Elephant Hill Winery : a brace of syrah

By | 07/04/2010

Since returning from the Hawke’s Bay Syrah Symposium in January, I have spent a bit of time pondering on the emerging style of NZ syrah. It was certainly clear from the comments of overseas journalists (especially the UK ones) they regarded NZ syrah, especially from Waiheke and HB, as the next ‘big thing’.
Last week a brace of wines from Hawke’s Bay’s Elephant Hill winery made for a very interesting comparison. The 2009 Elephant Hill Syrah had a very distinct cracked pepper and violets aroma with just a little raspberry and blackberry too. The palate was bright with finely judged acidity and low impact tannins supporting the fruit. A delicious, upfront wine.
By contrast the 2008 Elephant Hill Reserve Syrah was glossier, more exotically fruited, the black pepper component somewhat submerged under opulent blackberry and omega plum fruit aromas. There was a hint of apricot/florals that suggests a touch of viognier in the blend too. The palate was lusher with more noticeable new oak, but silky tannins too. Denser and with better length.
But when the wines were unmasked, it was the 09 Syrah that had won gold at the REWS whilst the 08 Reserve only took silver.
Could it be that judges are looking for the dominant black pepper component at the expense of other characters? There has been a definite trend in recent shows to reward the uber peppery wines. But in the same way as thiol-dominant sauvignon blancs or heavily oaked chardonnays lose marks for being too obvious, is there a risk that once this peppery, rotundone character is identified, it is rewarded often at the expense of completeness?
But when I retasted both wines later, I began to have doubts. The 09 was a delicious, upfront wine. Shouldn’t this drink-me style be rewarded too?  There is no point in complaining that judges only award high scores to show pony styles if this is not the case.  I enjoyed the 2008 Reserve wine but on reflection, perhaps the oak was a little too dominant?
I think more investigation should be done by me and to this end I have assembled a selection of NZ syrah (new release and older vintages) and will taste them blind to see if I can see any trend emerging.  Results posted next week.

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