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


Re:  06 Nov 2006:  Judging Syrah,  the Syrah Ripening Curve,  and the Top New Zealand Syrah ? : 14 reviews

From:  Peter Cowley,  Senior Judge,  and Chief Winemaker,  Te Mata Estate,  Hawkes Bay:

Hi Geoff,

Judging Syrah: Congratulations on the write-up of your Syrah tasting.  Lots of good comments and your usual perceptive and comprehensive wine notes.

The N.Z. Syrah results in the N.Z. International Wine Show were puzzling.  I was involved in judging that class and I am sure that the other judges are as aware and enthusiastic as I am about the emerging group of high quality N.Z. Syrahs.  For some reason they just didn't come through.  It was an extremely large class ( 240 wines judged by 3 panels ) but I felt the judging went well and eventually 40 odd wines were put through for silver or gold medal consideration.  Unfortunately the damage had been done by that stage as there were no N.Z. wines in that group.  I believe the final result for the N.Z. syrahs was 3 silvers and some bronzes from the first phase of the judging.

I must say, that I am not a fan of some of the styles of N.Z. syrahs that are getting accolades at the moment.  Some of these are extremely varietal but oaky and short and I think that there is a tendency to go overboard on the praise just because it has pepper etc.  Having said that, there were 2 wines in the show which I think a lot of - both of which were awarded bronzes.  I have seen both wines blind on occasions and always marked them right up there.  Who knows what happened?  One of them was cork finished and could have been slightly cork affected and it is possible to get the odd dud screw cap, maybe they just got overlooked.  On reflection I can live with the show's Syrah outcome ... You always get a few strange results and I must say that I would have been equally surprised if the same N.Z. syrah entries in the show had yielded more than a handful of high silvers and golds.

The judges will just have to try harder next year and hopefully there will be such a solid convincing N.Z. Syrah class that they can't miss out.

Site & Heat Summation:  While I'm on the job I shouldn't let your reference to additional heat in the Gimblett Gravels, relative to the rest of Hawkes Bay, go without comment.  In our March newsletter 2005 we said the following:  
For some years now, we have seen a succession of recent entrants to the New Zealand wine industry promoting the superiority of their sites.  In Hawkes Bay, this has taken the form of unsubstantiated claims about heat in the Gimblett Road area.  It is regularly stated as being three degrees warmer than the rest of Hawkes Bay.  Three degrees additional heat per day would, over the growing season, provide a total heat summation reading of 2100 degree days, the equivalent of the Murray River area of Australia .  This is clearly not the case.  Our climate data loggers show no difference in the total heat summation achieved across the plains of Hawkes Bay.  We challenge anyone to provide evidence otherwise.

The beauty of growing grapes in Hawkes Bay is the diversity of the region, not that one site is better than another.  The French most aptly call it "vive la difference" and this is what Hawkes Bay winemakers should capitalise on and not put others down using dubious data.

At that stage we had run data loggers in our own vineyards for 10 years and had run a logger in the Gimblett Gravels for part of the growing season in the 2000 and 2005 vintages.  For the 2006 vintage we continued to run our regular loggers in all our vineyards, and also ran loggers on 2 Gimblett Gravels sites, for the entire growing season.  This confirmed that there is absolutely no difference in heat summation, and daily maximums, between the Gimblett Gravels and typical vineyard sites on the plains.  These same figures continue to confirm that large areas of Hawkes Bay have the potential to produce red wines (from Bordeaux varieties and Syrah) of the highest quality.

Kind regards              Peter              


From:  Kingsley Wood,  Competition Convenor,  The New Zealand International Wine Show,  and proprietor First Glass Wines,  Takapuna:

Hi Geoff,

Interesting comments, especially from someone who has to judge considerably more than 100 wines a day at the A & P Royal Easter Wine Awards.

Geoff, I decided several years ago when I was running the Liquorland Top 100 to put all wines of similar styles or varieties into one class.  For many years I had separated out NZ Cabernets from the Aussie ones and several other varieties, simply to give them a better chance of showing well against the powerful competition from the rest of the world and in particular Australia.

After noting the success that our wines were achieving in tastings and competitions internationally, I decided that if our wines were good enough, they would stand up and be counted.  I noticed with interest that Chief Judge, Brent Marris, split out NZ Syrah from the rest of the Shiraz class in this year's Liquorland Top 100 and I suspect this was designed to give our local wines a better chance against, as you point out, the more overt and powerful styles from Australia.  It resulted in 2 golds at this year's Top 100.

As you noted, a number of our top Syrah producers were represented amongst the judging at the 2006 NZ International Wine show - notably Peter Cowley and Phil Brodie from Te Mata, John Hancock and Warren Gibson from Trinity Hill and Bilancia, Alastair Maling MW and Corey Ryan from Villa Maria and Steve Smith MW from Craggy Range.  When you add in Bob Campbell MW, Jane Skilton MW and Kym Milne MW I'm not so sure if you can improve on this judging talent when it comes to assessing syrah in this part of the world.

To say that "the results do a major disservice to the New Zealand wine industry" opens up another major question which I think you need to reply to.  Geoff, do you want only NZ Syrah separated from other countries or do we consider separating the classes for all varieties, e.g. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir etc.

This is where it gets very tricky as we know New Zealand is potentially the best in some varieties but needs help or protection in others.  So where do you draw the line.  I would expect that they don't separate out Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs from the others in competition or tastings in the UK, USA or Australia just to give other wines a chance.  So why the need to isolate NZ Syrah - if it's good enough on the day it should still shine.

Geoff, I don't take your criticism personally, but some of the highly respected and talented judges who were involved just may do.

Regards,              Kingsley