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


Geoff Kelly,  MSc Hons

Conclusions from the tasting:
For some reason strictly blind comparative evaluation tastings are quite rare in New Zealand.  It seems to be part of a general reluctance to seriously cellar wine,  and hold it for a classical interval which might allow meaningful later comparison.  Syrah in New Zealand has emerged as arguably the 'serious' red with the greatest claim to being internationally competitive with the best examples in the world,  namely the defining / yardstick syrahs of the Northern Rhone Valley.  There was therefore palpable excitement amongst participants beforehand,  that we had some of the word's best syrahs,  and some of New Zealand's best syrahs,  in front of us.  Would be be able to tell which was which ?

And in the event,  it was not easy.  Participants included some of the most serious syrah winemakers in New Zealand.  I am not aware of anybody getting all the wines sheeted home to their correct countries.  When you look at the wine-list,  this says volumes about the quality of New Zealand's emerging syrahs.  Thus,  tasters came away from this tasting excited by the quality of the top wines … from both countries … and rather wishing that all the wines had been from the 2010 vintage.  In hindsight it was a mistake to include the earlier and later vintages of Chave Hermitage.  They were too shown up by the magnificence of the 2010s.  The initial thought in offering one younger,  one older,  was to offer winemakers and tasters the opportunity to be more familiar with the J L Chave approach,  the wines being scarce and little-known in New Zealand.  Not all ideas for tastings work out.  

For the top 2010 wines,  the principal conclusion for the Northern Rhone Valley is that the best wines are of benchmark quality.  With the technical quality of winemaking nowadays,  some of them may rival the now near-mythical 1961s.  The very best of the 2010 New Zealand syrahs can be tasted amongst them,  and not easily recognised.  And stylistically,  some of the lesser New Zealand wines are very much heading in the right direction,  needing only for their winemakers to taste the classics more frequently.  I cannot wait to offer a wider cross-section of 2010 Northern Rhone syrahs,  with some of the top New Zealand wines.  It should be a benchmark tasting.

The top five wines in this tasting were of sensational quality,  the kind of wine one could not have too many of in one's cellar,  wines to return to again and again.  From the left,  2010 Trinity Hill Syrah Homage truly is a wine to challenge La Chapelle,  and thus pay ‘homage’ to Gerard Jaboulet.  Bouquet is both floral and aromatic,  with great freshness of berry weight through the rich palate,  19;  in one sense the next wine 2010 Guigal Ermitage Ex Voto is a Guigal wine first,  and a definitive syrah second,  but nonetheless it is going to provide its owners with immense satisfaction.  It is richly cassisy and concentrated,  with noticeable but soft,  fragrant and cedary oak,  19 +;  then the surprise wine to nearly all tasters,  2010 Cable Bay Syrah Reserve,  from Waiheke Island.  This wine offers a softness,  suppleness and burgundian charm which contrasts vividly with the Guigal,  yet is just as exciting.  The touch of blueberry implies greater berry ripeness than some of these syrahs.  This was clearly marked the top wine of the tasting by the group,  in part because in New Zealand tasters are not sufficiently familiar with the undisputed benchmark syrah wines from the Northern Rhone Valley,  19.5;  next the supremely exciting 2010 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle,  a winery totally recapturing its earlier glory,  under Caroline Frey (Ch La Lagune,  Ludon near Margaux).  This wine has magnificent cassisy berry,  and at this stage a little more oak than is ideal in syrah,  but it will marry away.  Glorious wine,  19.5;  and as my top wine of the tasting,  the highly-regarded 2010 J L Chave Hermitage,  showing all the florality and berry aromatics one could ask for in definitive syrah,  in a wine of great richness.  This wine is a total ‘style’ statement,  there being a slight unease amongst technical tasters,  that it was not immaculately pure – see text.  In my view it defines syrah as a winestyle,  19.5 +.  Any New Zealand winemaker truly serious about making internationally-recognised syrah in New Zealand (as we will do) needs these five wines in their cellar,  to serve as the absolute reference point for decades to come.

Information provided for tasters  (abbreviated):
How many New Zealand wine people have tasted the definitive syrahs from Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage,  the now-resurrected Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle,  and the latterday Guigal Hermitage Ex Voto,  all together ?  Let alone when the wines are from a year of the quality of the great 2010 year,  and two are Robert Parker 100-point wines.  Not many,  I suspect,  for these are rare (and expensive) wines.  For a winemaker or viticulturist in a temperate climate,  these are the greatest syrahs on earth.  The vineyards on the hill-slope above the village of Hermitage are the absolute spiritual homeland of the world's greatest syrahs,  but the planted area is tiny –  139.6 ha = 345 acres,  give or take.  Cropping rate for the appellation averages 4.3 t/ha = 1.75 t/ac,  adding to their rarity of the wines.  Yet understanding these wines is essential,  if New Zealand winemakers are to move New Zealand syrah into the top echelon of the world of fine wines.  

One of the other top syrah appellations in the Northern Rhone Valley is Cote Rotie.  In this tasting,  we will have one of the best,  Domaine Jamet,  from the same great year.  It is a pity that we cannot also have the top 2010 Cornas,  from Domaine Auguste Clape,  for that wine is simply sensational … but it is also extremely rare in New Zealand.  

Instead,  the other half of our tasting is a muster of some of the top New Zealand syrahs,  at this early stage in their evolution,  barely 25 years after the first examples were committed to bottle (in the post-Prohibition era).  These New Zealand wines include Trinity Hill Syrah Homage,  and are again all from the same year.  Homage was named by John Hancock (when winemaker at Trinity Hill) to acknowledge the great contribution to syrah understanding that the late Gerard Jaboulet made.  

The taste of great Syrah  (abbreviated):
Syrah grown in a temperate climate such as the Northern Rhone Valley,  or Hawkes Bay or Waiheke Island (in both of which places it excels,  but it is thriving in a number of other places in New Zealand too),  is a wonderfully fragrant and aromatic grape.  At varying points in its ripening profile it shares aromas and tastes with pinot noir,  merlot,  and cabernet sauvignon.  Good syrah can even be described as pinot noir on steroids.  This may seem facile,  but it is intended to highlight the conclusion that great syrah depends for its quality on the floral and aromatic components of the bouquet,  the fresh berry palate,  and the suppleness of its tannins,  in a winestyle not dominated by oak.   

The range of styles which are legitimate has however led to both debate and confusion as to the real nature of the grape.  And our view in New Zealand was until recently distorted by the sheer weight of numbers of shiraz wines from Australia,  wines which usually are so over-ripe (and often over-oaked) as to bear little relation to carefully-made syrah.  In the handout I therefore reprinted an excerpt from my ‘Ripening Curve for Syrah’,  meaning the sequence of smells and flavours the grape passes through in achieving perfect maturity,  and then over-maturity.  I first published this in an article in the London-based The World of Fine Wine,  in 2011.  Rather than include it again here,  it is simpler to refer to a lecture I presented to Year 3 Oenology and Viticulture students at Lincoln University,  as presented here,  scroll down to the section:  A syrah ripening curve:

The Tasting:
Our tasting assembles 10 syrahs from the great 2010 vintage,  five classic from the Northern Rhone Valley,  and five which I regard very highly from New Zealand.  Four are from Hawkes Bay,  and one from Waiheke Island – lest we forget.  There are also two other vintages of Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage,  one younger,  one older,  to give some feel for how syrah develops with a little age.  The wines of Jean-Louis Chave are not widely tasted in New Zealand,  so this is a worthwhile addition to the scope of the tasting.  

The 2010 vintage was an exciting year in the Northern Rhone Valley.  It was at the time regarded as among the best vintages in living memory (with 1990 and 1961),  but it is now challenged by both 2015 and 2016.  The 2010 vintage is rated 98 by Wine Spectator,  and is described thus:  Cool, wet spring resulted in historically low yields, but excellent growing season backed by well-timed September rain and late Indian summer led to a late harvest of terrific quality. Reds are racy and loaded with minerality; even better defined than '09.  robertparker.com  also rates the vintage 98 and long-term.  

In Hawkes Bay the year was very similar,  for in both districts a warmer 2009 year was followed by a fractionally cooler more aromatic 2010 vintage.  Both are rated equally highly for syrah,  though individual tasters vary in whether they prefer the slightly softer wines of the warmer year,  or the vital aromatics of 2010.  The two vintages together will provide essential study material for New Zealand winemakers for many years to come.

Cooper,  M.  2011 – 2015:  Michael Cooper’s Buyers Guide to New Zealand Wines.   Hodder Moa Beckett.
Livingstone-Learmonth,  John 2005:   The Wines of the Northern Rhone.  University of California Press,  720 p.
Parker,  Robert,  1997:  Wines of the Rhone Valley.  Simon & Schuster,  685 p.
www.drinkrhone.com  =  John Livingstone-Learmonth,  subscription needed for reviews  
www.robertparker.com  =  Robert Parker and increasingly the associates,  subscription needed for reviews
www.jancisrobinson.com  =  Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW,  subscription needed for reviews
www.winespectator.com = vintage chart,  subscription needed for reviews

This report benefitted greatly from comments offered by Warren Cotterill,  thank you.  I very much appreciate the generosity of Villa Maria Group in hosting these Library Tastings in Hawkes Bay,  as well as Auckland.

‘Price’ given is the current wine-searcher value.  Because John Livingstone-Learmonth now has a knowledge of the Rhone Valley that matches or surpasses the excellence of Robert Parker’s earlier personal contribution,  I have reported his views in full,  where available.  There is much to learn from his very individual mode of reporting.

The first Table highlights which country the wines are from,  and indicates a robertparker.com score (one Vinous),  if available:  

2010 J L Chave Hermitage  (100)
2010 Guigal Hermitage Ex Voto  (100)
2010 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle  (97+)
2010 Jaboulet Hermitage La Petite Chapelle  (92)
2010 Jamet Cote Rotie  ( 95-96,  Vinous )       
2014 J L Chave Hermitage  (94 - 96)
2005 J L Chave Hermitage  (97)
2010 Bilancia Syrah La Collina  (89)
2010 Cable Bay Syrah Reserve  (89)
2010 Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol  (90+)      
2010 Mission Syrah Huchet  ( – )
2010 Trinity Hill Syrah Homage  (91)

2010  Bilancia Syrah La Collina
2010  Cable Bay Syrah Reserve
2010  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol
2010  Guigal Ermitage Ex Voto
2010  Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle
2010  Jaboulet Hermitage La Petite Chapelle
  2010  Jamet Cote Rotie
2005  Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage
2010  Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage
2014  Domaine Jean-Louis Chave L'Hermitage
2010  Mission Syrah Huchet
2010  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage

Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $696   [ cork,  50mm;  Sy 100%;  9.3 ha of Sy at Hermitage,  Bessards most,  then L'Hermite and 5 other vineyards;  all de-stemmed,  most of fermentation in s/s;  cuvaison can be to 4 weeks;  traditionally up to 18 months in barrel,  5 – 15% new,  the remainder to 5 years old,  now sometimes to 26 months;  assembled in steel,  minimal fining,  no filtration;  production varies round 2,000 x 9-litre cases;  Julia Harding @ J Robinson,  2015:  Gorgeous aroma: some oak sweetness but it does not dominate the fragrant fruit that is both red and black - and seductive. The red fruit lifts out of the glass as the wine opens. Supple, finely spiced and still quite closed on the palate but it’s there in all its peppery, scented glory. Firm, compact tannins, very very fine and finishing nicely dry, 19;  John Livingstone-Learmonth (note J.L-L marks out of 6 stars,  but uses 6 very rarely),  2012:  The wine works on all fronts – depth, persistence, pockets of fragrance, is very long, nuanced. Très Grand Vin, ******. 2049-2055;  R Parker,  2012:  Pure perfection, the 2010 Hermitage reminds Jean-Louis Chave of their 1990. It appears to be a richer, fresher example of what I remember the 1990 tasting like in 1992. The wine exhibits an opaque purple color along with an extraordinary bouquet of sweet blackberry fruit intermixed with creme de cassis, lead pencil shavings, acacia flowers, bouquet garni, meat and crushed rocks. Full-bodied and stunningly rich with laser-like precision, this is a powerful, massive yet exceptionally well-balanced wine that should be forgotten for a decade and drunk over the following 30-40 years, 100;  there appears to be no effective website,  in 2018; ]
Ruby,  nearly carmine still,  and velvet,  a fabulous colour,  the third deepest.  First sniff,  and the immediate  impression is:  how could syrah be more perfect?  There is a sensuous deeply floral dusky quality,  on rich ripe aromatic cassis,  all shaped by subtle / perfect cedary oak and a hint of spicy sweet black pepper.  There is an element of deeper,  darker,  ripest dark plums too,  but no hint of over-ripeness.  Palate is both vibrant and velvet,  with the volume of cassisy berry and its dominance over the fragrant but merely shaping oak seeming absolute.  Again the black pepper spice is subtle and invigorates the wine.  To a person interested in wine style as much as,  perhaps more,  than wine technology,  this seems perfection.  Tasters present included some of the most experienced syrah winemakers in the country.  Some of the latter however tended to be uneasy about a brett component.  It simply had not occurred to me.  Since the tasting I have cross-questioned the wine very closely,  and noted that one equally-experienced winemaker commented:  ‘yes,  it is there,  but bear in mind that the winemaker may want that level of brett,  as complexity’.  All in all,  I continue to think this near-perfect syrah,  of staggering richness,  freshness and elegance.  Cellar 20 – 45 years.  Eight thought this a northern Rhone Valley wine,  but tasters did not rate it as highly as I did – some for the reasons given.  No first places,  one second,  two least.  Interestingly,  not one person thought the wine might be Cote Rotie,  illustrating the validity of the concept ‘Hermitage’.  GK 11/18

Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $300   [ cork,  55mm;  Sy 100%,  hand-picked from vines averaging 40 years age,  Le Meal the main vineyard and others at c.2.5 t/ha  (1 t/ac);  website not forthcoming as to elevage,  but Livingstone-Learmonth and Robert Parker have good info:  all destemmed,  c.22 days cuvaison temperature-controlled to max 30°C,  MLF preferably in tank;  oxygenation as needed,  then 12 – 18 months (depending on vintage) in barrique,  20% new now,  balance 1 and 2-year so now a modern approach to elevage;  assembly in tank,  may be fined,  filtered;  production now varies with vintage up to 2,900 x 9-litre cases,  much less than the latter years of the Jaboulet family,  coupled with a large percentage (say,  25%) now declassified to La Petite Chapelle and a further percentage completely declassified;  with Jaboulet now owned by the Frey family of Ch La Lagune (who also hold 45 percent of Champagne Billecart-Salmon),  the renaissance of the formerly famous but latterly sadly deteriorated Jaboulet house is now well in train.  Rumours abound that La Lagune barrels are now in use for La Chapelle.  Given the centuries-old links between Bordeaux and Hermitage,  this makes sense;  overseeing winemaker Caroline Frey graduated in oenology from the University of Bordeaux in 2002,  dux of the class.  There she met consultant oenologist (the late) Denis Dubourdieu,  who she regards as her mentor and inspiration;  Jancis Robinson,  2015:  Exceptionally dark crimson. Dense yet opulent nose. Extremely ripe. Yet dry on the finish. This is much more sinewy and less offputtingly concentrated than the Grange 2010. Fine-grained tannins. Savoury and dramatic, 2016 – 2030,  18.5;  Jeb Dunnuck,  2015: ... a blockbuster in the making, ... not for those craving instant gratification. Massively concentrated and dense, it offers sensational minerality to go with tons of dark fruits, bacon, black olive, beef blood and graphite. Building in the glass and showing more and more mid-palate density and serious amounts of tannin, this serious, chiseled and structured Hermitage needs to be forgotten for another decade, 2025 - 2060,  97+;  Robert Parker,  2011, on the achievements of the new owners and Caroline Frey:  ... this is one of the great qualitative turn arounds in the wine world. It is welcomed by all wine lovers given the historic legacy of the wines of Jaboulet and the importance of this famous firm in all of France. Ms. Frey, who is also responsible for the brilliant wines produced at La Lagune in Bordeaux, has reduced the amount of new oak for the red wines to about 20% and to negligible proportions for the whites;  www.jaboulet.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the deepest wine,  a sensational rich and youthful colour.  On smelling this,  the immediate thought of young and great Bordeaux first flits across the mind:  Mouton-Rothschild or Pichon Baron.  Look again and it is exquisite spicy darkest syrah,  a touch of black peppercorn in the spice,  a freshness and lift in the cassis which is exemplary,  and rather more new oak than the 2010 Chave (hence the Bordeaux thought).  Palate confirms the bouquet in every detail,  the wine perhaps not quite so rich as the Chave,  but because of the oak every bit as big in flavour.  And even so,  the oak does not dominate or interfere unduly with the classic syrah flavour.  I’d just prefer a little less.  To judge from 1969 Jaboulet La Chapelle tasted recently,  this could be a 50 year wine,  just.  Cellar 20 – 45 years.  One top place,  and two second-favourite votes.  Only one taster thought this a Northern Rhone Valley wine,  perhaps on the oak.  GK 11/18

Western Waiheke Island,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $50   [ screwcap;  Sy 97%,  Vi 3,  grown on a north-facing slope,  hand-picked;  co-fermented in s/s;  18 months in all-French oak,  33% new;  Lisa Perrotti-Brown,  2012:  ... warm blackberry, black currant, bacon and charcoal notes with a hint of black pepper. Some oak flavor is evident on the entry but is complemented by good black fruit concentration, vibrant acidity and a medium level of rounded tannins. This Syrah has a long finish and should drink well to 2016+,  89;  Michael Cooper,  2014:  The outstanding 2010 … is very powerful (14.5 per cent alcohol) and notably concentrated,  with layers of blackcurrant, plum, black-pepper, coffee and nut flavours, underpinned by firm, ripe tannins. A majestic red … it should flourish for a decade, *****;  www.cablebay.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a fine colour,  but not one of the deep ones,  the third to lightest.  One sniff of this,  and there is a florality,  a sensuality and a beauty to this wine which is comparable only with the finest Cote de Nuits grand cru burgundy.  Yet running alongside that statement,  it is also clearly syrah:  textbook florals including Prof Saintsbury's wall-flower (likely to be dianthus,  then),  sweet red roses,  beautiful cassis,  a touch of blueberry,  and subliminal black pepper.  This is extraordinarily beautiful syrah.  Palate shows a restraint in oak handling which is in vivid contrast to the Guigal,  and consequently a softness,  suppleness and charm on palate which again takes one straight back to the Cote de Nuits.  In a sense therefore it is exquisite pinot noir,  but pinot noir on steroids.  It is not as rich as the Chave or the Guigal,  yet in some ways it is even more beautiful,  and technically perfect.  It is more Cote Rotie than Hermitage in style,  with its softness,  florality,  and (no other word for it) femininity.  Prof Saintsbury did after all hold the view that Hermitage was the most ‘manly’ of wines.  On the night this was far and away the top wine of the tasting,  12 first places,  three second – an extraordinary unanimity,  and a remarkable result.  In part that result reflects familiarity:  it is telling that not one person present had ever previously tasted and compared the three great Hermitages La Chapelle,  J. L. Chave and Ex Voto together (and blind on this occasion).  We are isolated in New Zealand,  and it is imperative winemakers assemble tastings to counter that.  Eleven thought it Northern Rhone Valley wine,  but curiously,  only 2 Cote Rotie.  Cellar 10 – 35 years.  GK 11/18

Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $574   [ cork,  50mm;  Sy 100%;  vine age 40 – 90 years;  30% of the fruit from Bessards,  on granite,  balance Greffieux,  L’Hermite,  Murets;  hand-picked at c.4.55 t/ha = 1.8 t/ac;  fermented in temperature-controlled s/s,  c.4 weeks cuvaison;  42 months in believed to be 100% new French oak;  the name Ex Voto embraces the thought of giving thanks (for locating vineyards in Hermitage),  first year 2001;  not fined or filtered;  production c.800 x 9-litre cases;  J. Livingstone-Learmonth,  2014:  Here we go: this is a rocking, full, true Hermitage bouquet, an abundance of closely packed berries in the aroma, soaked cherries and a small line of menthol, tobacco. The palate runs with liberal fruit, that is so very long. This has the joy of the great vintage in expressive quantity, the fruit boundless. Eat your heart out, Bordeaux - no wonder Hermitage was shipped there to bolster their wines, 2034-37, *****;  Jeb Dunnuck @ R Parker,  2015:  The 2010 Hermitage Ex Voto continues to top out on my scale. This extraordinary Hermitage has more minerality and delineation than the 2009, as well as overflowing aromas and flavors of creme de cassis, jammy blackberries, violets, graphite and wood smoke. Massively concentrated, full-bodied, decadent, layered and sexy, it needs short-term cellaring but should be just about immortal in the cellar, 100;  www.guigal.com ]
Fresh ruby and velvet,  not the depth of the top two,  due to the greater oak exposure,  in fact below midway in depth.  At the tasting this wine was not quite singing:  nobody felt any fault showed,  but one or two agreed it was quiet on bouquet.  So I put it to bed that night with 100 mm² of Gladwrap® in the XL5 glass,  and the following day it was transformed.  A textbook illustration of scalping,  by TCA below threshold.  The next day it smelt how it tasted the night before:  wonderful cassisy berry matched stride for stride by sweet vanillin cedary oak,  the vanillin dominating any grape-floral component,  so in one sense the wine presents as a Guigal first and foremost,  and Hermitage second.  Fruit richness in mouth is colossal,  however.  How the Guigals get their oak so soft,  sweet,  cedary and fragrant,  I know not.  Perhaps for their wines of this calibre,  their grand cru / individual vineyard wines,  they weather it five or six years instead of the three other conscientious coopers now use.  The Guigals do after all have their own in-house cooperage.  The length of flavour here is extraordinary,  but it is vanillin-infused (rather than due to varietal spice,  say).  Dry extract here is on a par with the Chave,  but the wine being technically faultless,  it clearly is a 50 year proposition.  As would be anticipated for a wine with this quality of oak,  two tasters rated it their top wine,  and two their second.  Six thought it Northern Rhone Valley.  Cellar 25 – 50  years.  GK 11/18

Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $133   [ cork,  50mm;  hand-picked at about 2.5 t/ha (1 t/ac) from Sy 100%,  mostly Limmer clone,  plus some vines propagated from Jaboulet's la Chapelle vineyard on the hill of Hermitage,  vine ages 1994 and 2001;  the grapes de-stemmed,  lightly crushed to leave whole berries;  shortish cuvaison;  MLF commenced in tank,  completed in barrel,  c.15 months in French oak mostly new,  some lees stirring,  not a lot of racking;  the 2010 was at that point the largest volume made of Homage,  nearly 600 x 9-litre cases;  the name is a tribute to the late Gerard Jaboulet,  John Hancock (then chief winemaker) having worked the 1996 vintage at Jaboulet with Gerard,  back when Jaboulet’s Hermitage La Chapelle was world-famous;  Lisa Perrotti-Brown, 2012:  ... the 2010 Homage Gimblett Gravels Syrah is a little closed, with notes of blueberries and plums plus hints of allspice, chocolate and toast. Medium to full-bodied, it gives a good core of mid-palate flesh supported by medium to high acid and a medium to firm level of rounded tannins, going savory / earthy in the long finish. Drink it now to 2018+, 91;  Michael Cooper,  2013:  The 2010 vintage is a '7 out of 7 year', believes winemaker John Hancock. Densely coloured and still purple-flushed, it is powerful, with great depth of superbly ripe blackcurrant, plum and spice flavours, framed by ripe, supple tannins.  ... well worth cellaring to at least 2015+, *****;  www.trinityhill.com  ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  a good young syrah colour,  precisely in the middle for depth.  Bouquet is a little different from the wines rated more highly,  there being quite a whole-bunch fragrance to the wine,  akin to the Jamet but much sweeter,  riper,  and more positive.  Floral notes therefore include suggestions of buddleia and boronia as well as roses,  on vibrant cassisy berry plus black pepper.  Oak is invisible initially,  on bouquet.  Palate is very aromatic,  the oak now immediately more apparent,  plenty of cassis not quite as sweet and ripe as the Cable Bay,  black pepper spice,  just a subliminal thought that slightly more ripeness would have been good,  to make it more like the 2009.  This 2010 Homage is richer than 2010 Le Sol.  Voting on this wine was interesting,  no first places,  but seven second places.  So it too was well-liked,  and again the caveats expressed re the Cable Bay wine probably apply.  Eight thought it Northern Rhone Valley wine,  and five further thought it Cote Rotie.  Cellar 10 – 30 years.  GK 11/18

Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.7%;  $144   [ cork,  49mm;  Sy 100%,  hand-harvested @ 5.4 t/ha = 2.2 t/ac;  100% de-stemmed;  no cold-soak,  inoculated,  c.11 days ferment,  total cuvaison 20 days;  MLF and 17 months in French oak 38% new,  no American oak;  RS < 1 g/L;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  understood to be c.400 x 9-litre cases;  Lisa Perrotti-Brown,  2012:  ... aromas of warm black berries, black cherries and black pepper plus hints of lavender, Provence herbs, cloves, and star anise. Medium bodied with just enough fruit in the mouth, it has a medium to firm level of rounded tannins, crisp acidity and a long peppery finish.  Approachable now, it should keep to 2019+, 90+;  Michael Cooper,  2013:  This super-charged syrah ... is hand-harvested when the grapes are 'supremely ripe', in several passes through the vineyard ... the 2010 is lovely – dark and rich, with dense plum, spice and pepper flavours, ripe tannins and great harmony, *****;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  midway in depth.  Great syrah is floral,  like great pinot noir,  something winemakers in hot climates such as Australia,  California and Washington appear to scarcely understand.  The silky beauty of the floral components on this wine,  with its suggestions even of buddleia and wisteria,  as well as roses and carnations,  is extraordinary,  matched only by the Cable Bay.  Palate however is a size smaller than the top wines:  there simply is not the dry extract,  the matière,  in the wine.  Flavour shows exquisite cassis berry superbly handled in sweet cedary oak,  and subliminal black pepper,  a wine of great beauty.  How different this is from the rumbustious pseudo-Californian Le Sols of earlier years.  This wine respects the New Zealand climate.  It is unbelievably close to the Cable Bay in style,  but decidedly lighter.  It is out and out Cote Rotie in styling,  a wine of of extraordinary beauty.  The Cote de Nuits analogy also applies here.  This wine did not however resonate with tasters,  one second-place vote only.  Six thought it Northern Rhone Valley,  two Cote Rotie.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 11/18

Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $133   [ cork,  55mm;  Sy 100%;  hand-picked from young vines as well as the main vineyards for La Chapelle,  at <3 t/ha  (1.2 t/ac);  destemmed,  details of production much as for La Chapelle,  above;  this is essentially the wines not making the now severely-tightened cut for La Chapelle proper,  including younger and higher-cropping vines;  production c.1,000 cases;  no UK-based comment,  Robert Parker, 2012:  The 2010 Hermitage La Petite Chapelle is a better wine than nearly every Hermitage La Chapelle made under the final years of the Jaboulet family’s ownership (for example, 1993-2005). ... notes of camphor, tar, pepper, beef blood, black currant jam and hints of new saddle leather as well as earth. This supple, rich, full, authoritative beauty should drink well for 15-20 years, 92;  www.jaboulet.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  just above midway in depth.  Bouquet is in one sense quite different from La Chapelle proper,  with a clearly more-ripe component to it which darkens the wine,  just a hint of sur-maturité, but nowhere near as ripe as the Huchet.  The label reveals it is more alcoholic too,  that fitting in with the fruit of the younger vines being deployed in this wine.  Palate shows a big dark flavour,  lacking the florality and aromatic berry focus of the senior wine,  instead more oaky.  It was placed fifth in the lineup,  and despite these reservations,  it was the first to clearly state:  I am Hermitage.  The middle and later palate show a suggestion of burly almost ‘flat’ flavours,  and older oak,  relative to the La Chapelle.  But the whole flavour is  big,  strong,  and shows good concentration,  totally syrah,  and Hermitage.  Three rated it their top wine,  and one their second favourite,  but it was the only wine to be thought not Rhone Valley by any of the tasters.  Odd.  Comparison of La Chapelle proper and this ‘second wine’,  vintage for vintage,  conveys volumes about the subtlety of the French approach to winemaking,  and how they perceive wine quality.  It is critically important that New Zealand winemakers,  wine judges and wine-writers make these comparisons,  but how many do ?  Cellar 15 – 30 years.  GK 11/18

Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.2%;  $108   [ cork,  50mm;  Sy 100%;  hand-picked from hand-tended vines @ c.2.5 t/ha (1 t/ac);  100% de-stemmed;  inoculated,  no cold-soak,  c.12 days ferment,  total cuvaison 42 days;  MLF in tank;  15 months in barrel c.33% new,  no American oak;  light filter,  not sterile;  RS < 1 g/L;  production c.75 x 9-litre cases;  the wine is named for Brother Cyprian Huchet,  the first winemaker at The Mission,  until 1899;  apparently not offered for review in the main overseas media cited thus far;  Michael Cooper,  2013:  The 2010 is still a baby … it is powerful and highly concentrated, with blackcurrant, plum, spice and nut flavours and firm but fine-grained tannins. Savoury, dense and complex, it’s built to last; open 2015 onwards, *****;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  well above midway in depth.  At the tasting this wine smelt huge and burly,  and ill-defined,  with dark toasty oak and over-ripe fruit,  plus almost a hint of coffee (negative in wine,  bespeaking artefact,  in my sensory lexicon).  It tasted equally as big and ripe,  but with a promise of velvety textures much later down the track.  The following day it was much breathed-up and improved,  much fresher,  still too ripe for obvious cassis,  but now plenty of blueberry and darkest bottled plums,  and,  glory be,  the wine still retaining suggestions of black pepper.  There is a high level of fine-grained tannins,  which seem as much grape-derived as oak.  It will take 20 years for this wine to reveal a more supple charm,  as the 1999 Mission Syrah Jewelstone does so exactly now,  but in New Zealand the chances of anybody keeping a single bottle that long are zero.  Our wine community shows all the shortsightedness of youth – understandably,  when you reflect how few years it is since variants on hybrid grapes such as baco and seibel dominated the red-wine landscape.  This is the wine from New Zealand to show in a Californian or Washington syrah lineup,  if one wanted to ‘fit in’ with their perception of wine quality.  Tasters did not relate well to it on the night,  no first places,  one second,  but six thought it Northern Rhone Valley.  2010 Huchet is an extraordinarily rich wine,  to cellar 20 – 50 years.  GK 11/18

Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $371   [ cork,  50mm;  Sy 100%;  Wine Spectator vintage rating  for the year:  An inconsistent year, with rain in June and July leading to disease pressure. Fine weather in August and September yielded excellent results for some growers, while others had more difficulty; reds more heterogenous than whites, 89;  9.3 ha of Sy at Hermitage,  Bessards most,  then L'Hermite and 5 other vineyards;  all de-stemmed,  most of fermentation in s/s;  cuvaison can be to 4 weeks;  traditionally up to 18 months in barrel,  5 – 15% new,  the remainder to 5 years old,  now sometimes to 26 months;  assembled in steel,  minimal fining,  no filtration;  production varies round 2,000 x 9-litre cases;  John Livingstone-Learmonth,  2015:  … clear-cut, a little tight. It will be best left until around ten years’ old, to permit a gain in flesh, content, and to allow fusion of content and acidity. It lacks the sunshine depth of Méal from the more sunny year ... “2014 is a year for the best terroirs; there are small wines and good wines this year – the usually not great wines aren’t good at all this year,” [advises] Jean-Louis Chave, 2037-40, ****(*);  Jeb Dunnuck,  2016:  ... has a serious floral character as well as the classic minerality imparted from the Bessards lieu-dit (which makes up the bulk of the cuvée), gorgeous depth of fruit, medium to full-bodied richness and fine, polished tannin. Like most 2014s, it will be approachable at an early age, but this beauty has class and will evolve gracefully, 94 – 96;  there appears to be no effective website,  in 2018 ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the second deepest wine,  partly on youth.  At the tasting this wine looked awkward and youthful,  in one sense,  imperfect ripeness being commented on,  but on the plus side a good volume of fresh red plummy fruit with some cassisy complexity.  This was another wine which breathed up considerably,  the following day showing buddleia and carnation florals,  a touch of pepper hovering between white and black,  and suggestions of cassis notes though still red fruits more than black.  Total acid like La Collina is somewhat elevated,  so both these wines do not show ideal ripeness,  for syrah.  There is also a touch of brett in this wine,  more apparent than the 2010.  This was another wine to not receive any votes in favour.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 11/18

Roy's Hill,  SW of Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $90   [ screwcap;  Sy & Vi hand-harvested from 14-year old vines planted at c.5,000 vines / ha and cropped @ 2.5 t/ha = 1 t/ac;  Sy fermented on appreciable Vi skins,  % Vi hard to quantify;  no whole-bunch this year (varies greatly year to year),  5 days cold-soak,  wild yeast ferment,  c.18 days cuvaison;  MLF and 20 months in French oak 80% new;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  production c.100 x 9-L cases;  Lisa Perrotti-Brown,  2013:  ... a beautiful nose of honey-drizzled apricots, muskmelon and white blossoms with a touch of mace. Endowed with mouth-filling flavors and a satiny texture, its medium to full-bodied frame has just enough acidity to provide lift through the long finish. Drink it now to 2015+, 89;  Michael Cooper,  2014:  … powerful and very sweet-fruited, with exceptional concentration of plum, liquorice and spice flavours, and a well-rounded finish. Already approachable, it should be a 20-year wine, *****;  www.bilancia.co.nz ]
Good ruby,  some velvet,  the second lightest wine.  Bouquet is a little odd on this wine,  a kind of buddleia florality but with a hint of stalk,  then a cassisy quality but with a hint of plum-stone rather than plum-flesh.  It does not quite come together,  plus there is dry hessian oak,  and a suggestion of parmesan rind.  Palate is markedly better,  red plummy fruit but showing quite a tanniny / stalky streak,  white and black pepper almost too much,  some new oak,  acid elevated.  It is all totally unknit,  at this stage,  but quite rich,  richer than the 2014 Chave but less ripe,  needing time.  Tasters were less tolerant of this wine’s awkwardness than I was,  no favourite votes,  five least votes,  four thinking it Rhone Valley,  but none Cote Rotie – odd.   Like Huchet but for different reasons,  this wine will have more to say at the 15-year point.  Cellar 15 – 30 years.  GK 11/18

Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $294   [ cork,  50mm;  Sy 100%;  various holdings more in the Cote Brune than Blonde and mainly on schist;  traditional winemaking still with considerable (more than half) whole-bunch component depending on the grapes and the season;  cuvaisons extend to 21 or 22 days;  up to 22 months in mix of barrels and puncheons,  max 20% new,  balance to 10 years;  wines neither fined nor filtered;  some rank the Jamets as now making the definitive Cote Rotie,  in the sense Maison Guigal makes Guigal wines first,  and sense-of-place wines second;  John Livingstone-Learmonth,  2012:  ... raspberry, pretty scenting in its luxury of aroma, licorice, raspberry coulis – waves of aroma roll out; the fruit is curvy, and will impress. The palate has a squeezy texture red fruit ...  the signature of Grand Vin. Very persistent and striking, very good balance, 2039-41, ******;  Jancis Robinson, 2012:  Very perfumed. Masses of firm juice and lots of fine tannin underneath. ... Very straight and directed. Glossy. Dry finish but I have great confidence in it, 18.5;  www.cote-rotie-jamet.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  the third lightest wine.  This wine has a very clear-cut bouquet,  showing stalky / floral  notes tiptoeing towards the jonquils / paperwhites spectrum,  a character which is negative for many syrah tasters,  even in New Zealand where we are still tolerant of under-ripeness in red wines.  There is clear white pepper,  not black,  fragrant berry notes but here more redcurrant and red plum than cassis,  plus a stalky quality entwined with new oak.  Palate is rich,  and softer than expected even though acid is slightly elevated.  Like La Collina,  this is a wine which will come together appreciably by the 15 year point.  It is exquisitely  pure,  but tasters did not reward that,  no favourable votes,  and six for least wine,  the clearest negative statement for the set.  New Zealanders share with Australians a dislike for white pepper in syrah,  most not tasting widely enough to register it is almost diagnostic for syrah from that part of the Les Collines Rhodaniennes IGP which lies above the favoured AOC-delimited slopes of Cote Rotie proper.  These wines in fact cellar surprisingly well,  in their own distinctive fresh style,  as the cool 1984 Cote Roties show today.  Cellar 8 – 25  years.  GK 11/18

Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $585   [ cork,  50mm;  Sy 100%;  Wine Spectator vintage rating  for the year:  Another drought-influenced vintage, though cool nights helped to maintain freshness. Reds have classic structure for long-term cellaring; whites also dense and concentrated, 94;  9.3 ha of Sy at Hermitage,  Bessards most,  then L'Hermite and 5 other vineyards;  all de-stemmed,  most of fermentation in s/s;  cuvaison can be to 4 weeks;  then up to 18 months in barrel,  then  5 – 15% new (ie less than now),  the remainder to 5 years old;  minimal fining,  no filtration;  John Livingstone-Learmonth,  2008:  … the nose is reserved, compact, tight, but its top air is graceful, smoky and peppery, with thorough black fruit ... The palate leads with a “dark”, bosky, resin-ending fruit – the fruit is compact, has a lovely presence, and has the attribute of clear length. This has excellent balance ... the granite zones are to the fore in the wine`s profile this year, 2034-37, ******;  Jeb Dunnuck,  2016:  Jean Louis Chave commented that 2005 was not a “friendly vintage” on release and compared it to 1998, 1995 and 1983 in style. His 2005 Hermitage is nevertheless an incredible wine that shines for its purity, focus and pure class. Offering up lots of granite-like minerality, crème de cassis, violets and graphite, this rich, full-bodied, gorgeously concentrated Hermitage has good acidity, ripe tannin and a fabulous finish. While I’d happily drink a glass today, it needs another 3-4 years of bottle age to hit prime time and will keep for two to three decades after that, 97;  there appears to be no effective website,  in 2018 ]
Ruby,  a little garnet creeping in,  some velvet,  the lightest wine.  Initially opened,  this wine smelt tanniny,  oaky to a fault,  and the palate lacked berry freshness and excitement.  With air both the berry qualities and some brett developed,  but the wine showed less freshness than the big Huchet,  with quite a gamey quality developing on palate.  The goal of having the 2014 and 2005 Chaves in the tasting,  complementing  the set of 2010s,  was to give a suggestion of how syrah ages in a ‘definitive’ example such as J. L. Chave.  The intrinsic quality of these two vintages of the wine did not however facilitate that.  One vote as favourite wine,  one second place.  Eight thought it northern Rhone Valley.  Cellar 10 – 25 years,  though if this bottle is any guide,  brett may become intrusive later.  GK 11/18

Reserve Wines:
2010  Matua Valley Syrah Reserve

The Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $ –      screwcap;  Sy 100% from vines up to 15 years age from the Matheson Vineyard;  French oak;  Michael Cooper,  2013:  … clearly the best yet … the plate is vibrantly fruity, with substantial body, a strong surge of blackcurrant, plum and spice flavours and ripe, velvety tannins, ****;  www.matua.co.nz

2010  Yves Cuilleron Cote Rotie Terres Sombres
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $147     cork;  Sy 100% hand-picked @ c. 5.8 t/ha (2.3 t/ac) from vines planted at 8 – 10,000 vines / ha,  on darker schist soils;  some whole-bunch,  cuvaison c.21 days;  MLF and c.18 months in barrel;  production 900 x 9-litre cases;  Wine Spectator,  2013:  A very racy red, with good cut right from the start, delivering mouthwatering damson plum, red currant, blackberry and bitter cherry notes, seamlessly layered with iron, violet and dark tapenade flavors. The long, pure finish is precise. 2016 - 2026, 95;  www.cuilleron.com