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


Te Mata's release of their 2004 Rhone varietal wines from syrah and viognier has been eagerly awaited.  No winery in New Zealand has thought more about the nature and style of Rhone grapes as they are grown in New Zealand,  or sought more closely to follow the lessons that the French prototypes can display.  And 2004 was an excellent vintage in Hawkes Bay,  giving the ideal opportunity to showcase their increasing skills with these grapes.

Along with Alan Limmer at Stonecroft,  Te Mata has the oldest commercial plantings of syrah in New Zealand,  planting Bullnose Vineyard in the Ngatarawa Triangle in 1990.  In October's release tasting,  a retrospective of selected Te Mata syrah wines back to their original 1992 wine gave a clear insight into their thinking about the variety.  Likewise they made the first New Zealand commercial plantings of viognier at Woodthorpe in the Tutaekuri River valley,  in 1994.  Later plantings of syrah at Woodthorpe allowed the production of New Zealand's first Syrah / Viognier co-fermented blend,  in 2002.

The thing I like most about the Te Mata approach is their close adherence to the French model.  As the Japanese have shown,  it is always a good idea to copy a good template,  until the new producer can surpass the original.  This simple precept has not always been followed in the New Zealand wine industry,  where until recently the wine styles of France have not been as much considered or tasted as they should be,  in this country with its close climatic similarities to France.

Thus without being too slavish about it,  their two syrah reds broadly seek to emulate on the one hand the power of Hermitage – Bullnose Syrah,  and the floral and fragrant beauty of Cote Rotie – the Woodthorpe  Syrah / Viognier co-fermented blend.  These are grand goals,  where for us in New Zealand,  the fundamental objective must be to grow and ripen our syrah to produce a degree of concentration and complexity which in the first instance,  lifts it above immediate comparison with Crozes-Hermitage.  In parentheses,  one can add the finest – the very finest – Crozes is indeed of Hermitage rank,  so we don't need to beat ourselves up too much about these comparisons.  

And the short assessment is that in 2004,  Te Mata have achieved their finest red Rhone winestyles yet. They are beautiful wines,  showing a degree of finesse and restraint coupled with full physiological maturity which sets them slightly apart from the often burlier Hawkes Bay syrahs on the hotter sites of the Gimblett Gravels.  The single most exciting thing in the release is the decision to lift the percentage of viognier in the 2004 Woodthorpe blend to 5%,  something I have been itching to see.  The result is terrific.  And the 2004 straight Viognier is no slouch either,  but may not be the best yet,  unlike the red pair.

The 1998 and subsequent Te Mata syrah reds show a degree of physiological maturity achieved in the vineyard,  which will ensure they cellar more graciously than New Zealand reds from the 1980s,  and early 1990s. There is no hurry to drink up any of these wines.  And each year Rhone blends mature,  they are more magical with food.  The other exciting feature of this Te Mata presentation was the 8-year span of viognier wines shown.  The only conclusion that could be drawn was that the imported assumption we have all repeated,  that viognier doesn't cellar beyond a year or two,  does not apply.  It is still early days with this interesting grape,  but a 5-year span for good ripe examples may be a more reasonable assumption in  New Zealand.

Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
Pinot Gris
Sweet / Sticky
All other white wines, blends, etc.
2004  Te Mata Estate Viognier Woodthorpe
2001  Te Mata Estate Viognier Woodthorpe
1997  Te Mata Estate Viognier Woodthorpe
Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
 Cabernet / Shiraz
Pinot Noir
Syrah = Shiraz
2004  Te Mata Estate Syrah Bullnose
2000  Te Mata Estate Syrah Bullnose
1998  Te Mata Estate Syrah Bullnose
1996  Te Mata Estate Syrah Bullnose
1992  Te Mata Estate Syrah Bullnose
2002  Te Mata Estate Syrah Bullnose
2004  Te Mata Estate  Syrah / Viognier Woodthorpe
2003  Te Mata Estate  Syrah / Viognier Woodthorpe
2002  Te Mata Estate  Syrah / Viognier Woodthorpe
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre & related blends
All other red wines, blends etc
From the Cellar. Older wines.


2004  Te Mata Estate Viognier Woodthorpe   17 ½ +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $26   [ screwcap;  85% of wine BF,  7 months LA and batonnage in older oak,  15% s/s,  no MLF;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Elegant medium lemon,  almost lemongreen.  Initially opened and later too,  bouquet on this latest Te Mata Viognier is a bit aggressive,  both on high alcohol per se,  and maybe a tweak of VA with that,  but also on a percentage of newer oak than the previous couple of vintages have shown.  These factors move the wine towards an Australian presentation of the variety,  and away from the floral and finessed Condrieu-like style New Zealand can aim for.  The wine is however beautifully clean.  Palate is great,  though,  with a tactile richness which is the best yet,  and a developing flavour of stonefruits inclining to canned apricots.  It is not quite rich enough to conceal / smooth out the alcohol and oak totally,  but in a year's time this will look more attractive,  and may rate higher.  Not as fine a wine as the 2002,  I suspect,  but I don't have them alongside.  Cellar 3 – 5 years.  GK 10/05

2001  Te Mata Estate Viognier Woodthorpe   17 +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $ –    [ cork;  75% of wine BF,  5 months LA and batonnage in older oak,  25% s/s,  no MLF;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw,  the deepest of the wines,  but still fresh for a variety that allegedly doesn’t cellar.  Bouquet on this wine is more French in style,  with a veiling of a subtle sulphur-related wet washing note,  just taking the floral edge off varietal purity.  Like the 2004,  palate shrugs off any  reservations on bouquet,  and shows a rich but cooler-year presentation of the variety, combining pineappley and tropical fruit with stalky undertones,  with the oak influence now well married away.  It is clearly varietal within the above parameters,  and is probably at full development now,  or a shade past its peak.  No point in cellaring further.  GK 10/05

1997  Te Mata Estate Viognier Woodthorpe   16  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $ –    [ cork;  100% fermented in s/s,  no MLF;  www.temata.co.nz ]
The colour is weird on this wine,  virtually identical lemon to the 2004,  reflecting its stainless steel upbringing with no exposure to oak.  Certainly gives the lie to the variety not keeping.  Bouquet likewise is not tired,  but it is fully mature.  Varietal character is very attenuated,  for as winemaker Peter Cowley explained,  they had not then quite realised that full flavour development comes with a rush at a sugar level around 14% potential alcohol.  This was picked at 13%.  The wine style is reminiscent of a full-bodied South Australian riesling of similar age,  with a stalky / resiny underpinning,  somewhat past full development.  Fascinating to see,  and raises the question whether the variety will cellar for longer in New Zealand than Australia.  GK 10/05


2004  Te Mata Estate Syrah Bullnose   18 ½ +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $40   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  includes clone 470 for first time,  hand-harvested,  de-stemmed;  extended cuvaison 3 + weeks,  followed by 16 months in new and older French oak;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  clearly a notch deeper than the Woodthorpe Syrah / Viognier 2004.  Freshly poured,  Bullnose is quieter and less showy than the Woodthorpe wine.  It expands in glass,  however,  and several hours later is wonderfully floral in a darkest roses,  and even boronia and violets way,  quite magical.  This is the finest Bullnose so far,  on bouquet.  Winemaker Peter Cowley advises that the new clone 470 of syrah has far more floral and spice characters than the old Te Kauwhata clone,  and this would certainly fit in with the general observation that thus far,  New Zealand syrah lacks the floral complexity that makes good Rhone syrah exciting.  Palate picks up on the bouquet,  with great berry at a level of complexity  which is almost Cote de Nuits (as well as Hermitage) in its finesse and potential savour,  yet it develops the cracked pepper of syrah as it lingers in mouth.  At the tasting,  I preferred the Woodthorpe,  for it had more to say,  but six hours later,  Bullnose has overtaken it.  It is a deeper and more serious rendering of syrah.  This is a great New Zealand wine in the making,  all understatement and finesse,  subtler than the Gimblett Gravels style,  better suited to food.  Cellaring a case would never be regretted.  The oaking is magical.  Cellar 5 – 15 plus years.  GK 10/05

2004  Te Mata Estate  Syrah / Viognier Woodthorpe   18 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $26   [ screwcap;  Sy 95%,  Vi 5,  co-fermented even though Vi then super-ripe;  extended cuvaison 3 + weeks,  followed by 15 months in new and older French oak;  superb website;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is dramatically syrah,  wonderfully floral and fragrant,  the florals deeper and spicier than pinot noir and violets,  not quite as sweet as dianthus,  but clearly in style for Cote Rotie (the model).  Below is a piquant spiciness of cracked pepper and cassis.  Palate shows much the best fruit weight yet under this label,  and a freshness of cassis and beautiful round berryfruits,  which again can only be compared to Cote Rotie.  There is no hint of the over-ripe boysenberry broadness characterising Australian shiraz.  The wine is so young,  the  flavours are not quite integrated yet,  with dark berry,  cracked pepper and oak remaining separate on the tongue.  This is a potentially beautiful wine,  which it would be folly not to buy by the case,  to follow its evolution and enjoy how attractive it will become over the next 10 years.  Cellar 5 – 15 years. VALUE  GK 10/05

2000  Te Mata Estate Syrah Bullnose   18 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 100%;  hand-harvested,  de-stemmed;  extended cuvaison 3 + weeks,  followed by 16 months in new and older French oak;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  on a par with the 2004 for depth of colour.  Bouquet on this wine is midway between the 2004 and the 2002.  It shows darkest rose florals on cassis,  blueberry and plum fruit,  plus a trace of the savoury complexity that characterises the 2002.  Palate shows the Te Mata perfection with oak,  with a superb balance of cassisy fruit,  berry and cracked pepper spice to subtle oak,  all lingering beautifully.  This wine is starting to sing.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 10/05

1998  Te Mata Estate Syrah Bullnose   18  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 100%;  hand-harvested,  de-stemmed;  extended cuvaison 3 + weeks,  followed by 15 months in new and older French oak;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  a flush of garnet.  There is a soft ripe warmth to this wine which is more South Australian or southern Rhone,  a spicy plummy but less aromatic and cassisy version of syrah.  By French standards,  one could say it is over-ripe.  Palate is rich,  not explicitly syrah  maybe,  but it fits into the tasting well,  soft and velvety,  a little gamey,  and unlike most Australian examples of the grape at similar ripeness,  the oaking is elegant,  complementary,  not in any way dominating.  Only on the aftertaste does one pause and think,  yes,  some cracked pepper,  it is syrah.  This is approaching full maturity,  and will hold for 5 – 8 years,  I think.  GK 10/05

2002  Te Mata Estate Syrah Bullnose    17 ½ +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $35   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  hand-harvested,  de-stemmed;  extended cuvaison 3 + weeks,  followed by 16 months in new and older French oak;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  a little deeper than the 2004.  Like the 2002 Woodthorpe,  this wine was written up in the Bonfiglioli tasting 15 June 2005.  The inclining-savoury style contrasts with the purity of the 2004,  and the wine is seemingly drier,  but it is equally rich and offers an excitingly complex interpretation of syrah.  And it will be marvellous with food,  as it matures.  Cellar 5 –10 years.  GK 10/05

2002  Te Mata Estate  Syrah / Viognier Woodthorpe   17 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 98%,  Vi 2,  co-fermented even though Vi then super-ripe;  extended cuvaison 3 + weeks,  followed by 15 months in new and older French oak;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  older and a little deeper than the 2004,  maybe.  This wine has been written-up in detail in the Bonfiglioli syrah tasting (June 2005,  this site).  Its savoury and gamey characters  reminiscent of the outer skin of roast beef are more noticeable here than in the 2002 Bullnose,  but allied to good berry richness and body,  they make the wine closely allied to syrahs from Italy and Chile,  as well as France.  And it is already marvellously food-friendly.  Cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 10/05

2003  Te Mata Estate  Syrah / Viognier Woodthorpe   17 +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $22   [ screwcap;  Sy 98%,  Vi 2,  co-fermented even though Vi then super-ripe;  extended cuvaison 3 + weeks,  followed by 12 - 15 months in new and older French oak;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  lighter and a little older than the 2004.  Everything that has been said about the 2004 applies to this wine,  except that is that it is not so rich,  ripe and concentrated.  The palate is harmonising beautifully though,  with similar balance to the 2004,  but all just a little cooler and leaner in cassisy berry smells and flavours.   A slightly leafy / stalky note creeps in on the late palate,  as it does in cooler years in the Rhone Valley,  and one is reminded of the wines of Crozes-Hermitage as well as Cote-Rotie.  This will cellar gracefully and be very food friendly as it matures,  for 3 – 7 years.  GK 10/05

1996  Te Mata Estate Syrah Bullnose   16 ½ +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 100%;  hand-harvested,  de-stemmed;  extended cuvaison,  followed by 15 months in new and older French oak;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby and garnet,  much lighter than the younger wines.  This is a beast of a different calibre to the younger ones.  Bouquet essentially lacks the physiological maturity of berry and flavour seen in the more sophisticated younger vintages.  Instead,  the dominant characters here are floral and leafy,  red fruits more than black,  comparable with straightforward wines from the lower levels (of topography) at Crozes-Hermitage,  or cool-year Cote Rotie.  Within the leafiness there are pleasant red fruits,  red plums,  and some herbes de  Provence suggestions,  and still good fruit-feel on palate.  Fully mature now,  and won't improve,  so start to drink it up,  while it is still fruity.  GK 10/05

1992  Te Mata Estate Syrah Bullnose   15  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 100%;  hand-harvested,  de-stemmed;  extended cuvaison,  followed by 12 + months in new and older French oak;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby and garnet,  lighter and older again than the 1996.  This is a wine of one of Hawkes Bay’s coolest recent years,  after the Mt Pinatubo eruption.  Bouquet is in the style of the 1996,  but older and leafier,  and starting to break up and develop decay characters.  Palate is running out of fruit,  and is clearly stalky and short,  but there are still varietal suggestions of cracked pepper all the same.  Great to see one of the earliest New Zealand syrahs (of the post Prohibition era),  but if you have any,  drink it up pronto.  GK 10/05