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


Geoff Kelly,  MSc Hons

A few wines that have come together recently provided a welcome opportunity to think about not only good  bubbly,  but also fine chardonnay,  and the contrasting yet comparable winestyles which emerge when careful winemakers handle syrah / shiraz in Hawkes Bay and South Australia.  There were also a couple of pretty serious cabernet / merlots.  These wines are not necessarily the current vintage,  but even the older ones are often found lingering in specialist wine shops.  Premium wine moves slowly,  these days,  as our winemakers become more and more ambitious with their pricing,  while many consumers become more diffident.  I hope winemakers and their pricing strategists have taken note of the 2019 Bordeaux en primeur campaign pricing,  relative to its reported quality.

The four Elephant Hill reds are special.  They represent the future for fine wine in this country,  as New Zealand red wine after nearly two long generations,  finally shakes off its over-cropped,  under-ripe and hybrid red wine legacy,  and pays attention to what classical French cropping rates actually mean,  in terms of ripeness,  dry extract,  mouth-feel and quality in the finished wine.  In that context,  winemaker Steve Skinner at Elephant Hill is making a tremendous contribution to the quality of red wine achievements and standards in New Zealand.  Admittedly the four reviewed here reflect his upper two tiers of quality,  but keen wine-lovers should make themselves familiar with his offerings.

The tasting also included a few more late-comers from the glorious 2016 vintage in the Southern Rhone  Valley.  The best 2016s represent some of the most exciting Southern Rhone reds I have seen,  over the years.  There was another example in the tasting.  As I have over-emphasised before,  the best of them offer a level of excitement rarely found in red wine.  One could hardly have too many of these food-friendly wines in one’s personal cellar.

Finally,  three bubblies,  one illustrating the remarkable potential we have for the methode champenoise winestyle in New Zealand,  once we pay more attention to enhancing dry extract and reducing over-ripeness and ‘fruitiness’,  and two reminders of the real thing,  enhanced by a few years mellowing in cellar.

Some of the more exciting wines from the June tasting.  From the left,  the new Hawkes Bay 2018 Radburnd Cellars debut Chardonnay,  lovely clone mendoza smells and flavours,  cellar-worthy,  18.5 +;  2015 Hawkes Bay Elephant Hill Syrah Earth,  one of the richest,  yet subtlest and most beautiful syrahs ever made in New Zealand,  superb potential,  19 +;  2017 Pirathon Shiraz Gold from the Northwest Barossa Valley,  nearly syrah-like,  rich and long,  only the faintest Australian signature,  great cellar potential,  18.5 +;  2016 Domaine des Senechaux Chateauneuf-du-Pape,  an exquisite example of this fabulous year,  not big but beautiful,  18.5 +;  2016 Elephant Hill Syrah Airavata,  the flagship,  tip-toeing towards over-ripeness,  also cellar potential,  18.5 +;  and finally,  2017 Pirathon Shiraz Silver,  included not because it is in the top 6 wines,  but because it gives such a good taste of the style of the top Pirathon shirazes,  yet it is readily available at an affordable price,  18.


   nv  Champagne Dumangin Premier Cru L’Extra Brut
   nv  Champagne Gatinois Tradition Grand Cru
  1996  C J Pask Brut
Chigny-Les-Roses,  Montagne de Reims,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $ –    [ Diam cork 45mm;  original price c.$65;  PM 50%,  PN 25,  Ch 25;  full MLF,  very high % of reserve wines sometimes over 50%;  all riddling manual – totally a small-scale family winery;  minimum of three years en tirage;  not sure if any oak elevation for this label;  dosage 2 g/L,  this bottle disgorged 23/7/2014;  imported by MacVine International,  Auckland;  https://champagne-dumangin.fr ]
Lemonstraw.  Bouquet is wonderfully pure and very particular,  immediately reflecting the high pinot meunier,  a very strong apple-blossom / hedge roses floral quality,  plus the perfume of Pacific Rose apples perfectly tree-ripened,  very distinctive.  The florals are complexed with apple and red cherry fruit,  and textbook baguette-quality lees autolysis.  Palate is elegant,  very fine-grained,  the first sip noticeably dry but the premier cru fruit quality is so good it easily carries the 2 g/L dosage.  Beautiful autolysis extends the flavours in mouth admirably,  coupled with perfect acid  balance.  This is a wonderful example of what lees-autolysis means,  in the methode champenoise winestyle.  With the high meunier,  might be less suited to extended cellaring … so probably nearing full maturity now.  GK 06/20

Ay,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $ –    [ Compound cork 40mm;  original price $55;  PN 80%,  Ch 20,  all grand cru vineyards;  30% reserve wines in the blend;  all s/s fermented,  a little oak in reserve wines;  MLF;  two years en tirage;  dosage 7 g/L;  this bottle disgorged c.2013;  imported by Maison Vauron,  Auckland;  www.champagne-gatinois.com ]
Straw with a faint now-orange flush,  reflecting some age (the wine has always had a flush).  Bouquet immediately makes clear why,  the red fruits of a pinot noir-dominant base wine,  clear red and black cherry thoughts,  even faintly aromatic,  complexed by wonderful autolysis,  again of total baguette quality.  Palate is neat and taut,  again pinot noir mainly,  elegant dosage around 7 g/L,  and noticeably richer fruit / greater dry extract than the other two.  This is where the all-grand-cru fruit quality becomes self-evident,  the wine nearly succulent.  The quality of autolysis to the aftertaste is of reference quality,  a little more ‘wholemeal’ than the Dumangin,  subtle hazelnut more than cashew.  Delightful having high pinot noir and high pinot meunier wines alongside each other.  Fully mature now … some might feel the wine a little old,  and the score a little high,  but I like mature wines.  GK 06/20

Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $ –    [ compound cork 49mm;  original price $33;  Ch 80%,  PN 20;  7 years en tirage,  no MLF,  no BF,  7 g/L dosage.  Usually available only ex winery;  this bottle disgorged c.2003;  https://www.pask.co.nz ]
Quite deep straw with a wash of old gold,  deeper in hue than the 1996 Lawson's Chardonnay.  Bouquet however dispels any fears the wine is too old,  a lovely dry mealy,  nearly nutty,  baguette-quality autolysis which is very dry to smell,  yet still enticing.  Palate shows fair body for a New Zealand methode,  complex autolysis flavours as befits its seven years en tirage,  not obviously chardonnay-dominant now,  some additional nutty flavours hinting at anzac biscuits and betraying its age a little,  finish still crisp and lively,  very long.  This is remarkable,  for its age.  For anybody who still has this wine,  be prepared for a major tussle with the cork.  Now the gas pressure is lower,  and given that I have never seen a longer cork in the methode champenoise winestyle,  getting the cork out was the stuff of nightmares.  This remarkable wine (which has from the outset shown what can be done with the methode champenoise winestyle in New Zealand,  even in Hawkes Bay) is now fully mature … to fading a little.  A Kate Radburnd 'play' wine.  GK 06/20

2017  Bogle Vineyards Chardonnay
2016  Craggy Range Chardonnay Les Beaux Cailloux
1996  Lawson’s Dry Hills Chardonnay Marlborough
  2017  Neudorf Chardonnay Moutere
2018  Radburnd Cellars Chardonnay
Mangatahi south of Maraekakaho in Southern Hawkes Bay 52%,  and Bridge Pa 48%,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $85   [ screwcap;  clone mendoza,  hand-picked and sorted,  whole-bunch pressed;  85% of the juice cold-settled,  15 high-solids;  fermentation in puncheons 50% and barriques 50,  20% wild-yeast fermentations,  balance cultured yeast;  100% MLF completed in barrel,  plus regular lees stirring,  9 months in oak 50% new;  minimal fining,  sterile-filtered to bottle;  weight bottle and closure 688 g;  https://radburndcellars.co.nz ]
A perfect shining lemon,  nearly a hint of green,  a great young chardonnay colour.  Bouquet is sweet,  ripe,  nearly floral,  classic young mendoza-clone chardonnay with its hint of yen-ben citrus aromatics,  on golden queen peachy fruit.  Below is lees-contact complexity and fragrant yet subtle oak which immediately deepens the bouquet,  and draws you in,  so you are itching to taste the wine.  Palate is vibrant with fresh acid against good fruit,  the acid making the oak a little more noticeable now,  but it will marry away.  On taste alone,  you almost wonder if it is a non-MLF wine,  on the varietal purity of the yellow-fleshed fruit,  plus the long natural  acid.  Not so.  And the subtlety of the high-solids fraction is superb.  This is a cellaring chardonnay par excellence,  like Tony Bish’s Rifleman showing the advantages of the cooler inland districts of Hawkes Bay,  for quality chardonnay.  I wish it were a little richer,  to guarantee the 20-year mark,  but it will be a treat at the 8 – 15 year point.  I expect this wine to evolve in bottle in exactly the same way as the 1996 Lawson's Dry Hills Chardonnay,  in its day a definitive wine,  which I opened soon afterwards,  to compare and illuminate.  Note the Lawson’s was a little richer,  in youth,  as fine chardonnay needs to be.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 06/20

Moutere Hills,  Nelson,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $79   [ screwcap;  clone mendoza 100%,  hand-picked,  organic viticulture;  high-solids fermentation,  all wild-yeast,  all in barrels only 7% new;  full MLF and 12 months on full lees with monthly stirring in barrel,  followed by 4 months assembly in s/s;  dry;  production 362 x 9-litre cases;  www.neudorf.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw,  an attractive chardonnay colour,  the second deepest of the young chardonnays.  Bouquet is intriguingly different on this wine,  white florals and a quite lifted grapefruity quality of fruit inclining more to nectarine and white peach than golden queen. It is a little more fruit and lees-dominant,  less new oak complexity,  than the Radburnd.  Bouquet qualities carry through to palate,  where there is a softness implying MLF,  in a flavour showing attractive fruit and  nougat-like complexities.  The wine is softer and rounder than the Radburnd,  earlier developing.  The gentle white fruits and lingering aftertaste are lovely.  Cellar 8 – 12 years.  GK 06/20

Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $ –    [ cork 46mm;  winemaking included barrel-fermentation and elevation in new to 4 year-old barrels,  with 70% of the wine going through MLF;  as a young wine it tasted unusually ripe,  rich and well-balanced with respect to acid (for a Marlborough chardonnay),  and without overt oak – so much so that it seemed essential to buy a case of it;  https://lawsonsdryhills.co.nz ]
Pure light gold with a wash of lemon still,  just a hint (ie no brown).  Bouquet shows the exquisite clone mendoza golden queen peachy fruit / varietal character this wine has always had,  complexed with sophisticated lees work in barrel.  This is a chardonnay bouquet hinting at some Montrachet qualities.  Palate has wonderful fruit,  body and flavour for its age,  attractively married-away oak,  mealy and best-nougat lees-autolysis complexities,  and crisp but not tiresome Marlborough acid.  The wine is drying fractionally now,  hence the score eased back a little from its earlier unequivocal gold-medal level,  but it is still delightfully acceptable in a dinner / main course setting.  This is one of the best chardonnays ever made in Marlborough … but it is time to finish it up now.  Some of the bottles are now darker in hue than this (selected) one.  GK 06/20

Central Valley,  California:  14%;  $21   [ 45mm 1+1 compound cork;  up to half the wine barrel-fermented in American oak,  some new,  with 9 months in oak;  website reticent with info;  Bob Campbell reports that New Zealand is Bogle’s most important export market,  and that chardonnay predominates in the company's 750 + ha of vineyards;  https://boglewinery.com ]
Rich lemon,  just a hint of straw,  the deepest of the younger four.  Bouquet is sweet,  rich,  ripe and juicy,  with explicit chardonnay varietal character,  more obvious peachy fruit than the Radburnd,  but also hints of tropical fruit,  crushed pineapple (without the esters) implying a warmer climate,  a touch of vanilla wine biscuit too.  Palate immediately has texture and body,  lots of fruit which is simple in one sense,  a hint of coconut and vanilla,  not the the lees autolysis complexity of the top two,  but this affordable wine has the body and mouth-feel to be explicitly chardonnay.  This is where it wins out,  compared with many New Zealand aspiring chardonnays at the same or greater cost.  It is let down by the finish,  which is unashamedly sweet and populist,  low acid,  yet subtle.  In our still relatively unsophisticated wine-consumer market,  most tasters would not notice,  just liking the lingering mouth-feel and fruit.  This is a very clever wine indeed,  pin-pointing exactly what the consumer-in-the-street wants,  and assembled to the highest commercial standards:  colour,  bouquet,  and mouth-filling flavour.  Cellar 3 – 8  years.  It is an interesting commentary on wine snobbery,  that there are no tasting notes for Bogle Chardonnay in www.robertparker.com,  notwithstanding (or perhaps because of) production of this chardonnay exceeding 500,000 cases per annum.  At $US9 to 10 full retail on the domestic market,  the New Zealand retail price usually $21 – 22 (and sometimes more) indicates handsome local margins are being made.  GK 06/20

Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $120   [ screwcap;  clone not stated,  harvested at 5.45 t/ha = 2.2 t/ac;  barrel fermented in French oak 40% new with cultured yeasts;  10 months in barrel,  filtered to bottle;  no RS;  weight bottle and closure 824 g;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Pale lemongreen,  the lightest of the four.  Bouquet is pale too,  with an austere undertone to it flirting with  lees autolysis reduction,  rather drowning any pretty or floral notes the wine might otherwise have shown.  This one clearly smells of MLF.  Palate shows quite good fruit in the sense of body,  but austere white peach / nectarine flavours hinting at stalkyness and early picking,  noticeable acid.  In a blind tasting you would think it a Marlborough wine.  Intriguing how fine chardonnay continues to (mostly) elude the Craggy Range winemakers (though the 2011 Beaux Cailloux was a great exception).  This 2016 is another wine to illustrate that the Gimblett Gravels do not often make the best chardonnay in Hawkes Bay.  It will be a lot more interesting after 8 years,  cellar 10 – 15 years.  As I have noted before,  Craggy Range are getting ahead of themselves,  in their pricing relative to achieved quality.  GK 06/20

2015  Elephant Hill Syrah Airavata
2015  Elephant Hill Syrah Earth
2015  Elephant Hill Syrah Stone
2017  Pirathon Shiraz Black
  2017  Pirathon Shiraz Gold
2017  Pirathon Shiraz Silver
2013  Torre de Barreda Syrah
The Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $75   [ cork 50mm;  Sy 100% hand-picked at 5 t/ha = 2 t/ac,  and hand-sorted;  3 days soak then up to 13 days cuvaison in open-top fermenters including cuves,  25% whole bunches retained in fermentation;  no press wine in final blend,  26 months in French barrique-sized oak 40% new,  1 month on lees in s/s;  not fined,  sterile-filtered to bottle;  dry extract 31.2 g/L;  production 139 x 9-litre cases;  ‘Earth’ refers to the older alluviums and soils of The Triangle,  often  underlain by the Red Metal formation;  weight bottle and closure 701 g;  https://elephanthill.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a glorious deep serious-red colour,  the deepest of the reds.  Bouquet is deep,  dark and mysterious,  dusky florals almost hinting at violets plus a gentle black pepper aromatic lift,  melding into deep cassisy berry,  understated oak which will one day show cedary touches,  clearly temperate-climate syrah,  all exquisitely pure.  Palate is rich,  great cassisy berryfruit depth,  and remarkable freshness,  sustained by fragrant oak,  but not dominated by it,  the black pepper developing a little on the tongue,  confirming (at the blind stage) that this should be syrah.  In taste terms alone,  the dry extract in this wine is perceptibly of classical grand cru proportions,  marvellous.  Later reference to the specs confirmed that supposition.  This is the kind of wine-making approach we need in New Zealand,  if our red wines are to make the jump to international recognition and fame.  A glorious and totally international temperate-climate handling of syrah,  to cellar 15 – 40 years.  This wine demonstrates yet again the pre-eminence of The Triangle,  as the source of the finest and most floral syrahs in Hawkes Bay.  GK 06/20

NW Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  15.2%;  $90   [ screwcap;  shiraz 100%,  harvested at 4.3 t/ha = 1.75 t/ac from old-vine shiraz in vineyards 300 – 350m elevation;  fruit all destemmed,  cultured yeast ferments,  up to 12 days cuvaison,  wild malolactic fermentations;  18 months in all French oak,  75% new;  not fined or filtered,  production 200 x 9-litre cases on the website,  400 on the back label;   'Pirathon' as a label emerged from the grape and wine interests of the Kalleske family.  Winemaker initially was Troy Kalleske,  whose family have been grape-growers in the Barossa Valley since 1853.  Kalleske has now however sold Pirathon as a concept,  and it is now an independent winery with new owners,  making only shiraz wines.  The new winemaker is Adam Clay,  a  Roseworthy graduate in 2002,  and most recently part of the Penfolds red wine-making team.  Pirathon has been able to  retain access to the old-vine resources from other long-established growers,  which are so critical to quality wine in the Barossa Valley.  The name Pirathon conveys the thought of peak or pinnacle,  reflecting the view that shiraz is the defining or top grape of the Barossa Valley;  weight bottle and closure 658 g;  www.pirathon.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  fractionally older in appearance than the Pirathon Silver and most of the other deeply-coloured wines.  Bouquet is darkly berried,  fragrant and aromatic,  with the faintest touch of flowering mint (Prostanthera) in boysenberry,  blackberry and cassisy berry,  not blatantly Australian,  very attractive.  Like Elephant Hill’s Syrah Stone,  a thought of sweet moist prunes and ripeness a bit above optimal syrah varietal character  creeps in too.  Palate points more clearly to an Australian winestyle,  the mint a little clearer,  carefully hidden acid,  and more new oak.  This wine is very rich with great dry extract,  comparing with Elephant Hill’s top reds.  Finish is drier than Pirathon Silver.  This is the kind of shiraz quality Penfolds Bin 28 used to have (at best) back in the 1970s.  Lovely wine,  Australian shiraz approaching ‘concept syrah’,  with the all-French oak giving it some restraint in comparison with the other two Pirathon Shirazes,  to cellar 20 – 40  years.  GK 06/20

Gimblett Gravels 71%,  Te Awanga 29,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.2%;  $120   [ cork 50mm,  low bleach;  Sy 98.3% Limmer and 470 clones,  Vi 1.7 co-fermented,  all hand-picked at an average 4.15 t/ha = 1.7 t/ac;  18% whole bunches retained in the ferment;  5 days soak then cuvaison to 15 days;  no pressings in the final blend,  26 months in French barriques 40% new,  plus 7 months on lees in s/s;  no fining,  sterile  filtered to bottle;  dry extract 30.7 g/L;  production 270 x 9-litre cases;  Airavata refers to the Hindu king-god of elephants;  weight bottle and closure 711 g; ;  https://elephanthill.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  virtually as deep as the Earth Syrah,  the second-deepest red.  Bouquet is rich and very ripe,  in comparison with Syrah Earth,  some of the fruit ripened just beyond the floral and cassisy phase of syrah to dark plum and mulberry,  with just a suggestion of fragrant moist prunes – like Pirathon Gold.  In mouth the same ripeness profile continues,  the berry rich and deep,  a little more tanniny than Earth but not oaky,  a hint of char.  There is great richness and length of dusky berry flavour,  again suggesting good dry extract … later confirmed in the specs.  This wine is predominantly Gimblett Gravels,  and illustrates the risk of over-ripening syrah on this warm site.  The comparison with the Earth Syrah from the Triangle,  the district clearly making the most complex syrah in Hawkes Bay,  is worth making.  Cellar 10 – 30 years.  GK 06/20

NW Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  15.3%;  $45   [ screwcap;  shiraz 100%,  harvested at 5 t/ha = 2 t/ac from old-vine shiraz in vineyards 300 – 350m elevation;  fruit all destemmed,  cultured yeast ferments,  up to 10 days cuvaison,  wild malolactic fermentations;  18 months in hogsheads,  25% new French,  25% new American,  balance older same ratio;  not fined or filtered,  production 200 x 9-litre cases on the website,  400 on the back label;  weight bottle and closure 656 g;  www.pirathon.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  just above midway in depth,  still a big wine.  Bouquet shows more Australian flowering mint than the other two,  lifted by noticeable alcohol.  Again there is sweet bramble-fruited berry,  enticing.  Flavour adds oak but in good proportion to the rich fruit,  with considerable length of complex berry including dark plummy and boysenberry flavours,  with some vanillin from the sweet new American oak component,  but a dry finish like Pirathon Gold.  This very pure wine should cellar 15 – 35 years,  easily.  GK 06/20

Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $75   [ cork 50mm;  Sy 100% hand-picked at 3.4t/ha = 1.4  t/ac,  and hand-sorted;  3 days soak then up to 13 days cuvaison in open-top fermenters including cuves,  10% whole bunches retained in fermentation;  no press wine in final blend,  26 months in French barriques 30% new,  1 month in s/s on lees;  not fined,  sterile-filtered to bottle;  dry extract 30.5 g/L;  production 139 x 9-litre cases;  ‘Stone’ refers to the cobble-strewn younger soils of The Gimblett Gravels;  weight bottle and closure 705 g;  https://elephanthill.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  rich wine fractionally older in appearance than Syrah Earth or even Pirathon Gold.  Bouquet is clearly one of the riper wines in the set,  deep and darkly plummy but with a clear suggestion of moist prunes,  shaped by clean oak.  Flavours are dark and concentrated,  but not heavy,  wonderfully rich berry,  a hint of cocoa,  lengthened by seemingly charry oak.  Again,  dry extract is impressive here.  This smells and tastes like a warmer climate wine,  with even perhaps a suggestion of acid addition,  but all very carefully handled and the oak relatively subtle.  It illustrates even more clearly that syrah can all too easily be over-ripened,  on the Gimblett Gravels.  Cellar 15 – 30 years.  GK 06/20

NW Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  15%;  $25   [ screwcap;  shiraz 100%,  harvested at 6.2 t/ha = 2.5 t/ac from a number of vineyards in the 300 – 350 m zone in the northwest Barossa Valley;  18 months in 25% new US hogsheads,  balance older hogsheads from US,  France,  Russia and Hungary;  not fined but filtered,  production 16,978 x 9-litre cases;  weight bottle and closure 661 g;  www.pirathon.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  just above midway in depth,  still quite a big wine.  Bouquet is complex,  deep,  fresh,  aromatic,  with hints of flowering mint on darkly-berried fruit,  fragrant.  In mouth its characteristics jump into sharper focus,  the flowering mint a little clearer on juicy dark berry combining dark plum and boysenberry,  on fragrant oak less noticeable than the other two more ‘serious’ and richer Pirathons.  Length of flavour on berry is long,  subtly extended on sweet oak,  almost as if there were a couple of grams residual sugar,  acid adjustment to the finish.  A simpler wine in one sense,  a little less concentrated,  yet attractive because of its berry dominance,  it's floral and berry qualities not so influenced by oak,  and its lingering fruit.  I wish the alcohol in all these Pirathons were lower – the crazy thing is,  if Australian winemakers would pick their shiraz earlier,  in some situations (and seasons,  at least) they could lift the wine into the more complex syrah winestyle.  Even so,  this is remarkable new-generation Australian shiraz,  and great value at the price.  It shows much of the style of the more expensive other two.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 06/20

Castile-La Mancha,  Central Spain:  14.5%;  $18   [ cork,  45mm;  vineyard at c.700m,  fruit mechanically harvested,  all destalked;  aim of the firm is to make a fruity syrah wine,  only five months in barrel;  www.bodegas-barreda.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  noticeably older than most in the set,  midway in depth.  Bouquet is fragrant with an older maturing component to it,  on browning cassisy berry,  not clearly varietal but winey and pure,  subtle oak.  Palate adds browning mulberry to cassisy flavours,  good ripe berry characters,  vanillin oak subtly lengthening the flavour.  This is a slightly unusual wine style (in New Zealand),  but eminently food-friendly.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/20

2016  Craggy Range Cabernet Sauvignon The Quarry
  2015  Elephant Hill CS / Me Hieronymus
Gimblett Gravels 58%,  The Triangle 42,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.4%;  $120   [ cork 50mm;  CS 41%,  Me 22,  CF 17,  Ma 12,  and Te 8,  all hand-picked at an average cropping rate of 4.1 t/ha = 1.65 t/ac,  then optically-sorted,  plus the cabernets further hand-sorted;  c.4 days soak then (depending on variety) up to c.15 days cuvaison,  all components fermented in oak cuves,  and no pressings in this wine;  26 months in French oak 50% new,  plus 8 months on lees in s/s;  not fined,  sterile-filtered to bottle;  dry extract 32.1 g/L;  production 280 x 9-litre cases;  Hieronymus refers to a Weiss-family (owners) ancestor,  mayor of Nuremberg;  weight bottle and closure 587 g;  https://elephanthill.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  a little older in appearance than Syrah Earth,  clearly above midway in depth.  Bouquet is wonderfully pure,  cassisy berry browning a little now,  even maybe a delicate suggestion of violets florals on bouquet,  grape tannins seemingly more apparent than oak on bouquet.  Flavour is long,  velvety and wonderfully fine-grain on new oak tannins,  with a near-floral lift through the cassisy and plummy dark  berryfruits.  This wine could not be much riper,  if the magic of temperate-climate cabernet sauvignon
winestyles is to be retained.  As with Airavata,  dry extract is exemplary,  showing a value rarely achieved in New Zealand.  I did not pick up that it was even richer than Airavata,  at the blind stage.  Some maturity is already starting to show.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 06/20

Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $120   [ cork 50mm;  CS 88%,  CF 8,  Me 4,  hand-harvested at 4.95 t/ha = 2.0 t/ac;  fermentation in s/s with cultured yeasts;  18 months in French oak 50%  new,  fined and filtered to bottle;  RS nil;  weight bottle and closure 1017 g;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  not quite the carmine of youth but clearly more youthful than 2015 Hieronymus,  the third-deepest wine.  Bouquet is complex,  sweet dark berries with thoughts of cassis and blackberry,  potential cedar to emerge,  but also a worrying hint of stalks and nasturtium,  detracting.  Palate shows more oak than Hieronymus,  the oak exacerbated by noticeable acid,  and less body / dry extract than the Elephant Hill reds.  Even though the concentration of berry is reasonably good by traditional New Zealand red wine standards,  there is the thought of a cabernet hole in the palate,  and ripeness is critically lacking for a supple and fragrant claret style priced at $120.  The finish though cassisy is relatively hard and short.  The price is high for the quality achieved:  currently you can order en primeur 2019 Ch Branaire-Ducru,  2019 Ch Langoa-Barton,  and 2019 Ch Giscours for a full landed price less than $120.  And plenty of others of more modest address,  much less.  There is not much doubt which would provide the more enchanting drinking,  at table.  Will soften in cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 06/20

2016  Domaine des Espiers Gigondas Les Grames
2016  Maison Guigal Cotes du Rhone
2016  Ch Pegau Cotes du Rhone Cuvée Maclura
2016  Ch Pegau Cotes-du-Rhone Villages Cuvée Setier
  2016  Domaine Saint Francois Xavier Gigondas SFX
2016  Domaine des Senechaux Chateauneuf-du-Pape
2015  Domaine du Vieux Lazaret Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Exceptionelle
2016  Domaine du Vieux Lazaret Chateauneuf-du-Pape
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  15%;  $83   [ cork 49mm,  scarcely bleached;  Gr 60%,  Sy 22,  Mv 17,  Va 1;  cuvaison to 35 days,  a little saignée;  elevation 53% in larger wood,  25% in smaller oak including some second-year from Ch Lynch-Bages;  22% in vat;  imported by Maison Vauron,  Auckland;  weight bottle and closure 615 g;  slow website;  www.senechaux.fr ]
Ruby,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet on this red illustrates to perfection the aromatic garrigue complexity so characterising better Southern Rhone Valley wines,  seamlessly integrated with red fruits,  red plums and raspberry mainly,  plus trace cinnamon.  Palate is immaculate,  wonderful fruit / tannin / acid balance,  sweetly-fruited yet dry,  ripe and long,  bursting with flavour,  the alcohol well-contained.  This wine epitomises all that is beautiful about the 2016 vintage in the Southern Rhone Valley.  It is not a big Chateauneuf-du-Pape,  more an elegant one in the style of a top Gigondas,  with the alcohol remarkably well-hidden,  in comparison with the Pirathons.  Grenache magic again.  It will give immense pleasure at table.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 06/20

Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $48   [ cork,  50mm;   up to 4 weeks cuvaison,  elevation 70% in vat,  30% in barriques some newish for 12 months;  fined but not filtered;  production averages c.1,000 x 9-litre cases;  imported by Maison Vauron,  Auckland;  weight bottle and closure 635 g;  http://p.cartoux.free.fr ]
Ruby and velvet,  about midway in depth.  Bouquet is delightfully pure,  with nearly a floral suggestion melding with slightly spicy (cinnamon) red fruits and berry,  all shaped by older oak.  Palate is more clearly aromatic,  garrigue complexity on red and darker fruits showing a little development,  plus fragrant older oak.  Finish brings back the cinnamon thought,  slightly drying relative to Les Senechaux,  and not quite as rich as that remarkable wine.  A model good southern Rhone red which will be great with food,  to cellar 10 – 20 years,  perhaps longer.  GK 06/20

Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $42   [ cork,  50mm;  also known as Domaine Francois-Xavier Lambert;  no info available,  Maison Vauron advise cepage likely Gr 70%,  Sy 15,  Mv 15,  the proprietors practising ‘lutte raisonnée’ principles (ie reasoned viticulture,  tending to organic / biodynamic but not always as strict);  old vines more than 40 years;  cropping rate likely below 4.65 t/ha = 1.9 t/ac (if the Cotes-du-Rhone is a guide);  elevation mainly vat,  maybe some big wood;  imported by Maison Vauron,  Auckland;  weight bottle and closure 625 g;  no website found ]
Ruby,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is lightly spicy and piquant,  slightly gamey,  with a clear garrigue,  silver pine and cinnamon spicy lift,  on red fruits.  Palate is fragrant,  medium weight,  grape tannins but scarcely any apparent oak,  unusually spicy and long for its weight,  with a very dry and food-friendly finish.  Not quite the purity,  body,  and charm of the Espiers Gigondas,  but appealing in its own right.  Cellar 8 – 15 years.  GK 06/20

Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $23   [ cork 46mm,  2016 the same as the 2015 in winemaking detail,  Sy 50%,  Gr 40,  Mv 10,  average age 35 years,  typically cropped at 5.2 t/ha = 2.1 t/ac;  elevation 18 months in vat and large oak;  available all discriminating wine merchants;  production c.330,000 x 9-litre cases;  imported by Negociants NZ,  Auckland;  weight bottle and closure 567 g;  www.guigal.com  ]
Ruby,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is nearly floral in a quiet pinot noir sense,  sweetly ripe and red-fruited,  a touch of aromatic black pepper,  very clean,  not giving much away at this early stage.  Palate shows somewhat darker red fruits with a lovely tannin structure,  not as grenache-dominant as some of these southern Rhone blends,  fine-grained and furry as if grape tannins dominate,  older oak,  good length considering it is not a big wine.  This is another wine (at a more modest level) to show the aromatic excitement of the 2016 vintage in the Southern Rhone Valley,  though it is much quieter than Les Grames for example.  It is more aromatic and less plump than the 2015 Guigal Cotes de Rhone,  but like it,  represents phenomenal quality and technical achievement,  for the quantity made.  Now that the wine is syrah-dominant,  I am wondering if it will cellar as well as the grenache-dominant wines from the 1980s.  Cellar 8 – 15 years.  GK 06/20

Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $89   [ cork 49mm;  Gr c.60%,  Sy & Mv 40;  cuvaison to 25 days in concrete vats,  followed by elevation 12 months in vat and 12 months in large barrels,  no detail;  this label a vat-selection amounting to a thirtieth of the annual crop;  imported by Maison Vauron,  Auckland;  weight bottle and closure 651 g;  www.famillequiot.com ]
Ruby,  a little older than some.  Bouquet is quiet in a red-fruited style,  probably grenache (ie at the blind stage),  initially an odd note not quite garrigue as usually recognised,  but it breathes up:  best decanted.  Palate is clean,  dry,  a bit short relative to the label,  very much in a good Cotes-du-Rhone style,  a little softer,  rounder and richer than the 2016 straight Chateauneuf-du-Pape from this house,  but not as rich as the Guigal Cotes-du-Rhone.  Some disappointment here,  at the price.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/20

Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $56   [ cork 49mm;  Gr 75%,  Sy,  Mv,  Ci & Co 25;  cuvaison up to 21 days;  18 months elevation,  mostly in vat,  15 % in foudre;  Parker records the wine being made for early drinking;  imported by Maison Vauron,  Auckland;  weight bottle and closure 642 g;  www.famillequiot.com ]
Ruby,  the third to lightest wine.  Bouquet is quiet,  a light floral lift on slightly spicy red and darker fruits,  clean.  Palate is lightly juicy,  again red fruits,  a trace of cinnamon,  a trace of stalk,  some fruit sweetness,  clean and pure but tending light,  grenache dominant.  More Cotes du Rhone than Chateauneuf-du-Pape,  but saved by its relatively long finish,  implying better dry extract than some Cotes-du-Rhones.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/20

Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $31   [ cork 1+1 compound,  45mm;  Gr 60%,  Sy 20,  Mv 20,  hand-picked;  fruit not de-stemmed,  co-fermented,  wild yeasts;  elevation 12 months in enamelled vat;  filtered;  imported by Maison Vauron,  Auckland;  Ch Pegau is more the negociant arm of Domaine du Pegau,  some own vines,  some grapes / juice bought in;  weight bottle and closure 627 g;  www.pegau.com ]
Ruby,  below midway in depth.  This is another wine with attractive southern Rhone florals,  aromatics,  and garrigue complexity,  including some silver-pine notes and suggestions of brett,  on fragrant red berry fruits,  cinnamon,  and what seems big old oak,  though none is admitted to.  Palate highlights the garrigue even more,  very aromatic fruit,  again you would swear some older  oak,  medium weight but not as rich as the Guigal ‘yardstick’ Cotes-du-Rhone,  long,  drier than some other of the Rhones in this batch.  Cellar 3 – 12 years.  GK 06/20

Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $26   [ cork 1+1 compound, 45mm;  Gr 60%,  Sy 20,  Mv 10,  Ci 10,  hand-picked;  fruit not de-stemmed,  co-fermented,  wild yeasts;  elevation 12 months in enamelled vat,  filtered;  imported by Maison Vauron,  Auckland;  weight bottle and closure 628 g;  www.pegau.com ]
Ruby,  well below midway in depth.  Bouquet is again fragrant and aromatic on red fruits,  but it is not as ripe as Setier,  with some aromatic garrigue complexity,  and a little more brett.  Palate is not as well-fruited as some of the wines in this style,  cinnamon grading to nutmeg spice as well as red fruits,  drying to the finish,  noticeably short,  but still food-friendly.  Both this wine and Setier are said to be vat-raised,  but both have some gentle brett character – which at first sight would seem illogical.  But to judge from the Chateaneufs,  brett must be a constant part of the Pegau winery ambience,  and no doubt odd bits and pieces are added to these cheaper labels also.  Apart from purists who become hysterical about any perceptible brett,  this character merely serves to make the two Pegau everyday reds more food-friendly.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 06/20