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

Geoff Kelly  MSc (Hons)

Sensory awareness:
I start the seminar by observing that you do not need to read very much about French winemakers,  to realise that the world of nature is very much part of their natural descriptive language.  In particular,  leading French winemakers are passionate about floral smells,  flavours and analogies.  This is why the French so abhor sur-maturité,  or over-ripeness,  where the floral dimension is lost from the grape and the wine.  I enlarge on this concept of awareness of our natural surroundings a good deal,  with reference to cottage gardens,  to violets,  roses,  lilac and the like,  then draw attention to the superb Viburnum X burkwoodii in the garden bed right alongside the sensory laboratory.  How many students this year have stopped and specifically smelt that viburnum,  I ask.  This year:  none.  

Every year fewer students have smelt this reference-quality viburnum.  This increasing dislocation of the younger generation from the world of nature does not augur well for the future of fine wine-making,  as opposed to industrial wine-making,  in New Zealand.  Being in a garden,  the smelling of flowers (in the company of a granny,  for example),  is simply no longer part of so many young people's world.  How can a winemaker make fine subtle nuanced wine,  as opposed to commercially acceptable industrial wine,  if they ignore the basic aroma analogies of the natural world,  I ask.  Particularly if those aromas are the stock-in-trade of the benchmark winemakers of the world.

I then ask:  and how many have smelt and tasted cassis,  the essence of blackcurrant,  and perhaps the clearest and most unequivocal of all the descriptors for the cabernet / merlot winestyle,  but also (surprisingly,  at first glance) for syrah.  This year:  two.  So I assure them I have a real treat in store for them,  that they will actually taste this cornerstone smell and flavour,  an experience which will set them up for a life in wine.

I go on to explain that our first two wines will be a viognier,  to illustrate the great white grape of the northern Rhone Valley,  and that will be followed by an outstanding cassis.  Following the cassis,  students are asked to rinse away the amazingly intense and even more astonishingly sweet blackcurrant / cassis flavours with the viognier,  to return the nose and mouth to a relatively neutral starting-point for the reds.  The general point in wine tasting,  and particularly wine judging,  never rinse with water,  just go from wine to wine,  surprises many,  at this point.  Some introductory remarks about viognier follow.  

Viognier continues to be the neglected / under-appreciated white variety in New Zealand.  So many winemakers have foolishly planted it in places climatically totally unsuited to it,  and produced wines so totally lacking in varietal authenticity,  that it is little wonder the consuming public is disenchanted with the grape.  The New Zealand industry however needs to do a little soul-searching before blaming either the grape,  or the consumer,  for this state of affairs.

In New Zealand it needs to be said over and over again that the finest examples of viognier will be produced in climates which ripen the grape to yellow floral aromas  and yellow flavours,  yet at the same time are marginal to achieving good ripeness every year.  In places where the grape automatically ripens every year,  it is pretty well certain that summertime temperatures are too hot to retain the subtle floral smells and flavours which make the grape so enchanting.  Such climates may be ideally suited to beverage wines,  supermarket wines and the like,   but they cannot match the subtle nuanced fine wines the temperate New Zealand viticultural climate is capable of producing,  wines which at very best can match the character and complexity of the model wines from the Condrieu zone in France,  and from Europe more generally for other varieties.

In the case of viognier,  an infinitely subtle and tricky grape,  New Zealand is one of the few places on earth where there is the possibility of producing beautifully floral,  intensely varietal,  complex,  satisfying and refreshing examples of the winestyle.  Further,  it is certain that the variety will be successful in some years only,  even in Hawkes Bay and maybe Waiheke Island.  Virtually everywhere else north of Hawkes Bay is too humid,  or in the case of microsites such as Ahipara and Karikari Peninsula,  salt load is so high as to interfere with the delicacy of a white wine such as viognier.

Winemakers persisting with viognier in other districts are,  particularly in places south of Hawkes Bay,  simply sabotaging the New Zealand viognier effort.  Too many of them are producing insipid characterless examples of viognier the wine,  wines which can scarcely be differentiated from plain pinot gris,  and like poor pinot gris,  wines which use residual sweetness to cover the intrinsic defects in the original material.  Little wonder the consumer is disenchanted.  Accordingly therefore I examined the viogniers presented with this year's Hot Reds (see below) with a good deal of interest.  Could I find one of a quality to illustrate to the Lincoln class what viognier should be like in world terms,  not New Zealand judging terms,  or would I  (as usual) need to use a wine from Yves Cuilleron or Guigal,  both producers drawing on Condrieu and thereabouts.  

In the event,  no wine met those requirements,  but one tasted earlier in the year,  the 2014 Te Mata Viognier Zara,  comes close.  Freshly opened it is not instantly totally convincing,  but with a little air and not too cold,  it is perhaps the best viognier so far made in New Zealand.  It does clearly show the yellow floral aromas reminiscent of honeysuckle and even hints of wild-ginger blossom on bouquet,  which contrast so vividly with white-flowered plants such as sweet alice,  or shrubs such as apple blossom or English hawthorn,  or even the incredibly sensual Magnolia stellata.  The yellow floral aromas are followed by yellow fruits,  yellow nectarine leading to apricot flavours on palate,  which again contrast vividly with the white-fruit pear / white-peach flavours characterising better pinot gris.  I go on to say our wine shows the body the variety must display,  consequent on barrel fermentation in old oak only,  coupled with skilful lees autolysis,  and a high percentage of the wine having been through malolactic fermentation.  The latter is essential to achieving the pleasing and satisfying texture and mouthfeel temperate-climate viognier must display,  if it is to be a success in anything other than the most parochial terms.  And all this has been achieved without resort to residual sweetness,  certainly below 2 g/L residual.  Though the 2014 release has already moved to the 2015,  it is worth looking out for the 2014 in bottle shops interested enough in wine to stock good viognier.

Why write wine notes:
Once the viognier and cassis have been tasted and talked about,  and the elements of my approach to  presenting wine tastings,  and talking about wine,  have become apparent,  it is time to discuss why it is important to learn to write good wine notes,  and the kinds of topics to be considered.  The 'why' part is easier,  turning on the simple fact that when one is young,  one automatically assumes one remembers  everything.  I make rather much of the point that this is not so,  and that in achieving good wine notes,  one is communicating essentially with oneself,  at some future point.  Students must imagine that in a year's time,  they may have no recollection at all of what the Te Awa Syrah in today's presentation actually tasted like,  and how did they tell it apart from the less ripe pair of wines on the one hand,  or the over-ripe shiraz wine on the other.

We touch on the conventional approach to wine description,  via:  
#  colour;
#  descriptive flower and fruit analogies,  and other foods and substances too,  for the qualities found on  bouquet;
#  the nature of both the flavour of the wine in mouth,  and the palate-weight,  balance,  and texture;  
#  and finally the intensity and length of the wine's aftertaste and persistence.

And then I present a few subject headings under which to 'interrogate' the wine,  to better assess its total quality:
#  for cork-closed wine,  check for cork taint / TCA;
#  check for reduction,  in particular does the wine shows simple H2S reduction needing only aeration before  serving,  or are there more complex sulphur molecules,  mercaptans and the like,  making the wine more  difficult to deal with;
#  conversely,  check for oxidation,  hints of acetaldehyde,  ethyl acetate,  acetic acid;
#  check for under-ripeness,  and perhaps-correlated high total acid,  maybe stalky or even green smells and flavours;
#  again conversely,  check for over-ripeness,  a loss of florality,  freshness and temperate-climate complexity  (if appropriate);
#  check for over-oaking,  where grape subtlety is masked,  or oak is substituting for grape flavour.  I touch on the fact that nearly all red wines in New Zealand and Australia are still over-oaked,  and the reasons why this is so – versus the need for subtler wines at table;
#  and in New Zealand where so many red wines are imported from Australia,  check for eucalyptus taint,  realising that factor may range from a hint of mint so subtle as to be nearly floral or positive,  right through to rank liniment / eucalyptus odours which can be deeply offensive to persons outside Australia;                    
#  check for errors related to fermentation / elevation,  in particular those consequent on high apparent sulphur as SO2,  or inadequate sulphur leading to oxidation and sometimes Brettanomyces;
#  check for winemaker 'seduction' of the consumer,  the deliberate introduction of or leaving trace residual  sugar (since it is hard to detect 2 – 3 g/L),  or alternatively more residual sugar than is appropriate to the winestyle – e.g. 3 – 4 g/L in chardonnay or 5 – 6 g/L in sauvignon blanc.

Any discussion along these lines can extend for ever:  the above are merely to provide a starting point.

The geographic range of syrah:
Before starting on the syrahs proper,  I mention that one reason syrah is exciting is because it in effect carries on where pinot noir leaves off,  both varieties at best being highly floral and fragrant,  making supple wines where the beauty of the grape is easily compromised or destroyed by excess oak.  And that syrah in all respects is more substantial,  so while people may graduate relatively easily from white wines notably chardonnay to light pinot noirs,  and find to their astonishment and delight that they do after all like red wines with food,  syrah is a clear next step towards more complex and tannin-rich winestyles such as cabernet / merlot.

In Europe syrah produces a range of wine styles,  extending from the warmest parts of Switzerland and Austria through France and northern Italy to Spain and Portugal,  in all about 6° of latitude.  The extraordinary,  distinctive,  and exciting thing about syrah in New Zealand is that it is already making interesting,  and in many cases exciting,  wines in a latitudinal range extending from Ahipara and Karikari Peninsula in far North Auckland,  through Waiheke Island to Hawkes Bay (the centre of gravity for syrah),  and on to Marlborough and even the Bendigo Terraces of Central Otago.  This latitudinal range in New Zealand covers 10°,  so it is no wonder we have a range of styles.  The mere notion of 10° of latitude in our syrah plantings is absolutely exciting.

A syrah ripening curve:
Turning to the syrahs,  this part of the tasting takes two parts.  The first seeks to illustrate my ripening curve article  for syrah.  Once again the 2016 Hawkes Bay Hot Reds Expo (now called the Hawkes Bay Wine Celebration)  proved an ideal venue in which to suss the best wines to use for this annual Lincoln lecture.  I have written about  previous years earlier on this website.  This year due to the current interest in syrah,  which is highly likely to be the next exciting grape in New Zealand (I like to think),  in discussion with Lincoln we felt we should present viognier and syrah again.  In the previous version,  with 2012 being cool in Hawkes Bay,  and 2013 being so ideally warm,  I tried to achieve coverage using only New Zealand wines,  but that didn't work out too well.  This year,  almost ironically,  France contributed the under-ripe wines,  and Hawkes Bay the perfectly ripe ones.  My syrah presentation is centred around a review I earlier published in The World of Fine Wine,  London,  titled 'A Syrah Ripening Curve in New Zealand Wine Terms'.  Students have the kernel of that account in front of them while tasting,  outlining how the grape (and hence the wine) passes through a sequence of ripening stages:  

➡  green and stalky …
➡  leafy …  
➡  leafy grading to coolly floral such as jonquils / paperwhites,  with any hint of white pepper still stalky,  the berry component palely red …
➡  red currants and suggestions of buddleia / carnations / dianthus / florals,  with the white pepper 'sweetening',  the wines fragrant but still red-fruits-dominant,  clearly cool-climate …
➡  increasing darkening of the red currants to red plums and then to suggestions of black currants progressively sweetening to cassis,  and sweetening of the dianthus florals to wallflower and sometimes roses,  at the same time the white pepper grading through to hints of black pepper …
➡  full cassis berry darkening and grading through to fresh dark plums to bottled dark plums (such as black doris),  plus freshly-cracked black peppercorn and spice,  the florals now darker and 'sweeter' (wallflower, dark red roses,  violets) and then progressively becoming attenuated as ripeness increases.  Perfect syrah ripeness is where sweet florality peaks,  black pepper is subtle,  and cassis and maybe dark plums dominate at a reasonable alcohol (preferably below 14%) – beyond this lies sur-maturité as syrah ...
➡  bottled black plums grading to blueberry and then blackberry,  still ideally with some florals,  but the florality,  cassis and cracked black peppercorn tapering away as blackberry increases,  and then giving way to boysenberry suggestions ...
➡  boysenberry becomes dominant,  remaining dark plum and traces of black pepper progressively disappear with increasing ripeness,  cassis and florals have been left behind.  Better phases of shiraz fit in here,  beyond lies sur-maturité as shiraz ...
➡  suggestions of prunes,  raisining and 'browning' of the boysenberry increase;  the wines become progressively more alcoholic,  hot-climate and varietally characterless,  resting instead on size,  alcohol and oak.

Tasting the syrahs:
This year some syrahs recently assessed from Maison Vauron,  Auckland,  show the cooler part of the sequence remarkably well,  matching some of the wines from the cool 2012 vintage in Hawkes Bay,  which are not now readily available.  Wines 3 – 5 illustrate the cool to ideal part of the syrah ripening curve,  as above.  The detail for all 11 wines (considering the cassis as a 'wine') follows later in this report.

Having tasted an ideal syrah,  next comes Rod Easthope's intriguing 2014 Syrah Moteo as wine 6,  to illustrate the role and character of a whole-bunch component,  much used in both syrah and pinot noir approaches to fermentation.  The Easthope wine is 100% whole-bunch,  and it can be argued the characters displayed are excessive.          

The next wine in the syrah ripening sequence is a key one. The goal is to show syrah over-ripened to the point where it has lost all the florals,  the cassis delicacy,  and the black pepper and complexity of true syrah,  instead the grape (and wine) having morphed via over-ripeness into variant shiraz.  Selecting this wine is not straightforward,  because (generalising) Australians (like Americans) like big red wines,  and often,  spurious complexity has been added to the wine via obvious oak,  which diverts attention away from the more subtle grape-dependent sequence of complexity,  aroma and flavour factors I want to illustrate,  in our more subtle viticultural climate.

Three common wine faults:
Then follows a countervailing part of the presentation,  whereby three wines are presented to both test ability in wine fault recognition,  and also to refresh student attention to and participation in the whole seminar.  This year's tasting built on previous years,  where the difficulty has been in finding wines which display different faults sufficiently clearly to be readily recognised by a group many of whom have limited practical experience with fault identification.

For the first faulty wine,  this year volatility,  previous experience has shown that recognition of VA requires a wine to be dosed.  Wines which appear volatile to the experienced taster at the tasting bench do not work for a disparate group in a student / lecture setting.  I do not have ready access to ethyl acetate,  but thanks to Sue Fox-Warren,  Head of Science at Flaxmere College,  I did have glacial acetic acid.  When the tasting sample lacks the more obvious ethyl acetate component,  I found by experiment that for pure acetic,  I had to increase the dose well beyond the 'normal' highly volatile range of say 1 g/L (such as Penfolds used to be unconcerned about),  to nearly 2 g/L if it were to be easily recognised.  I assumed an innate VA of say 0.5 g/L in the 'normal' base wine.  Yet even at this level of dosage,  where an acetic prickle was just detectable on bouquet,  and elevated acid was more clearly apparent on palate and aftertaste,  still less than one third of tasters achieved correct recognition.

For the second faulty wine,  this year reduction,  I have been well served by the 2009 Guigal Crozes-Hermitage in recent years.  It continues to illustrate the dulling and leaden characters of sulphides on both bouquet and palate beautifully.  Apologists for reductive wines,  which includes surprisingly many winewriters and wine judges in New Zealand,  need to note that above a certain level,  reduction does not marry away.  This wine achieved somewhat better recognition of the desired fault.

For the third fault presented,  Brettanomyces,  the wine used was so advanced in its savoury brett characteristics that argumentative students could well have argued that it displayed oxidation as a fault too.  But that wasn't offered as one of the three faults sought.  Student engagement was good,  and this wine achieved the best recognition of the three,  approaching half the group.

This whole section of the presentation worked well,  I thought,  the best so far,  and it engaged student attention and participation.  The key lies in locating appropriate wines,  a goal more easily stated than achieved.  

A model serious syrah:
After the faulty wines it is important to get back to the substance of the tasting,  syrah,  so the tasting concludes with a wine designed to clearly illustrate a good example of syrah made in a serious style,  and ideally  suited to cellaring.  In previous years I have used a French wine,  often from Yves Cuilleron,  as the exemplar,  but this year the 2014 Church Road Syrah Grand Reserve is both of high quality,  and freely available.  Further it has been made in a vin de garde style,  with at this stage quite serious oak handling still to fully marry in.  Students were asked to go back and compare this wine with the 2014 Te Awa wine,  both showing perfect grape ripeness,  but the Te Awa being so much less oaked,  the wine is much more accessible and reveals its varietal character much more clearly at this stage.  Further,  comparing the two focusses student attention on the role of oak in the wine,  and whether this amount is necessarily a good thing.  

Cellaring wine:
Discussion of cellaring potential for the Church Road wine,  demonstrably 20 if not 30 years,  leads into the two concluding sections of the seminar,  cellaring wine,  and presenting professional-level tastings.  I take some trouble to emphasise the joys to be derived from cellaring wine,  the moreso since doing so is not fashionable nowadays,  in an age where so many are desirous of more instant gratification.  For syrah in particular,  I aim to mention that I still treasure 1969 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle in my cellar,  and that this wine gave much pleasure to tasters when last shown in one of my library tastings,  at 45 years of age.  This concept presents some difficulty for younger / less experienced (in wine) people,  I observe,  in appreciating the notion that this Church Road wine before them might last nearly as long.  I go on to say that the Gigondas in particular,  despite its faults,  does display the soft savoury complexity which fully mature wines have,  which  makes them so much more food-friendly,  in this case notwithstanding the significant brett component.  Brett at moderate levels does in fact make most wines even more beautiful with food,  though brett nazis cannot get their heads round that concept.

Presenting professional-level tastings:
Finally,  for students graduating with wine as a major,  the assumption is many will become wine professionals.  The seminar concludes with the basics of presenting a professional-level tasting:  a handout listing the wines in the same order as they are presented (it is staggering how few commercial firms can achieve this simple goal);  and the need for all red wines to be decanted,  the younger ones to take a breath of air,  the older to achieve a bright decanted wine free of sediment.  Using 690 – 700 of the 750 mls is suggested as a safe goal.  Checking for reduction,  and how to ventilate lightly reductive wines is part of this discussion.  TCA-affected wines are also mentioned.  Then there is the imperative need in larger tastings where more than one bottle is needed,  to assemble all cork-closed wines into one master blend,  then sub-bottle them again.  This precaution is needed to forestall the all-too-often-present wine know-all participant,  who (notably in urban wine groups) wishes to claim that the bottle in their part of the room is different from that tasted by other speakers,  this being a mechanism designed to draw attention to their often opinionated (if not downright erroneous) views.  I also check closely and often 'assemble' Diam-closed wines,  now that I have experienced corked Diam bottles.  Finally,  simple methods of bringing all red wines to a comfortable room temperature are briefly outlined,   so that both tannins and acid present harmoniously.  This precaution is little needed for Aucklanders,  but is a critical need further south.

Supplementary material provided:
Handouts for the tasting include:  (1) an annotated and fairly detailed schedule of the 11 wines,  giving both the basic winemaking,  and then the characters the wine is intended to display;  (2) a crystallisation of the syrah ripening curve,  the core reproduced above,  excerpted from the earlier-cited paper;  (3) an account of viognier in New Zealand,  its desired characters etc;  (4) a review and characterisation of brett in wine,  based on the Australian Wine Research Institute's  presentation to the 2007 Pinot Noir  Conference;  and (5) a schedule of the books found most useful in a general wine career (as opposed to the textbooks needed for a career specifically as a viticulturist or winemaker).  Some of these handouts are summarised from articles already published on my website.  Next year one on the significance of dry extract in red wines (particularly) would be a useful addition.

Sue Fox-Warren,  Head of Science,  Flaxmere College,  Hawkes Bay,  provided critical assistance in preparing the volatile wine sample for this presentation.  Both Te Mata Estate and  Easthope Family WineGrowers made their wines available free-of-charge for this seminar.  This help is very much appreciated.

Kelly,  Geoff,  2011:  A Syrah Ripening Curve in New Zealand wine terms.  The World of Fine Wine 34:  130-137  (London)


(1.)      2014  Te Mata Estate Viognier Zara
(2.)      nv  Briottet Creme de Cassis de Dijon
(3)       2014  J-M Gerin Syrah la Champine IGP Les Collines Rhodaniennes
(4.)      2013  J L Chave Saint-Joseph Offerus
(5.)      2014 Te Awa Estate Syrah
(6)       2014 Easthope Family WineGrowers Syrah Moteo
(7)       2014 George Wyndham Shiraz Bin 555
(8)       2004 Villa Maria Syrah Cellar Selection NB – VA augmented
(9)       2009 Guigal Crozes-Hermitage – Reduction
(10)     1998 Santa Duc Gigondas Hautes Garrigues – Brettanomyces
(11)     2014 Church Road Syrah Grand Reserve

The wines below are presented in my standard review format,  but sequenced in tasting order,  not my usual ranking from highest to lowest.  The first part of each review gives the details given to students in the handout,  in italics.  This aims to both summarise the winemaking,  where known,  and indicate why the wine has been included in the tasting.  This matches the normal 'admin' section in my reviews. Then follow my tasting impressions this year,  sometimes with related comments.

Wine 1:  
2014  Te Mata Estate Viognier Zara   18 ½  ()
Woodthorpe Terraces,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $31   [ 45 mm supercritical cork (Diam);  all BF in mostly older oak;  nearly complete MLF;  <6 months in barrel,  with lees work;  <2 g/L RS.  Arguably the best viognier thus far made in New Zealand.  Note the sweet florals on bouquet,  reminiscent of yellow honeysuckle or wild-ginger blossom,  then yellow fruits behind the florals.  Palate accurately captures the suggestion of fresh apricots typifying the variety,  plus the florals,  and the wine has texture,  mouthfeel,  presence,  and subtle oak;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Lemon.  Fresh out of the bottle,  the wine is a little reluctant,  so preferably aerate a little,  and make sure it is not chilled,  to reveal clear yellow floral and fruit notes,  not white,  fruit dominant over near-invisible oak,  a lovely winey bouquet.  Palate is saturated with pale yellow fruits,  yellow nectarine grading through to apricots of reasonable ripeness,  the wine feeling as if the grapes themselves were more tanniny than for example chardonnay (viognier can be quite phenolic).  This impression is augmented by the wonderfully subtle oak.  Persistence of flavour is remarkable,  considering it is not a demonstrably 'strong' wine,  length,  texture and mouthfeel being delightful.  Both reflect the wonderfully subtle oak,  none new.  Cellar 2 - 5 years ideally,  viognier is not a grape for long cellaring,  in contrast to chardonnay,  the youthful fruit-related impressions being important to the winestyle.  Tasting the wine alongside an equivalent-quality chardonnay (later) is wonderfully instructive.  GK 10/16

'Wine' 2:  
nv  Briottet Creme de Cassis de Dijon   19  ()
Dijon area,  Burgundy,  France:  20%;  $38   [ plastic closure;  the blackcurrant variety Black Burgundy is soaked in 20% neutral eau-de-vie for 10 weeks,  then sweetened with cane sugar to 300 or more g/L.  Cassis quality is a function of fruit quality,  the eau-de-vie quality,  and the ratio of berries to solution.  This is a good one.  Cassis is the key descriptor for perfectly ripe cabernet sauvignon,  but is equally applicable to temperate-climate syrah.  It implies vibrant freshness,  in contrast to the boysenberry / raisin qualities typically found in hot-climate syrah / shiraz.  A Maison Vauron (Auckland) speciality;  www.briottet.com ]
Glowing vivid red,  just below midway in depth.  Bouquet epitomises blackcurrant liqueur,  stunning freshness and purity,  the epitome of dark aromatic berries,  almost saliva-inducing on the fruit character lifted by pure alcohol.  This 'wine' epitomises saturated berry flavour,  consequent not only on the concentration of blackcurrant fruit but also the rich texture from 300 g/L residual sugar.  Yet the blackcurrants are so tannic,  with fresh acid,  the 'wine' is not cloying.  This is marvellous cassis,  which it is a thrill to introduce to such a group of people.  Notwithstanding it is almost the key descriptor in red wine evaluation,  only two students had in fact tasted cassis.  Cassis does keep for some years,  but gradually goes a little bit 'brown' and loses its exhilarating freshness.  Ideally,  keep it in the fridge,  for not more than a couple of years.  Students are asked to wash away the intense cassis and its high sugar with the viognier,  not water,  making the point this is a general guideline for serious wine tasting:  never rinse with water.  GK 10/16

Wine 3:  
2014  J-M Gerin Syrah la Champine IGP Les Collines Rhodaniennes   15 +  ()
Cote Rotie vicinity,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $28.50   [ 46mm cork;  Sy 100%,  cropped at 5.85 t/ha = 2.4 t/ac,  on the upper slopes and dissected terrace surfaces above the Cote Rotie zone;  includes young vines;  70% in older barrels for 12 months,  balance s/s.  The cool end of the syrah ripening curve.  On bouquet note the fragrant dianthus / carnation florals,  and suggestions of stalks and white pepper.  Flavours include red currants and faintest suggestions of cassisy berry,  all very 'cool'.  Subtle oak;  www.domaine-gerin.fr ]
Ruby,  the second to lightest wine.  Bouquet is lightish,  and lifted as if by low-level VA,  more acetic than ester,   showing stalky green florals in a pinks / dianthus style,  the nett impression a bit green.  White pepper mingles with the stalks,  on red currants and pale red plums.  Palate is light in flavour,  all red fruits,  a little sharp as if there is indeed VA,  on stalky redcurrant / red plum flavours.  This wine is a vivid illustration of the under-ripe phase of the syrah ripening curve,  yet there are still hints of real syrah flavour which make the nett impression of the wine seem better than its component parts.  A curious wine,  probably No Award even in New Zealand,  but perfect for this role.  Will cellar several years,  in its style.  GK 10/16

Wine 4:  
2013   J L Chave Saint-Joseph Offerus   16 ½  ()
Saint-Joseph,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $48   [ 44mm cork;  Sy 100%;  cuvaison up to 28 days;  12 – 15 months in mostly larger oak,  none new.  This syrah is a notch warmer / riper than wine (3).  It is highly floral and fragrant syrah,  where the florals are a little sweeter and deeper,  but trace white pepper still bespeaks marginal under-ripeness,  on berry which has somewhat more red fruits quality,  and clearer suggestions of cassis.  Flavours are clearly sweeter,  riper and deeper than the Gerin wine,  but still only pinot weight;  www.domainejlchave.fr ]
Ruby,  fractionally deeper than the Gerin wine,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is clearly riper and sweeter than the Gerin,  but still showing clear signs of pinks,  dianthus,  white pepper and stalks.  Both florals and berry suggestions are sweeter,  riper and darker.  There are still redcurrants,  but the plum component is clearly deeper,  with even faintest hints of cassis.  The improvement in fruitiness is remarkable,  yet the whole wine is still tending light and stalky by (say) even Cote Rotie standards.   Pepper is still clearly white,  not black,  even though the wine is less stalky than the Gerin.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 10/16

Wine 5:  
2014  Te Awa Estate Syrah   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $30   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% New Zealand mass-selection = Limmer clone syrah cropped at 6 t/ha (2.4 t/ac),  all destemmed,  3 – 5 days cold-soak,  mixed fermentations,  15 days cuvaison;  20 months in hogsheads (300-litre) and 15% in puncheons (500-litre),  to reduce oak uptake,  35% new.  Included to illustrate 'perfect' syrah varietal ripeness,  the bouquet showing classic dark red carnations and dark red rose florals,  clear cassisy berry plus rich dark plum fruit,  a black pepper aromatic lift,  and subtle sweet fragrant oak.  Flavours in mouth continue the bouquet perfectly,  an explicitly varietal wine,  and not too heavy.;  www.teawacollection.com ]
Ruby carmine and velvet,  clearly much deeper than the two French wines,  the second-deepest.  Bouquet is astonishing for its total berry dominance,  showing dark red rose florals more than dianthus or red carnations,  on exquisite cassis berryfruit.  This is a stunning bouquet epitomising pure ripe syrah varietal character,  without too much oak obscuring the varietal quality.  It closely matches best modern Saint-Joseph,  but is perhaps a little softer.  Students were asked to specifically go back and compare the bouquet of this wine with that of the cassis sample,  and check how vivid the cassis analogy is.  Palate is just as good,  capturing perfect syrah berry ripeness.  The pepper is now clearly black,  not white,  and there is no hint of stalk.  The wine displays lovely body,  and subtle oak revealing syrah varietal character in all its beauty.  The wine is surprisingly soft,  but not weak.  A remarkable example of the grape,  absolutely textbook,  the oaking exquisite.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 10/16

Wine 6:  
2014  Easthope Family WineGrowers Syrah Moteo   18  ()
Moteo / Puketapu district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $45   [ Stelvin Lux;  Sy 100%,  cropped at 6.3 t/ha (2.5 t/ac);  100% whole-bunch fermented in concrete 'eggs',  cuvaison 8 weeks;  elevation 80% in concrete,  20% in new oak for 12 months.  Included to illustrate the distinctive aromas and flavours the whole-bunch fermentation technique introduces to syrah (or pinot noir),  yet the wine retains varietal florality and a suggestion of black pepper in a darker tending-European way.  Some cassis and black olive aromas and flavours;  www.easthope.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  not quite as deep as the Te Awa.   The bouquet is immediately totally different from the preceding wines,   displaying a very dark berry character,  hard to describe but suggestions of darkest brown mushrooms and black olives,  as well as black pepper,  tapenade and muted cassis and dark plum.  The nett impression is most unusual for New Zealand reds,  but is not quite so strange in a French context.  Oak is near invisible,  the unusual fermentation characters dominating.  Palate brings up the black pepper component of the flavour,  in a wine which seems fractionally harder or more acid than the Te Awa,  on dark berry and dark plum fruit.  The nett balance of smells and flavours continues unusual in new world terms,  but it works with food.  It needs more time to come together.  Meanwhile this is the go-to wine for demonstrating whole-bunch fermentation characters in syrah.  While on this showing 100% whole-bunch is too much for easy general acceptance,  nonetheless it is a great teaching wine.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  I have yet to understand why high whole-bunch syrah ferments display a character reminiscent of brett.  GK 10/16

Wine 7:  
2014  George Wyndham Shiraz Bin 555   16  ()
South-Eastern Australia,  Australia:  14.1%;  $12   [ screwcap;  Sh 100%;  not much known,  the wine produced on an industrial scale,  perhaps some goes into barrels but more likely American oak chips and staves in s/s vats.  Included to illustrate syrah from a hotter climate (and called shiraz) where floral and cassis subtleties are lost,  so the emphasis is on ripeness and richness,  darkly plummy fruit grading through to simple boysenberry flavours;  www.georgewyndham.com ]
Ruby,  more the weight of the French wines,  midway in depth.  Bouquet is immediately sweeter and riper than the preceding wines,  no currants and barely any plum in a fresh sense,  more raspberry or plum jam and boysenberries,  clean and fruity.  Checking against the Te Awa,  there is a clear lack of florals,  a more one-dimensional / uniform fruit impression.  Oak is surprisingly subtle,  for its price sector.  The simple fruit flavours on bouquet are even more apparent on palate,  boysenberry being the dominant flavour,  and no black pepper or grape aromatics at all.  Instead there is a slightly leathery,  oaky / tannic and metallic quality offset by the wine not being totally bone-dry,  very subtly so.  You get the impression both tannin structure and acid balance are adjusted,  particularly with food,  when you taste this wine carefully against the more natural Te Awa.  The contrast could not be more vivid,  yet this wine is a legitimate commercial expression of a much hotter climate,  in which syrah cannot retain syrah character,  instead almost instantly ripening through to shiraz smells and flavours.  You gain the impression the technical balance within the wine is much more winemaker-adjusted than the Saint-Joseph Offerus wine,  or the Te Awa.  Cellar 3 – 12 years.  GK 10/16

Wine 8:  
2004  Villa Maria Syrah Cellar Selection – VA augmented
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $32   [ screwcap;  original price;  hand-harvested,  12 months and MLF in barrel,  40% new,  mostly French;  this wine is the same price today,  10 vintages later;  note the lifted aromatics on bouquet,  and elevated acid on tongue;  www.villamaria.co.nz  ]
Older good ruby,  a wash of garnet,  midway in depth.  Bouquet is clearly syrah in its berry,  but also immediately a little fumey / lifted or sharp / pungent,  the added acetic acid being noticeable,  but with negligible ester.  Palate shows mature berry flavours in good ratio to clean oak,  but with elevated acid right through the palate and becoming obvious to the aftertaste.  Yet even with a bottling VA of 0.55 g/L built up to nearly 2 g/L acetic for this seminar,  the wine is still reasonably palatable – interesting.  Perhaps the adjusted wine should have been made up more than 4 days ahead,  to allow the possibility of some ethyl acetate formation.  The base wine is nicely mature now,  and would score say 17.5.  No hurry to finish.  Not scored.  GK 10/16

Wine 9:  
2009  Guigal Crozes-Hermitage – Reduction   15  ()
Crozes-Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $40   [ 49mm cork;  original price;  Sy 100%;  average vine age 37 years;  typically cropped c. 5 t/ha (2 t/ac);  3 weeks cuvaison;  18 months in older French oak;  note the dulled and heavy leaden smells and dull leathery flavours,  the H2S complexed into the wine now;  www.guigal.com ]
Good ruby,  well above midway in depth.  Bouquet is immediately heavy,  leathery and dull on entrained sulphides,  but still quite rich in its dull way.  There are no hints of florals or the fresh berry characters mentioned for the earlier wines.  Palate likewise is dull for the same reasons,  and nearly-metallic in flavour and texture,  particularly with food.  Not only does this wine illustrate a reduction beautifully – unusual for Guigal – but it also vividly displays,  being a 2009,  that at this level of reduction,  cellaring it for a few years has no effect.  For those who seek guidance from winewriters,  note that no winewriter anywhere in the English-speaking wine world (that I have access to) has mentioned the fact this commercially widespread wine is not only reductive,  but so remarkably reductive.  Facts and factual guidance are hard to come by,  from most winewriters.  And such matters are NOT subjective.  Cellar for years,  probably not to change much – the obvious reduction will gradually marry up to a degree,  the wine becoming progressively more leathery.  GK 10/16

Wine 10:  
1998  Domaine Santa Duc Gigondas Prestige des Hautes Garrigues – Brettanomyces   15  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  15%;  $54   [ 48mm cork;  original price;  Gr 80%,  Mv 20,  hand-harvested from 50-year-old vines cropped at c.3.7 t/ha (1.5 t/ac);  up to 8 weeks' cuvaison with stems;  18 – 24 months elevage,  mostly older vats and barrels but part in new oak;  note the complex savoury venison casserole / clove / bacon / 'coca-cola and charred steak' smells of high brett in an older wine;  www.santaduc.fr ]
Light garnet and ruby,  old for its age,  the palest wine by far.  Bouquet is savoury,  dry,  venison casserole and charred steak aromas complexed with the spicy smells of intense brett metabolism,  on drying and browning berry,  plus some oxidation.  In its style,  palate follows on beautifully,  but the wine is incredibly dry consequent on the brett having metabolised all the non-fermentable sugars as well,  by now.  Yet strangely,  the total balance is savoury and spicy in its own way,  and many consumers find this kind of wine more than acceptable with food.  The new oak in this prestige-label Hautes Garrigues adds to the drying effect.  Interesting ... technically it should score No Award,  but the fact is,  it still works as wine with food.  GK 10/16

Wine 11:  
2014  Church Road Syrah Grand Reserve   19  ()
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.  This wine illustrates the complexity New Zealand syrah can achieve,  comparable with the finest wines from the Northern Rhone Valley.  On bouquet,  take care to tease out the fragrant cedary oak from the beautifully varietal port-wine magnolia and darkest rose florals leading to cassisy berry and bottled black doris plums.  In flavour the oak is still to marry in,  but the fruit is sweet,  ripe and full,  yet so much more complex in its berry flavours than the hot-climate shiraz wine (7).  The winemaker (Chris Scott) does not want much black pepper in his syrahs,  so he ripens them well,  but the spicy magical lift that subliminal black pepper conveys is still detectable;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the deepest wine.  Bouquet shows all the varietal perfection and complexity of the Te Awa wine,  dusky florals,  clear cassis and dark berry,  black pepper,  but all complexed with much more oak than the Te Awa.  The nett result is a much more serious wine,  made for cellaring.  At this point,  the Te Awa is the superior varietal wine,  the Church Road the superior long-term style.  The palate is at this stage overly influenced by oak,  but the fruit richness is there for it all to marry up beautifully.  Tasters need to dissect out the intense berry and clear black pepper,  and assess those components,  then project their taste impressions forward 20 years,  when the oak will have become assimilated into the fruit structure,  and the wine will have mellowed.  Less good with food,  right now.  This is potentially great New Zealand syrah,  made in a modern (i.e. highish new oak) Hermitage style.  Cellar 10 - 30 years.  GK 10/16