot going on in the bouquet.  There is an impression of fading berryfruit,  a redcurrant note,  a kind of dianthus florality,  a suggestion of stalks,  and something reminiscent of shellfish / iodine.  The flavours are petite,  again red fruits,  the wine possibly even chaptalised,  a stalky undertone,  clear white pepper to the later palate,  so in one sense it is a highly varietal wine,  but way sub-optimal on my ripening curve.  Because there is actually still quite good flesh,  despite these less than ideally ripe characters,  the wine is perfectly pleasant with lighter foods,  at least for non-wine-snob people.  This does need finishing up,  though,  in 2014.  It was the least-favoured wine,  though fault-free.  GK 09/14

1998  Tardieu-Laurent Hermitage   14  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $117   [ 55mm cork;  a difficult vintage,  hot and dry later,  the best 5-star for Broadbent,  90 and tannic for Parker;  Sy 100;  wine bought-in immediately post-fermentation,  18 – 24 months in new oak;  not filtered;  Parker,  1999:  ... classic, pure, cassis aromas intermixed with smoke and licorice. Full-bodied and pure, with nicely integrated acidity and tannin, this corpulent, super-concentrated Hermitage requires 3-7 years of cellaring, and will keep for 20-25 years,  91 – 93;  www.tardieu-laurent.fr ]
Mature ruby and garnet,  about midway in depth.  Freshly opened and decanted,  this wine is floral and fragrant,  the floral notes very close to carnations,  quite beautiful.  A couple of hours later,  this particular bottle had deteriorated.  The good side is the dianthus florals,  cassis-like berry notes,  and suggestions of black pepper,  all spot-on.  In mouth there is initially good berryfruit,  then suddenly gamey and bretty flavours appear,  and as the wine lingers on the tongue,  hints of the dreaded mousey spoilage flavour from the wild yeast formerly called Pichea become apparent.  With air this bottle also developed a suggestion of TCA.  What a worry the Tardieu-Laurent bottlings of that era are.  The best are marvellous,  but too many are not.  At the time I wrote to the New Zealand importers and said that the percentage of corked bottles from Tardieu-Laurent was way too high.  They didn't agree.  So this 1998 Hermitage is a great teaching wine,  but $100 teaching wines are a mite expensive.  Wine amateurs (in the strict meaning of that word) can draw comfort from the fact that even in a room of winemakers,  only a third of the tasters (roughly) objected to each of these three faults.  All three were subtle.  This is the diversity that is wine appreciation.  An interesting bottle,  therefore,  and noteworthy that this was not the wine recording the most 'bottom' rankings.  Needless to say,  no northern hemisphere winewriter mentions any of these factual faults,  in discussing this wine.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 09/14