by Emma, 3rd March 2020
In mid-December, I was invited by Hawke’s Bay Winegrowers to join a tasting of 2018 Syrah put on for jancisrobinson.com’s Richard Hemming MW, who was visiting New Zealand after attending the Master of Wine Education Seminar in Adelaide. I jumped at the chance, not only because it is rare to get a chance to blind taste a decent range of New Zealand syrahs from the same vintage all in one go, but also because it was the very beginning of the Christmas school holidays and frankly, a solo drive to Hawke’s Bay for the day seemed like good preparation. Maxime Cavey of Hawke’s Bay Winegrowers set up the tasting, and Richard and I tasted in brisk silence alongside Hawke’s Bay-based consultant Simon Nash MW, and winemaker and writer, Oliver Styles.
Of the 48 wines, just seven were from outside of Hawke’s Bay – three from Waiheke, two from Martinborough, one each from Waipara and Otago, though this was not disclosed (to me, anyway) until the end of the tasting. Thirteen wines were from barrel (B was written on the bags so this was known when tasting). I was interested to see the 2018 vintage even at such a nascent stage, as for most of New Zealand, and certainly Hawke’s Bay, it was what we tend to call ‘challenging’. Ill-timed tropical cyclones tend to have that effect. Given NZ’s usual squeaky-clean approach to wine-making, there were certainly more wines than expected showing grubbiness, rot and other maladies. There were a few outright green wines and more dilution than you’d typically expect but those wines aside, it was a pretty smart selection of elegant, well-made syrah. Most are not likely built for the long haul but it’s certainly not a year to write off by any means. My favorites (tasting sheet order) as follows:
Mt Difficulty Ghost Town, Bendigo Central Otago
Quite a different expression from most, intriguing. Meaty, bacon fat, toasty oak, perfumed and peppery with dark brambly fruits behind, surprisingly elegant, almost delicate, palate with fine, sandy tannins, nice build on finish. A bit of a sleeper but really builds as it opens.
Dry River Lovat, Martinborough
Very reductive, dark fruit behind, slightly exotic, firm, savoury palate with nice balance between fruit, acid and tannin, some plushness on mid-palate, juicy finish. Not big but nicely done.
Villa Maria Reserve Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay
Lots of peppery spice and dark fruits, plush, rounded fruit-rich palate, firm tannins and plenty of oak, a bold rich style, good length, very polished and not shy but done well.
Smith & Sheth Heretaunga, Hawke’s Bay
Lots of bright, spicy fruit, iodine and earth. Toasty oak, a juicy palate, quite simple in some ways with soft, chalky tannins but has good depth and nice charm too. Inviting.
Bilancia La Collina, Hawke’s Bay
Quite an interesting expression here, rather exuberant with lots of florals, spicy/peppery, masses of fruit that veer towards jammy (strawberry, mostly) but the palate is fresh and light on its feet, juicy and pure and there’s quite a bit going on. Maybe shows the vintage a little as not super concentrated or lengthy but has real character and charm.
Stonecroft Serene, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay
(Barrel sample) Brooding black/red fruits on the nose, quite shy but palate shows nicely layered floral/spice/fruit/tapenade elements, opens up nicely, palate is a little shy and a touch unresolved right now but nice components – has personality.
Bostock Wines Vicky’s Vineyard, Hawke’s Bay
Brambly fruit, some nice layered spice/savoury notes, carries on to palate, not super concentrated or long but well-balanced, approachable and enjoyable style with good varietal expression and freshness.
Trinity Hill Homage, Gimblett Gravels
Gravelly, blueberry, quite peppery, red & black fruits, a few florals, seems very closed but then starts to unfold with a bit of air. Palate lacks some weight but has lovely juicy fruit and a real presence – each time you come back something else is emerging. Nicely dry and savoury, moderate length, quite firm tannins on finish, pretty smart stuff.
Trinity Hill l’Eritage, Gimblett Gravels
Confident, rich nose with loads of ripe berryfruit, spice and sweet oak, mocha choc notes, palate is quite dry and tight compared to nose, very nice build on finish, waxy and long. Tight and young but this is a delicious wine.
Ash Ridge Spire, Hawke’s Bay
Barrel sample. Sweet-fruited, waxy florals plus red/black fruits, olive tapenade notes, palate is quite closed but has some nice fruit weight, nice sandy tannins and good length. One to watch?
Esk Valley, Hawke’s Bay
Lots of rich dark fruit, fruitcake spice, blueberry compote, florals, sweet core, very spicy, acid a little high but lots of dark rich fruit to support, fairly plush and long. Bolder style but nicely done.
Unison Vineyard Symphony, Hawke’s Bay
Barrel sample. Lovely nose, very inviting with lots of going on and attractive medley of fruit/spice/florals, quite savoury/restrained too, juicy bright fruited palate, still quite undeveloped but good layers and very long.
Elephant Hill Stone, Gimblett Gravels
Barrel sample. Purple-red, lovely nose very perfumed and layered with waxy/rose petals, intense fruit but not fruity per se, palate is tight with very fine and certainly firm tannins, youthful, dry and taut on finish with concentrated fruit, very long. Smart.
(My notes showed I liked all of the EH wines – also tasted were the Estate, ‘Earth’ (Bridge Pa Triangle fruit) and Airavata. It was a toss-up with the Earth but this got the edge for its ageing potential. They’re no shrinking violets but are very smartly-made).
NB Te Mata Estate and Craggy Range did not submit wines to this tasting as Richard had already visited them.