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

Few New Zealand wineries have reached a position of awareness in the public wine mind whereby the annual release of their wines has become noteworthy or widely known.  And to the extent anybody follows release dates for wine,  so far,  pinot noir and chardonnay have scarcely figured in this:  it is the cabernet / merlot blends that have stolen the limelight.  Te Mata have been assiduous in creating an 'event' for the release of their top wine Coleraine in early March each year,  and young challenger Craggy Range followed their lead by releasing their standard wines also in March,  and their Prestige wines in June.  But in some ways the most exciting of all the premium wine releases has been the occasional release of a top cabernet / merlot wine from the Church Road winery.  This wine,  now called 'Tom',  can in fact trace its inheritance back to the first release of the 1965 McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 65/3,  by Tom McDonald himself,  back in the spring of 1969 – some four years after vintage.  Nowadays the interval between harvest and release has been shortened to three years.  The top wine,  Tom Cabernet / Merlot,  is not released every year,  in fact far from it.  This year's release of the 2013 vintage is the first since the 2009,  so that really means something.

Since the 2013 vintage in Hawkes Bay was remarkable not for its heat so much as its dryness,  and since other companies have released 2013s which lay claim to being the best of their winestyle ever made in New Zealand (in the post-Prohibition era),  the anticipation about the Church Road 2013 wines has been acute.  Church Road had already added to the Tom Cabernet / Merlot concept by releasing a Tom Chardonnay in 2006,  and this year there was the news there would be a 2013 Tom Syrah as well.

In the past the Church Road Tom release has been a relatively low-key affair.  This year however,  notwithstanding chief winemaker Chris Scott being a quite retiring person,  Church Road management  (ie,  Pernod-Ricard) upped the ante a good deal,  by laying on lavish hospitality,  helicopters to luxury lodges and the like,  for some more biddable people,  when the wines were first presented for tasting.  No doubt variously indulgent reviews will therefore emerge,  since it is hard to report accurately on wines when one is being wined and dined,  and the wines themselves are seen in relative isolation.  Potential buyers of these wines will therefore need to read carefully between the lines (as always).

Having tasted each of these cabernet and cabernet / merlot wines critically at release since that first 1965 vintage (then straight cabernet sauvignon),  and bought and cellared a case of 12 of each of those worth cellaring since then including the 1965,  and studied them over the years,  I thought a more objective approach might be helpful to careful wine-buyers.  Aided by the release of the Craggy Range Prestige-series wines recently also,  I assembled a rigorously blind tasting of roughly 10 each of appropriate chardonnay,  cabernet / merlot,  and syrah wines,  mostly from the 2013 vintage.  These included certain wines I regard highly,  to more accurately measure the degree of achievement in the Tom and Craggy Range batch,  and also replicates to monitor taster performance.  The results are presented below.  

In the syrah set,  yet again the wines show how superbly this variety is performing in New Zealand.  We have the temperate climate to exactly match the great syrahs of the Northern Rhone Valley,  once our grapes are grown at similar yields to that district.  The new Tom Syrah achieves that goal spectacularly.  Several of the wines show much more subtle use of oak than in earlier years.  While Guigal has shown that certain syrah wines of high dry extract can absorb a lot of oak,  nonetheless the variety is closer in style to pinot noir,  and does not need high new oak levels.  In fact more than subtle oak may impair the perceived florality and ultimate beauty of the final wine.  Florality is such a key component of temperate-climate wine styles.  It is critical we strive to differentiate our syrahs as much as possible from the shirazes of warmer-climate Australia,  and subtlety in oak handling will greatly assist that goal.

In many ways,  the Craggy Range wines serve as an admirable foil for evaluating the Church Road releases.  Both wineries have a premium wine of growing reputation in each winestyle,  supported by at least one more commercial / mainstream / affordable offering.  Along with the other wines assembled,  they collectively allowed a fairly beady-eyed evaluation of all these exciting new releases.

Nine other chardonnays
Additional to the Tom batch of chardonnays tasted strictly blind,  Joelle Thompson subsequently presented a  chardonnay tasting at Regional Wines & Spirits,  the theme being the quest for old-style big buttery chardonnays.  None of the wines recaptured the romantic memory of that winestyle totally convincingly,  but there were a couple of good ones.  They are included here,  since they provided an additional useful cross-reference for interleaving with the Tom calibration set.


2013  Church Road Chardonnay Tom
2010  Church Road Chardonnay Tom
2014  Craggy Range Chardonnay Block 19
2015  Esk Valley Chardonnay Winemakers Reserve
2013  Greystone Chardonnay
2011  Louis Jadot Meursault Les Narvaux
2014  Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Vintner's Reserve
2014  Kumeu River Chardonnay Estate
2014  Neudorf Chardonnay Moutere
2013  Pegasus Bay Chardonnay
2014  Sacred Hill Chardonnay Halo
2014  Sacred Hill Chardonnay Reserve
2013  Domaine Saumaize-Michelin Pouilly-Fuissé
2014  Shaw & Smith Chardonnay M3
2014  Te Mata Chardonnay Elston
2015  Tony Bish Chardonnay Summertime
2014  Vidal Chardonnay Reserve
2012  Villa Maria Chardonnay Reserve Barrique-Ferment
Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
Pinot Gris
Sweet / Sticky
All other white wines, blends, etc.
Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2013  Church Road Cabernet / Merlot Tom
2009  Church Road Merlot / Cabernet Tom
2013  Church Road Merlot McDonald Series
2014  Craggy Range [ Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon / Cabernet Franc ] Sophia
2014  Craggy Range [ Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec / Cabernet Franc ] Te Kahu
2014  Craggy Range Merlot Gimblett Gravels
2013  Ngatarawa Merlot / Cabernets Alwyn
2013  Villa Maria Merlot Braided Gravels Single Vineyard Organic
Cabernet / Shiraz
Pinot Noir
2014  Craggy Range Pinot Noir Aroha
2013  Craggy Range Pinot Noir Aroha
Syrah = Shiraz
2014  Church Road Syrah Grand Reserve
2013  Church Road Syrah McDonald Series
2013  Church Road Syrah Tom
2014  Craggy Range Syrah Gimblett Gravels
2014  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol
2013  Elephant Hill Syrah Airavata
2013  Sacred Hill Syrah Deerstalkers
2013  Sileni Syrah [ Exceptional Vintage ] EV
2013  Vidal Syrah Reserve
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre & related blends
All other red wines, blends etc
From the Cellar. Older wines.

#  Ranking of colour for the reds refers to both cabernet / merlots,  and syrahs,  as one set.
#  Link to the Wairarapa pinot noir article referred to in the Aroha review,  below.

2013  Greystone Chardonnay   19  ()
Waipara,  North Canterbury,  New Zealand:  14%;  $37   [ screwcap;  clones mendoza and B95,  hand-picked;  100% BF in French oak 20% new,  with wild-yeast fermentations extending over 8 months,  then full MLF;  11 months in barrel;  www.greystonewines.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw,  the third deepest colour,  glowing.  Bouquet is simply sensational,  combining beautiful rich highly varietal chardonnay with great lees autolysis complexity,  plus an elusive component much sought-after in chardonnay,  but rarely found,  a suggestion of florality.  The wine smells rich,  shaped by oak but not at all dominated by it,  with the autolysis characters spanning the best baguettes through to lightly-toasted Vogel's Multigrain bread.  Palate shows a crispness and freshness of peach including golden queen peach fruit which is a delight,  the autolysis adding body,  mouthfeel and texture,  which as you swallow seems glycerol-rich in the best possible way.  Aftertaste is golden queen fruit sustained by both acid and oatmeally oak.  The oak handling is excellent.  The floral suggestion on bouquet comes back to haunt the later palate,  with suggestions of golden honeysuckle,  and this refreshing acid.  A very beautiful wine to cellar 3 – 15  years,  perhaps longer.  GK 06/16

2012  Villa Maria Chardonnay Reserve Barrique-Ferment   18 ½ +  ()
Gisborne,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $36   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested mostly clone 95,  BF in French oak 40% new,  balance second year,  some wild yeast,  100% MLF;  10 months LA and half the wine undergoing batonnage,  RS <1 g/L;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Perfect lemon,  just above midway in depth.  Bouquet epitomises pure varietal temperate-climate New Zealand chardonnay,  nearly citrus and white stonefruit aromas complexed by ultra-pure lees autolysis and subtle barrel work.  Palate has lovely texture and body,  the MLF component a little more apparent now,  oak shaping the wine but wonderfully subtle,  superb acid balance perhaps reflecting the cool season,  and thus not needing a tartaric addition,  compared with most Gisborne seasons.  Fruit on palate is so good that you wonder if there could be trace residual,  but I suspect it is under 2 g/L (confirmed):  this is just fruit richness speaking.  This sample was from a magnum,  and therefore more 'perfect' than a 750 ml bottle would be,  the cool season really letting Gisborne shine.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  and it will hold longer.  GK 06/16

2010  Church Road Chardonnay Tom   18 ½ +  ()
Tukituki & Tutaekuri Valleys,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $ –    [ screwcap;  hand-picked from vineyards at Tukituki Valley and Omarunui Road (neither Gimblett Gravels),  clones 15 and 95;  grapes whole-bunch pressed,  not cold settled;  wild-yeast and barrel-ferment followed rightaway by 100% wild-MLF ferment;  11 months in French oak 38% new with some batonnage;  selection and blending of final wine followed by assembly for some months in tank on light lees;  RS <2g/l;  only light fining and filtering;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Straw with a flush of lemon still,  the deepest colour but still fresh.  Bouquet is fractionally the richest and most clearly chardonnay in the set,  with even more depth of golden queen peach / mendoza-like fruit than the Greystone.  Alongside that wine,  the bouquet is richer,  a similar depth of autolysis showing,  but noticeably more oak influence,  and less or no floral component.  Palate is sensational,  total acid lower than the Greystone,  the fruit quality showing tactile richness,  with great body and length.  Dry extract here must be exemplary,  for white wine,  but the winery does not monitor this reference point.  Since this wine was so clearly of export quality,  one wonders why not.  This is a wine to satisfy those seeking rich buttery (finest pale butter) chardonnays as they used to be,  but here with a finesse and poise undreamt of in the 1980s.  It is astonishing how much new oak has simply been absorbed.  This is great New Zealand chardonnay at a peak of perfection now.  It will hold for another 10 years,  though gradually deepening in colour.  GK 06/16

2014  Neudorf Chardonnay Moutere   18 ½ +  ()
Moutere Hills,  Nelson,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $55   [ screwcap;  hand-picked from organically-grown clone mendoza;  whole-bunch pressed,  minimal settling;  100% wild-yeast,  barrel-ferment and MLF;  around 12 months in French oak but only 11% new,  batonnage as needed;  www.neudorf.co.nz ]
Lemon,  in the middle for depth.  After the 2010 Tom and 2013 Greystone chardonnays,  this wine smells almost demure.  The first impression is a subtle florality reminiscent of traditional English primrose,  on supremely pure slightly citrussy chardonnay fruit.  Lees autolysis and barrel-ferment components are apparent,  but much more subtly so than in the Greystone or Tom 2010.  Palate is more in a paler Greystone style,  not quite the body,  total acid fresher than the 2010 Tom,  citrus fruit as much as white peach or yellow,  the tactile flavours of lees autolysis and barrel-ferment growing in mouth.  There is a near-invisible shadow of flintyness / reduction just detectable at this stage,  which I expect to marry away over the next three years.  The oaking is perfection,  no obtrusive new oak (how wonderful this evolution in the oak handling of our chardonnays is),  yet the oatmealy flavours and length of palate reflecting the oak beautifully.  This is Puligny-Montrachet Premier (even some Grand) Cru quality straight out of Nelson.  Cellar 5 – 18 years,  maybe longer.  GK 06/16

2011  Louis Jadot Meursault Les Narvaux   18 ½  ()
Meursault,  Burgundy,  France:  13%;  $87   [ supercritical 'cork';  hand-harvested;  BF,  LA,  MLF in 15 – 30% new French oak,  for 15 months;  rated one of the best of the unclassified vineyards of Meursault by Clive Coates,  the vineyard being close by Les Genevrieres;  www.louisjadot.com ]
Perfect lemon,  faintly lighter than the Villa.  Bouquet is marvellous in a different way from the Villa Maria wine,  showing the much sought-after but rarely achieved English white flowers floral component of cool climate chardonnay,  on a mealy white nectarine base.  Flavours in mouth develop with air,  to acquire the classical oatmeal quality so prized in meursault,  freshened by citrus and white nectarine fruit,  and only the subtlest oak.  Acid balance is perfect.  Though a little small in scale,  this is beautiful understated wine epitomising modern meursault –  especially once breathed.  It is sensational with food,  simply on the lack of new oak,  which in lesser wines becomes so aggressive with food.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/16

2015  Esk Valley Chardonnay Winemakers Reserve   18 +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $31   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested clone 95,  whole-bunch pressed with only the free-run used,  BF in French oak c. 30% new,  wild yeast ferment,  some MLF;  c.11 months in oak;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Lemon with a wash of green,  the palest of the later wines.  Bouquet flirts with slightly reductive lees autolysis and barrel work,  but thankfully does not go too far.  Fruit qualities are undeveloped as yet,  at present incipient white nectarine,  some suggestions of near-baguette autolysis quality,  the wine showing remarkable richness,  so much so you suspect it has trace sweetness.  But I doubt it,  knowing Gordon Russell,  again this is just fruit concentration and glycerol.  It is richer than the 2014 Elston.  Oak is yet to harmonise.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  and it will hold much longer.  GK 06/16

2014  Kumeu River Chardonnay Estate   18  ()
Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $32   [ screwcap;  clone 15 predominates,  all hand-harvested;  wild-yeast fermentation and 100% BF,  LA,  and MLF;  11 months in barrel some new but mostly 1-year for the Estate;  RS nil;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lemon,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is firm,  both oak and lees autolysis complexity being as evident in the aroma as actual fruit.  It is beautifully clean.  Palate does not show quite the fruit richness of the top wines,  and the oak is more prominent than is ideal in chardonnay.  Length of flavour is good,  though,  even if the oak is sustaining it.  The oak also accentuates the acid,  shortening the finish.  Given the lighter body relative to the top wines,  on reflection,  the wine is a bit too oaky,  at least at this young stage.  Cellar 5 – 10  years.  GK 06/16

2014  Te Mata Chardonnay Elston   18  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $38   [ 45 mm supercritical cork (Diam);  Ch 100%,  85% clone mendoza,  hand-harvested;  all BF with significant new oak;  100% MLF;  11 months in barrel,  with lees work;  RS nil;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Lemon,  exactly the same weight as the Neudorf but with a fresh green wash.  Bouquet is tauter than the wines thus far reviewed,  showing a tight integration of barrel-ferment,  lees autolysis and pale chardonnay fruit which is closest to the Neudorf in style,  and like the latter but slightly more so,  has a thread of reduction.  This is more apparent in this bottle than the wine shown in their release.  It is pitched at a level just sufficient to get people using the trendy descriptor 'mineral',  but not so much as to offend those sensitive to reduce sulphurs.  It should marry away.  Palate is firmer and narrower than the Neudorf Moutere,  however,  total acid seeming higher and (again) higher than I recollect it in the Te Mata release tasting.  Dry extract is good without being exemplary,  more like the Kumeu Estate.  I expect this wine to fill out gracefully in bottle for at least another 10 years,  maybe 15.  GK 06/16

2014  Sacred Hill Chardonnay Halo   17 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $25   [ screwcap,  clone mendoza,  an unknown percentage of the fruit BF,  MLF,  and up to 12 months LA;  RS given as nil;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Lemon,  the second palest chardonnay.  Bouquet is in a simpler,  less evolved style than the wines reported on so far.  The wine shows fair fruit richness in a supremely pure almost grand cru chablis style,  faintly citrus,  white stonefruits,  a subtle barrel-ferment and lees autolysis component,  lower total acid than Elston,  a simpler  flavour,  and not as dry to the finish.  With its subtlety of oaking yet fair body,  this should cellar well,  and  appeal widely.  The skimpy specs say it is dry,  yet it doesn't come across as a bone-dry wine.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 06/16

2013  Domaine Saumaize-Michelin Pouilly-Fuissé   17 ½  ()
Pouilly-Fuissé,  Burgundy,  France:  13%;  $41   [ supercritical 'cork';  biodynamic;  no operational website found ]
Straw,  clearly the deepest wine of the second set,  but not as deep as 2010 Tom.  Bouquet is very complex,  on the one hand reminding of some Californian chardonnays of earlier years,  such as Far Niente with its former intriguing hint of acacia blossom,  on the other mixing florals with almost yellow and near-tropical fruit notes.  There could even be a hint of mango.  Palate is fleshy,  really yellow-fruited chardonnay,  clear buttery MLF,  low oak and acid tending low too.  This is quite a big mouthful of flavour,  classic old-style Pouilly-Fuissé,  but not quite as rich as the concept 'big buttery chardonnay'.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  Interesting to see some bottles closed with Diam,  and some with  natural cork,  the Diam-closed much,  much fresher.  GK 06/16

2013  Church Road Chardonnay Tom   17 +  ()
Tukituki Valley,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $150   [ Stelvin Lux;  hand-picked from conservatively cropped vines in the company's cooler Tukituki Vineyard;  60% clone mendoza (the clone responsible for Australia's most famous chardonnay,  Leeuwin Estate);  whole-bunch pressed,  wild-yeast fermentations and spontaneous MLF in barrel,  some batonnage;  11 months in barrel,  54% new;  the barrels selected for Tom then aged in tank 12 months on light lees,  then bottled with only light filtering;  RS 3.5 g/L;  around 300 cases;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Glowing lemonstraw,  above midway in depth,  a sensational colour.  Once sniff however,  and this is a wine to divide tasters.  The level of reduction (with a faint hint of mercaptan 'tar / creosote') here is tending too high on my scale of sensory values,  but those blind to reduced sulfurs,  and apologists for the wine,  will be heard using waffle words like 'funky',  'flinty' and 'mineral' to try and put a positive spin on the winestyle.  And in fairness it has to be said,  as recently discussed for sauvignon blanc,  that these reductive winestyles are in vogue / 'fashionable',  those favouring them being oblivious to the fact that beauty is being compromised at best,  and destroyed at worst,  and that many people find them variously offensive.  The fact some white burgundies show the same qualities does not alter the basic facts.  The French can make mistakes too.  All that said,  however,  the colour alone suggests there is more to this wine than the bouquet,  and this is indeed the case.  In mouth the concentration of golden queen peachy fruit,  and lees autolysis and barrel ferment complexities on palate,  is wonderful (if you ignore the sulphide flavours),  with total acid tasting higher than the 2010 (confirmed).  The impression of concentration is augmented by the debatable,  even regrettable,  3.5 g/L of residual sugar,  but that is where the wine stopped,  Chris Scott advises,  and it is stable.  For now it is hidden by the palate-firmness resulting from reduction.  It is not hard or sour,  however,  in the way the much more reductive Pegasus Bay 2013 Chardonnay is.  With its concentration and other attributes,  it should absorb its reductive qualities in time,  though the resulting wine will end up pretty 'toasty' – to use another waffle word.  Give it 5 years or so to achieve that.  If you like the style,  this is a surefire cellar bet,  for 10 – 30 years.  Yes,  30 years:  1980 McWilliams Chardonnay,  the spiritual forbear of this wine,  is still drinking pleasantly as an old wine,  and it had a fraction the dry extract of this 2013 Tom.  Score has to be an averaging out of conflicting attributes.  GK 06/16

2014  Shaw & Smith Chardonnay M3   17 +  ()
Adelaide Hills,  South Australia,  Australia:  12.5%;  $47   [ screwcap;  hand-picked;  all BF in new or near-new French barriques.  Wild yeast fermentation,  partial malolactic;  9 months in barrel,  some batonnage;  www.shawandsmith.com ]
Lightest lemon.  Bouquet is the lightest in the second set,  but wondrously pure,  varietal,  elegant,  neat and taut.  Had there been a chablis in the second set,  this would have been it.  It is so delicate it is hard to find descriptors,  hints of lime and white nectarine,  mealy autolysis in a very subtle way,  nearly a suggestion of 'mineral'.  Palate is the same,  neat,  taut,  and light,  trace oak,  and tasting as if there is a little MLF (confirmed,  though unusual in Australia),  total acid firm,  but not awkward / clumsy,  as if natural.  Given the alcohol,  it may well be.  This is intriguing and lovely small-scale wine,  and being Australian,  bone dry to the finish.  Australian reviewers are marking it up to 95 points.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/16

2014  Sacred Hill Chardonnay Reserve   17  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $21   [ screwcap,  website is coy about the actual elevation;  this new series sits between the Orange Label and Halo series;  RS given as nil;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Lemongreen,  below midway.  Bouquet is varietal pale stonefruit chardonnay in a light pure way,  with faint suggestions of MLF,  lees autolysis and barrel-ferment components.  Palate builds on the light nectarine side of the flavour profile,  with an attractive suggestion of florality in the later flavours reminding of the Greystone.  Alongside the Halo Chardonnay from Sacred Hill,  you feel maybe the Halo wine shows over 50% barrel-ferment and later lees work,  whereas maybe this wine is much more a stainless and staves / chips wine,  with a smaller barrel component.  It is attractive as far as it goes though,  even though it is not bone dry to the finish.  The website again says the RS is “0 g/L”,  but I doubt it.  Note the term 'dry' in loose wine useage can mean up to 2 or even 3 or so g/L,  depending on the winemaker.  'Dry' rather than 'zero' might be more appropriate.  Cellar 3 – 8  years.  The range of chardonnays from Sacred Hill / Tony Bish has now expanded to at least 8 wines,  spanning the price range $12 – $70 per bottle.  I worry that this approach will dilute Tony Bish's chardonnay reputation,  achieved through the remarkable Rifleman's Chardonnay.  But I guess the same price and quality range classically applies to grower / negociant firms such as Jadot,  who are still held in the highest repute.  GK 06/16

2014  Craggy Range Chardonnay Block 19   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  clone 95 mainly (as for Beaux Cailloux),  hand-harvested @ 7 t/ha = 2.8 t/ac;  BF in French oak 40% new;  all whole-bunch and wild-yeast fermentations,  MLF not documented,  but probably some at least,  11 months LA,  probably some stirring;  RS nil;  I assume this is a 'best parcel' wine standing in for Les Beaux Cailloux,  while that vineyard is re-developed;  filtered;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Pale lemon green,  the palest wine of the earlier set.  Bouquet is pure but substantially empty,  a suggestion of white fruit,  a trace of watermelon,  lacking.  Palate promises more,  clearly there is fair physical fruit and some lees autolysis and barrel-ferment textural suggestions,  but you are hard put to find a meaningful descriptor for the fruit character.  Just a sensation of fruit,  plus oak,  and a neat dry finish.  It is strange how chardonnay has never gelled for the Craggy Range group.  There have been odd exciting wines,  and a brilliant 2011 Beaux Cailloux,  but no track record or consistency.  My thought is,  the Gimblett Gravels are in most years too hot for great chardonnay.  I will allow that this wine may surprise after five years,  but purchase for cellaring may be limited,  at the price ?  For now,  it seems less convincing than the firm's (admittedly slightly more oaky) 2015 Gimblett Gravels wine,  at half the price.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  hoping for improvement all the while.  GK 06/16

2014  Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Vintner's Reserve   16 ½  ()
'Coastal' counties,  California:  13.5%;  $34   [ screwcap;  whole-bunch pressed;  BF and LA in French and American oak,  some batonnage;  RS not given (not surprisingly – see below);  www.kj.com ]
Lemon,  above midway.  Bouquet is a little odd,  first up,  quite bready / doughy on the lees autolysis factor,   needing to breathe / raising doubts.  Initial palate is better however,  clear stone fruit,  light oak,  obvious elevation complexity on the bready suggestions … then the finish:  oh dear,  crassly sweet and commercial.   The vineyard proclaims:  America's #1 selling Chardonnay for 23 years and counting!  Does  the average American really like dry wines to be this sweet ?  It is sad that we do not see quality Californian chardonnay in New Zealand,  but they simply do not survive the exchange rate.  A mixed bag,  therefore,  cellar 2 – 6 years.  GK 06/16

2015  Tony Bish Chardonnay Summertime   16  ()
Gisborne,  New Zealand:  13%;  $18   [ screwcap,  some oak;  no info on website;  www.tonybishwines.co.nz ]
Lemon with a green wash,  below midway.  Bouquet is clean,  lean and hinting at stalks and reduction.  Palate is reasonably clearly varietal chardonnay,  but also showing stalks,  very little elevation complexity,  and at this stage all a bit raw.  This is one of the latest in the seemingly endless expansion of Sacred Hill chardonnay labels.  It will be better in a year,  and will cellar 2 – 5 years.  Not bone dry,  more a supermarket wine.  GK 06/16

2014  Vidal Chardonnay Reserve   15 +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $20   [ screwcap;  fruit from three districts,  a percentage barrel-fermented,  15% new oak,  an MLF component,  RS <2 g/L;  note the Vidal wine hierarchy has been recast,  the new Reserve Series now being between the standard wine and the former top-tier Reserves,  now labelled Legacy Series;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Lemongreen,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is pinched,  suggestions of reduction at a lesser level than  Tom 2013,  but there is much less fruit concentration and elevation complexity to hide the reduction in,  so in a way it seems more obvious.  Palate shows fair white fruits,  but there is a sour hint on the reduction,  giving the impression a significant part of the wine is stainless steel only,  so the whole wine seems narrow and less appealing.  Those sensitive to reduced sulphur may not enjoy this wine.  Cellar 3 – 8 years,  maybe to come right.  GK 06/16

2013  Pegasus Bay Chardonnay   14  ()
Waipara Valley,  North Canterbury,  New Zealand:  14%;  $36   [ screwcap;  mostly clone mendoza hand-picked,  wild-yeast BF in 500L puncheons 30% new;  some MLF in spring and 12 months LA;  www.pegasusbay.com ]
Straw,  one of the deepest chardonnays.  Bouquet combines the worst features of a high-solids ferment with an excessively reductive elevation,  producing a wine which smells hard and sulphidic,  and tastes the same,   plus being harsh and sour on the sulphides.  On the plus side,  it is remarkably rich,  but it will take decades if ever to bury the reduction.  I am still waiting for the 1982 Domaine Lafon Meursault Clos de la Barre to do so – and this Pegasus Bay Chardonnay is at a similar or greater level of reduction.  Pegasus Bay has consistently shown a perverse tolerance of reduction in some of their white wines,  which they need to think more about.  Tasters sensitive to reduced sulphurs in wine can check reviews and reviewers of this Pegasus Bay Chardonnay to usefully identify winewriters variously blind to sulphides,  or otherwise not prepared to be factual.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 06/16

Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2013  Church Road Cabernet / Merlot Tom   19 +  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle 67%,  Gimblett Gravels 23%,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $200   [ 49mm cork;  DFB;  CS 67%,  Me 33;  all hand-picked and sorted with great attention to fruit quality for the Tom parcels,  at an approximate cropping rate of 6 t/ha (= 2.4 t/ac);  100% de-stemmed,  crushed,  no cold soak,  inoculated fermentation mostly in oak cuves,  a fraction in s/s,  cuvaison up to 30 days for the CS components,  26 for the Me,  with particular attention to aeration;  22 months in all-French oak c.92% new,  balance 1-year,  successive rackings to clarify and aerate;  light fining,  not filtered;  RS is given as 2 g/L,  but that is the non-fermentable sugars:  in the usual sense (of glucose and fructose) nil would be more realistic;  winemaker Chris Scott estimates 2013 is the driest year in the viticultural zone for 70 years,  and not unduly hot;  c.500 cases;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a perfect young Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blend colour,  but far from the deepest,   just above midway.  Bouquet is simply sensational.  Having tasted every wine in the series (loosely speaking) since the debut 1965 McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 65/3,  and cellared and studied all those worth cellaring,  I can say there has not been a wine in all those years to match the quality of bouquet this 2013  Tom Cabernet / Merlot displays.  The perfection of the cassis-led berry component is of young Ch Palmer  quality.  But equally important is the backing-off on oak which has been an issue in the Tom series in some  years.  Here the fruit,  the berry,  speaks triumphantly,  with a floral component hinting at violets,  darkest roses and port-wine magnolia,  which is magnificent.  In mouth the near-perfection continues. There is all the fruit quality,  character and style of better Bordeaux classed growths,  yet the wine is not heavy or overbearing in any way,  and the highish alcohol is wonderfully well hidden.  It seems to me a perfect matching of the Hawkes Bay viticultural and near-coastal  regime with that of Bordeaux.  Flavour is cassis-led,  with bottled black doris dark plum fruit filling out the palate (the merlot component),  plus cedary oak slightly more apparent now than on bouquet adding spice and savour.  The saturation of berry,  the concentration of fruit flavour in mouth,  and the degree to which this wine has mopped up the high percentage of new oak,  is magical.  

Where does this wine sit,  in the Bordeaux scheme of things ?  The first growths are almost irrelevant,  being made for a captive market more concerned with monetary values and snob appeal than actual wine quality.  New oak satisfies them,  though needless to say there is usually stellar fruit quality too.  But at a more accessible level,  this 2013 Tom sits fair and square in the second growths.  It reminds of Leoville-Barton but is not as dry,  and it has an absolute purity that that wine sometimes lacks.  It is not quite as rich and weighty and pretend-First Growth as Leoville Las Cases.  I have already made a comparison with Ch Palmer,   despite the cepage not matching,  but it is of that order.  Or Pontet-Canet,  noting that neither of these two are strictly second-growths,  but they are performing at that level.  Church Road do not make dry extract analyses,  implying they don't export the wine to Europe.  On the basis of the 2013 Elephant Hill Airavata with its dry extract over 31 g/L (and also the 2014 Escarpment Pinot Noir Kupe of similar concentration,  to hand from the Wairarapa tasting),  I would estimate it surpasses the 30 g/L dividing line between real quality,  and lesser.  This wine needs to be seen in Europe,  though there is the risk some will be tripped up by the given 2 g/L residual sugar,  see above.  It is also worth noting that certain highly-rated older vintages of classed growths in Bordeaux have not been rigorously bone-dry (1947 Cheval Blanc for example measures 3 g/L RS,  and has a current wine-searcher valuation of  NZ$14,366 per 750 ml bottle),  so one needs to be careful before condemning the wine on this technicality.  If this step is taken,  dry extract via export certification will follow.  It is one of the finest Bordeaux / Hawkes Bay blends made so far in New Zealand.  

Some comment is needed on the price,  which seems to reflect a measure of cynicism on the part of Pernod-Ricard management,  that 'the affluent market will take this in its stride'.  This is sad in one way.  We don't need the Californian 'trophy wine' and money-rules syndrome in New Zealand.  Others say,  however,  that this approach is the only way to have New Zealand's best wines taken seriously in export markets.  That too is a sad commentary on human nature.  Since the wine is somewhat limited in quantity (of the order of 500 cases),  and since the quality is in fact exemplary,  these factors once known will add to its appeal as a social status symbol.  It will therefore probably sell out in fairly short order.  The advice therefore has to be,  buy as much as you can afford,  and cellar it for 10 – 30 years.

The absolute quality of this wine raises the interesting question,  what do the less-critical New Zealand winewriters who have already allocated one-hundred-point scores to demonstrably lesser Hawkes Bay cabernet / merlots from the 2013 vintage now do ?  As the actual quality of New Zealand wine advances in leaps and bounds with every good vintage,  never has the need for objectivity and international calibration in New Zealand wine evaluation been more urgently needed,  but sadly,  less apparent.  We must not fall into the Australian winewriting model (and trap) of absurd praise of local wines,  as if no other wine country existed.  GK 06/16

2013  Villa Maria Merlot Braided Gravels Single Vineyard Organic   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  DFB;  Me 100%,  all hand-picked from c.12-year old vines planted at 2,775 vines / ha and cropped @ c.6 t/ha = 2.4 t/ac;  cuvaison 21 – 28 days,  cultured-yeast;  MLF in barrel;  18 months in French oak c.35% new;  RS 0.24 g/L;  not sterile-filtered;  production around 250 x 9-L cases ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  clearly above midway in depth.  Great excitement in this glass,  once the identifications became apparent:  the Braided Gravels Merlot is starting to sing.  There is a beautiful dusky merlot florality now a little more apparent,  which is going to be wonderfully exciting to watch in the evolution of this wine.  The bouquet suggests darkest red roses and port-wine magnolia,  and maybe violets.  Below is dense bottled black doris plum fruit,  and suggestions of blueberry and trace cassis,  just delightful,  though (naturally) not quite so aromatic as the cabernet-led Tom 2013.  Palate also is starting to unfold,  revealing signs of the promise I outlined in my initial reviews of the wine last year.  Villa Maria have some sensational wines out of the 2013 vintage.  Their wines will be slow to reveal themselves under screwcap,  however.  This is a wine to secure by the case (of 12),  as a first-class Hawkes Bay Merlot.  Given the price now being asked for 2013 Tom,  its $60 release price looks more than appealing.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 06/16

2009  Church Road Merlot / Cabernet Tom   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels 97.5%,  Bridge Pa Triangle 2.5,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.4%;  $155   [ cork;  CS 58%,  Me 42;  all hand-picked,  the dominant cabernet @ 5.1 t/ha (minutely over 2 t/ac),  absolutely a serious classed-growth cropping rate,  the merlot 9.6 t/ha (3.8 t/ac),  and hand-sorted from on-average 12-year old vines;  100% de-stemmed,  crushed,  no cold soak,  inoculated fermentation mostly in oak cuves,  a fraction in s/s,  cuvaison up to 5 weeks for the CS components,  less for Me;  21 months in all-French oak c.81% new,  balance 1-year,  successive rackings to clarify and aerate;  not fined or filtered;  RS <1 g/L;  450 cases;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  a similar density to the 2013 Tom,  but older and fractionally lighter.  Bouquet now forms a vivid contrast with the 2013 Tom.  It is bigger,  softer,  riper,  and more oaky,  reflecting an earlier-style Tom,   plus the hotter year in Hawkes Bay in 2009 (which contrasts with the cooler dry 2013 vintage).  Yet all that said,  there is still a wonderful saturation of very ripe cassis and darkest plum fruit which would not be out of place in some classed growths in the hotter years of Bordeaux.  Only Australians and Americans think those hotter years better,  however.  It is imperative if we are to keep Hawkes Bay on its true international winemaking trajectory / destiny,  that the fruit characters of the 2013 Tom,  not the 2009,  be seen as the goal of viticulture and winemaking for premier reds in Hawkes Bay.  Flavours in mouth are bigger all round,  some melding of oak and fruit now apparent,  suggestions of browning in the cassis,  some brown tobacco complexity notes,  rather more apparent oak than the 2013,  but still all a pretty exciting mouthful.  You can understand from the viewpoint of the Te Mata Coleraine proprietors,  this 2009 could be described as over-ripe,  if one prefers a slightly cooler more vibrant and aromatic winestyle.  Fair enough,  and the 2013 provides that exactly,  plus exemplary richness.  But as indicated,  there are Bordeaux as ripe as this (in 2009 for example,  but not quite so oaky),  and the wine will give immense pleasure.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 06/16

2014  Craggy Range [ Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon / Cabernet Franc ] Sophia   18 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.8%;  $93   [ 50mm cork;  DFB;  Me 61%,  CS 20,  CF 19,  hand-picked from c.14-year old vines cropped @ 6.25 t/ha = 2.5 t/ac;  cuvaison not given,  cultured-yeast;  19 months in French oak c.42% new;  RS nil;  sterile-filtered;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  a wash of carmine and velvet,  the second lightest wine.  Bouquet is subtle in the extreme,  but very beautiful,  seemingly cabernet franc-led,  with red fruits to the fore.  The quality of oak in this wine is breathtaking.  In mouth the wine is so young,  it is in one sense hard to be sure of its potential.  From the bouquet you wonder if this is a wine modelled on the often-delicate but very beautiful Ch Cheval Blanc.  One thing is certain,  though:  this wine suffers from the Coleraine syndrome.  It needs greater richness / dry extract to take its rightful place amongst the Bordeaux classed growths.  It is beautiful as far as it goes,  in a Merlot / Cabernet franc style.  Great to see the petit verdot has been dropped from Sophia,  since the goal is a premium Saint-Emilion winestyle.  Cellar 5 – 15  years.  GK 06/16

2013  Ngatarawa Merlot / Cabernets Alwyn   18  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle 81% and Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $75   [ cork 49mm;  DFB;  Me 77%,  CS 19,  CF 4,  hand-picked from c.14-year old vines cropped @ 6.25 t/ha = 2.5 t/ac;  cuvaison 21 – 38 days,  cultured-yeast;  MLF in tank mostly;  16 – 19 months in French oak c.55% new;  RS <1  g/L;  sterile-filtered;  production 350 x 9-L cases;  release late 1916,  pre-release tasting bottle courtesy Alwyn Corban;  www.ngatarawa.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine,  not as vibrant as 2013 Tom,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet has an awkward edge to it at this showing,  a slightly stemmy note,  on good cassis and dark plum fruit.  Flavours in mouth are berry-dominant,  but again you wonder (at the blind stage),  is there malbec or something detracting in this wine (no).  Again,  body is good but not great,  alongside 2013 Tom.  Total style is aromatic,  fair fruit and berry,  but the wine seeming not completely together today.  This happens with young wines,  so I look forward to the next blind tasting of it.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 06/16

2013  Church Road Merlot McDonald Series   17 ½ +  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $29   [ screwcap;  Me 87%,  CS 13,  machine-picked from c.13-year old vines planted at 3,500 vines / ha and cropped @ c.8.5 t/ha = 3.4 t/ac;  cuvaison 28 days,  cultured-yeast;  MLF in barrel;  20 months in French oak c.33% new;  RS <2 g/L;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  towards the darker end.  Bouquet is pure big merlot,  vibrantly plummy and rich,  exciting.  Flavour is rich and ripe,  initially impressing highly,  and it is only when you go back to it,  back and forth with the other wines,  you see there is a robust quality to its flavours which plains it down a little,  now.  It is oakier than the Braided Gravels Merlot,  for example.  Time in cellar will mellow it beautifully.  Nonetheless it shows how good merlot can be in New Zealand,  in a climate which does not bake the delicate aromatics out of it.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 06/16

2014  Craggy Range Merlot Gimblett Gravels   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $29   [ screwcap;  DFB;  Me 88%,  CF 12,  70% machine-harvested @ 7.65 t/ha = 3.1 t/ac;  inoculated ferments in s/s;  17 months in French oak 27% new;  RS nil;  www.craggyrange.com  ]
Ruby,  a wash of carmine and velvet,  the lightest red.  Bouquet combines red and black plums with almost suggestions of red roses,  to show a highly varietal but subtle merlot bouquet,  very pure indeed.  Palate is lighter than hoped,  but perfectly ripe,  the oak delicately balanced.  It is a much softer wine than the McDonald Series Merlot,  but just as attractive in its own way.  For this and the Sophia,  it is as if new chief winemaker Matt Stafford feels the Craggy Range reds were a bit too big and bold in the first decade,  and it is time to finesse them.  Finesse and richness / dry extract are not incompatible,  however.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/16

2014  Craggy Range [ Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec / Cabernet Franc ] Te Kahu   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.2%;  $23   [ screwcap;  Me 68%,  CS 18,  Ma 8,  CF 6,  85% machine-harvested @ 8.05 t/ha =3.25 t/ac;  100% de-stemmed;  fermented in s/s;  17 months in French oak 28% new;  fined and filtered;  RS nil;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  fractionally deeper than Sophia.  Bouquet is very different from Sophia,  clearly more aromatic,  partly the cassis on the positive side,  partly I suspect the malbec hinting at stems.  But the nett result is fragrant,  very bordeaux,  more Entre Deux Mers in styling.  Palate is lighter than their Gimblett Gravels Merlot but still shows pleasant fruit weight,  some cassis and aromatics,  some plummyness,  and again is well in style for Bordeaux or Bordeaux Superieur,  though a little more oaky.  Against the Gimblett Gravels Merlot,  it is also slightly stemmy.  Even so,  it is already reasonably soft,  and it will be a popular food wine,  in a classic 'claret' style.   Cellar 5 – 12 years,  to see it at its best.  GK 06/16

Pinot Noir
2013  Craggy Range Pinot Noir Aroha   19  ()
Te Muna Valley,  Martinborough district,  Wairarapa,  New Zealand:  13.4%;  $125   [ 50mm cork;  hand-harvested @ c. 3.8 t/ha = 1.5 t/ac;  fermentation in oak cuves and s/s,  with wild yeasts,  and 40% whole-bunch;  11 months in French oak 32% new;  RS nil;  not fined,  coarse filter only;  the Craggy Range website now is really model of how to do it – if only other leading New Zealand wineries would provide both this level of documentation for each wine,  AND the same details for all back vintages;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Perfect pinot noir ruby,  clearly the deepest of the three Craggy Range pinot noirs (including the standard Te Muna Road wine in the Wairarapa pinot noir article,  for link see under the Index,  above),  but still a typical pinot noir colour by Burgundy standards.  The bouquet is simply beautiful,  classic pinot noir,  clearly floral in the sense of both pink and red roses as well as boronia,  fragrant,  aromatic in a subtle piquant way,  red fruits dominant.  In mouth the zingy red cherry grading to black fruits is exhilarating,  the oak increasing slightly now,  but the depth of flavour and texture dramatic.  The aromatic excitement on palate and perfect varietal expression are totally Cote de Nuits,  not Cote de Beaune – marvellous.  This wine reminds of a great Clos de la Roche (from Morey-Saint-Denis,  close by Gevrey-Chambertin),  but is perhaps slightly more oaky than (for example) Drouhin's handling.  This is Craggy Range's greatest pinot noir so far,  and likewise one of Martinborough's finest to date.  What a thrill.  This wine vs the 2013 standard Te Muna wine,  seems to me to offer the perfect confirmation that dry extract,  and perceived texture and concentration,  are in most cases linked with cropping rate.  Note the clear differences in the two wines.   Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/16

2014  Craggy Range Pinot Noir Aroha   18 ½ +  ()
Te Muna Valley,  Martinborough district,  Wairarapa,  New Zealand:  13.8%;  $125   [ 50mm cork;  hand-harvested @ c. 6.75 t/ha = 2.75  t/ac;  fermentation in oak cuves and s/s with wild yeasts;  50% whole-bunch;  11 months in French oak 30% new;  no fining,  light filtering;  RS nil;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Pinot noir ruby,  very close to the standard 2013 Te Muna Road wine.  Bouquet is (naturally) younger,  simpler,  and less integrated than the 2013 Aroha,  but nonetheless shows an exciting berry-rich expression of highly varietal pinot noir.  It simply awaits the development of more apparent rather than implicit florality,  and for the intertwining with oak vanillins to be as complex as the 2013.  Oak is not quite so apparent as the 2013 Aroha wine.  Palate is beautiful red cherry fruit grading to black cherry.  In terms of texture,  immediately there is a contradiction apparent in this set of wines,  for the cropping rate of this 2014  Aroha is given as higher than the 2013 standard wine,  yet fruit weight and texture seem better.  Presumably this reflects cellar work,  in barrel.  I envisage this ending up very close to the 2013 Aroha in style and achievement,  but just fractionally lighter.  A promising young wine to cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/16

Syrah = Shiraz
2013  Church Road Syrah Tom   19 +  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $200   [ 49mm cork;  Sy 100% (mass selection clone) intensively hand-managed in the vineyard to optimise a reduced crop;  the crop hand-harvested and sorted,  all with great attention to fruit quality for the Tom parcels,  at an approximate cropping rate of 6 t/ha (= 2.4 t/ac),  all destemmed;  no cold soak,  inoculated yeast,  fermentation in an open-top oak cuve,  up to 31 days cuvaison,  particular attention to aeration during and after fermentation;  22 months in French small oak 71% new,  with racking to both aerate and clarify the wine;  RS is given as 2.5 g/L,  but that is the non-fermentable sugars:  in the usual sense (of glucose and fructose) nil would be more realistic;  neither fined nor filtered;  winemaker Chris Scott estimates 2013 is the driest year in the viticultural zone for 70 years,  and not unduly hot;  around 150 cases;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  just below midway in depth.  Bouquet on this new syrah version of Tom is just beautiful,  a perfect expression of dusky floral (nearly wall-flower) and fragrant cassis-laden syrah exactly matching fine Hermitage in style.  The saturation of berry on bouquet is both extraordinary and superb,  totally dominant to oak.  Palate does little to dissuade one from this interpretation,  and the weight of fruit is sensational:  this is a wine to be compared with fine years of either the now re-invigorated Jaboulet La Chapelle Hermitage,  or J L Chave Hermitage.  It shows cassisy berry filled out with suggestions of bottled black doris plums plus a slight aromatic lift of subliminal black pepper,  and gentle oak.  It is more forward than the 2013 Villa Maria Syrah Reserve (under screwcap,  not in this tasting set),  but also closely matches both that wine and the 2013 Airavata Syrah for concentration,  thus indicating a dry extract around or better than the 30 g/L mark – wonderful.  Unlike the Airavata,  there is little or no sign of whole-bunch fermentation evident on bouquet in this Tom Syrah.  The quality of dry extract is further confirmed by the way the wine has totally absorbed the 71% new oak – which on the face of it would seem high for fine syrah (Guigal notwithstanding).  

This is phenomenal wine,  totally of finest international temperate-climate syrah quality.  It is every bit as good in its way as the Tom Cabernet / Merlot.  It may well be the finest 2013 Hawkes Bay syrah of all:  only future rigorously blind tastings will reveal the answer to that issue.  The given 2.5 g/L residual sugar will raise a point of order for some critical tasters,  but as explained for Tom Cabernet /Merlot,  this is unfermentable sugar.  Most wineries would omit that in their specs.  But even if it were fermentable,  one would be inclined to let it pass,  given the other qualities the wine shows.  This wine is an exhilarating success for Chris Scott,  the only regret being there are only c.150 cases of it.  But conversely,  how fantastic it is that the Church Road winemakers kept this finest parcel of fruit separate,  and did not increase the volume with lesser batches.  As I have written before,  the Bridge Pa Triangle can be every bit the match for the much-hyped Gimblett Gravels,  and particularly for syrah and merlot.  This wine is the living proof of that assertion,  though Church Road does have a prime site within the Triangle.  As for the 2013 Tom Cabernet / Merlot,  the British wine establishment acutely needs to see this wine,  given their often-patronising assessments about New Zealand syrah matching good Crozes-Hermitage.  As for the Cabernet / Merlot however,  the given residual sugar will need explaining,  for those seeking to criticise.  It will be a worthwhile exercise,  in years to come,  to set up rigorously blind tastings of 12 comparable 2013 syrahs including this one,  and see if tasters can in fact recognise these unfermentable sugars,  against a background of such berry richness.   Cellar 5 – 20 years,  though it will hold longer.  GK 06/16

2014  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.2%;  $120   [ 50mm cork;  Sy 100% mass selection clone,  all hand-harvested at 6.6 t/ha = 2.65 t/ac;  100% de-stemmed,  inoculated ferments in both oak cuves and s/s;  MLF and 18 months in French oak 35% new;  filtered to bottle;  RS nil;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  just above midway in depth,  less intense than Craggy's 2014 Gimblett Gravels Syrah,  but scarcely older.  Comparing and contrasting the bouquets on these two wines is an absolute education in red wine elevation.  The boisterous vigour of the Gimblett Gravels wine is here tamed and smoothed by oak of great purity and even beauty,  not as markedly so as the Sileni Syrah EV,  but in that direction.  The volume of bouquet is much less than the Tom Syrah,  but it is a year younger.  A year is a long time at this stage of a young syrah's life,  as the Braided Gravels Merlot illustrated (by analogy) in the Cabernet / Merlot flight,  and Te Mata's Bullnose Syrah displays every vintage.  Bouquet and palate present a superb fine-grain handling of syrah,  suggestions of cassis,  more dark plums and some blueberry,  some black pepper,  good length and reasonable richness,  though the latter not in the Tom class.  It seems a more exciting wine than 2013 Le Sol,  from memory,  but that is provisional:  I need to re-taste that wine.  This syrah is not so easily classed with either Cote Rotie or Hermitage,  it can fairly be described as in-between in style.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 06/16

2013  Church Road Syrah McDonald Series   18 ½ +  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $25   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  92.5% clone 470 adding interest,  hand-harvested and sorted,  all destemmed;  no cold soak,  inoculated yeast,  21 – 25 days cuvaison,  attention to aeration;  first 6 months in French and Hungarian oak on light lees,  followed by 11 months in barrel,  new oak reduced to 25%;  light fining,  not filtered;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Carmine,  ruby and velvet,  very young and intense.  One sniff of the bouquet,  and this is benchmark syrah.   When you find the identity,  you can't help thinking,  what a phenomenal year Church Road had in 2013.    This is wine selling in the mid-20s bracket,  yet to a casual sniff at the blind evaluation stage,  it is (loosely speaking) of classed growth claret standard.  Alongside the similarly-priced Craggy Gimblett Gravels wine,  it shows a sophistication and harmony of elevage that leaves the Craggy gasping,  notwithstanding the stunning fruit quality in the latter.  I think I heard Chris Scott say the Church Road winery houses some 5000 barrels,  and not one of them American.  When wines at this price point display this quality of oak handling,  you can see why.  This is one of the great Hawkes Bay wine values from the 2013 vintage,  and it can still occasionally be found in wine shops.  Worth hunting out.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  maybe 20.  GK 06/16

2014  Church Road Syrah Grand Reserve   18 ½  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $38   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% mass selection clone hand-harvested and sorted,  all de-stemmed;  no cold soak,  inoculated yeast,  up to 30 days cuvaison in s/s,  careful  aeration;  17 months in barrel,  French 87% the balance Hungarian,  34% new,  the first six months on light lees,  then 11 months in barrel;  RS 2.2 g/L;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the deepest but not as intense as the Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Syrah.  This bouquet too is beautifully varietal,  dusky port-wine magnolia and darkest rose florals on cassis and bottled black doris plums,  though there is a trace of pennyroyal.  Being a year younger,  the wine does not show quite the degree of berry / oak integration the Tom so magically shows,  but it is very good – and adds weight to the case for 2014 being exciting (for syrah at least) in Hawkes Bay too.  Palate is sweet,  ripe and full,  winemaker Chris Scott not wanting much black pepper in his syrahs,  so he ripens them well.  But unlike some earlier years,  not so much as to lose the spicy magical lift that subliminal black pepper conveys.  Additionally,  the oak is less than some earlier years of the Reserve wine,  adding to the quality of this edition.  This is beautiful wine too,  but not quite as rich as the phenomenal 2013 McDonald Series Syrah.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/16

2013  Sileni Syrah [ Exceptional Vintage ] EV   18 ½  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $70   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  tended for low-cropping;  hand-harvested,  all destemmed;  inoculated yeast,  21 days cuvaison;  MLF completed and 10 months in French oak 60% new;  RS nil;  www.sileni.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  a more evolved colour than the Tom Syrah or Le Sol,  and one of the lighter colours altogether.  Bouquet here is in one sense quite different from the Church Road and Craggy Range syrahs,  yet it is gloriously linked to them too.  It shows the smooth warm cedary oak character that Grant Edmonds manages to achieve in his top-tier EV wines,  yet on palate the oak does not dominate at all.  In much earlier days,  Robert Mondavi achieved a similar beauty of palate in his oaking of their Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons.  Trying to describe this wine is difficult,  all the components being so seamlessly interwoven.  It is nearly floral,  but the vanillin in the oak confuses that,  and the cassis component is similarly so infused with sweet oak,  you know it is there but can't pin it down.  Fruit flavours also clearly suggest blueberry,  implying greater ripeness than most of these syrahs.  There is a trace of black pepper spice,  but you can only see it when you put the wine alongside a Cabernet / Merlot.  It seems nearly as rich as the phenomenal Tom Syrah,  but the styling is absolutely Cote Rotie.  This is a rare wine on the New Zealand red wine landscape,  showing a harmony,  integration and totality of style achievement which is remarkable.  I suspect some will overlook it,  therefore.  There might be a trace of residual to the finish of this wine too,  but it is very hard to tell when the dry extract is high ... so probably not.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  maybe longer.  GK 06/16

2013  Elephant Hill Syrah Airavata   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels 65%,  Te Awanga 35%,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $90   [ cork 50mm;  Sy 98.7%,  Vi 1.3,  co-fermented where possible;  all hand-picked from vines of average age 13 years;  on average 4 days cold-soak,  approximately 25% whole-bunch,  cuvaison averaged 14 days,  all cultured-yeast;  wild-MLF in barrel;  18 months in oak c.40% new;  RS nil;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  dry extract 31.9 g/L;  production 273 cases;  www.elephanthill.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the second deepest wine.  This is the most distinctive wine in the set,  and also another to look very different from this time last year.  There is rich berry with a strong whole-bunch ferment component to it now,  much more apparent than a year ago.  I expect that to marry away with another 3 – 5 years in cellar.  It is a strange smell,  which can easily be interpreted negatively,  as in for example a reminder of burning perspex.  Looked at another way however,  it is nearly floral (this is the goal of the whole-bunch approach),  exploring the dusky aromatics of cassis and dark plum fruit.  Palate is berry dominant,  with the oaking seeming low,  in this company.  There are clear reminders here of the new-style Cornas and Crozes-Hermitage wines being made by Maxime Graillot under the Domaine des Lises label,  as well as 2013 Trinity Hills Syrah Homage and Rod Easthope's 2014 Syrah Moteo.  They add a new dimension to New Zealand syrah,  which some will find hard to embrace.  Palate richness in this wine is exemplary.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  maybe 20.  GK 06/16

2013  Sacred Hill Syrah Deerstalkers   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $56   [ cork 50mm;  Sy 100%,  hand-picked from c.13-year old vines cropped @ 5 t/ha = 2 t/ac;  no cold-soak,  cuvaison 25 – 35 days with 3% whole bunches retained,  mostly wild-yeast;  MLF in barrel;  16 months in French oak c.38% new;  RS <2 g/L;  not sterile-filtered;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  a wash of carmine,  exactly in the middle for depth.  Bouquet is restrained,  a shadow of reduction curbing any florals and subduing (but not totally suppressing) the cassis aromatics.  The ratio of berry to oak is appealing relative to some earlier Deerstalkers,  and the wine presents as syrah in the blind tasting (the quality of cassis in some of these syrahs can easily lead to them being classified as Cabernet / Merlots,  blind).  Palate seems fractionally narrower and less expressive than I recall in the last tasting a year ago,  yet fruit weight and balance is nearly as good as Le Sol.  Wines (red wines particularly) do pass through phases,  so maybe this Deerstalkers is in a retiring patch.  Meanwhile,  if you are using it at the moment,  decant well and leave to air some hours.  The next blind evaluation will be awaited with interest.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 06/16

2014  Craggy Range Syrah Gimblett Gravels   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $27   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  all hand-harvested at 6.75 t/ha = 2.7 t/ac;  inoculated fermentations in s/s,  the fruit 90% destemmed,  10% whole-bunch;  16 months in French oak 26% new;  filtered to bottle;  RS nil;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Incredibly dense carmine,  ruby and velvet,  the deepest wine,  suggesting low oak exposure.  Bouquet is youthful,  almost unknit and raw in its intensity,  but acutely varietal.  The floral component is yet to develop,  but intense cassis and bottled black doris plum are evident.  Palate shows good concentration and depth,  and more oak than the colour suggested.  The whole wine is youthful and ungainly at this stage,  needing three years at least to harmonise.  It is more a boisterous commercial syrah,  contrasting vividly with Craggy's Le Sol,  and likewise not showing the sophistication of oak elevation in the top two Church Road wines,  or even the 2013 Church Road McDonald Series wine.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  to mellow agreeably and score higher in later years.  GK 06/16

2013  Vidal Syrah Reserve   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $25   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  all destemmed;  no cold-soak,  inoculated,  extended cuvaison;  MLF and 18 months in French oak 40% new;  RS <2 g/L;  filtered to bottle;  note the Vidal wine hierarchy has been recast,  the new Reserve Series now being between the standard wine and the former top-tier Reserves,  now labelled Legacy Series;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is quiet on this one too,  a faint trace of pure reduction crimping the florals one hopes for in good syrah.  Perhaps there is a s/s component in this wine.  Dominant berry is cassis again,  with some oak.   Flavour shows clear cassisy and plummy aromatic fruit of reasonable weight,  but also just a thread of hardness from threshold reduction.  Oaking is beautifully in balance.  Put this aside for three years,  and it should be much softer and more approachable.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/16