New Zealand Syrah - an overview
February would normally see New Zealand winemakers in London for the annual New Zealand trade tasting, but not this year, so instead the New Zealanders organised a series of webinars. Some brave souls braved a very uncivilised 4 a.m. alarm call to be able to talk to England at the very civilised hour of 5 p.m. all about new developments in New Zealand and then there was a webinar on Pinot Noir, with a different cast, the next day. And a Syrah tasting was conducted by Rebecca Gibb MW, who is based in Yorkshire, with miniature samples sent out ahead of time.
I know that New Zealand has absolutely nothing with the Languedoc, but Syrah is grown in the Languedoc as a cepage améliorateur and so I think it is interesting to put Syrah in context and compare it in other parts of the world. In fact, there is very little Syrah grown in New Zealand, just 437 hectares, which accounts for one percent of the country’s vineyard area. The first commercial planting of Syrah in New Zealand was as recent as 1984, by Alan Limner of Stonecroft Winery in Hawke’s Bay. Hawkes Bay is the most important region for Syrah, with four wines in the tasting, plus one from Waiheke Island and perhaps unexpectedly, a wine from Marlborough. There are all of 11 hectares of Syrah in Marlborough.
So this is what we tasted, with plenty to enthuse about, showing how New Zealand is a delicious alternative to the Rhone Valley and the Languedoc as a source of Syrah.
Prices are recommended UK retail prices, but we were not given stockists.
2018 Te Mata Syrah - £19.99
I have always had a soft spot for Te Mata, ever since I went there on my very first visit to New Zealand thirty years ago. At that time Te Mata had not even considered growing Syrah. This wine is a blend of two areas within Hawke’s Bay, Bridge Pa and the Woodthorpe Terraces. 2018 was a very hot summer, with some heavy rain in early March, which did cause problems at the harvest. The wine spent five months in oak and has a fresh peppery nose and palate, with gentle tannins and an underlying freshness. I liked it a lot and it represents good value. Bullnose Syrah is their top cuvée for Syrah.
2019 Paritua - £31.99
This also comes from Bridge Pa and is a much richer style than the Te Mata. There is some perfumed peppery red fruit on the nose, and on the palate the wine is much fleshier, with oaky notes and supple tannins. Half the wine is aged in new French oak. This was fermented at under 30°C, illustrating a current trend to ferment at lower temperatures in order to avoid excessive extraction and tannins.
2018 Trinity Hill, Gimblett Gravels - £24.99
Gimblett Gravels is further inland and warmer than the coastal area of Hawke’s Bay. The gravels retain the daytime heat during the night. The grapes were picked earlier than they would have liked, thanks to the rain in March. And they use 25% whole bunches, and also add some Viognier skins to the ferment. The wine then spends 14 months in French oak. The colour is deep and the nose redolent for black fruit. The palate is firm and structured, with dark fruit and a long finish. It needs time and in due course will be delicious.
2019 Craggy Range, Gimblett Gravels - £25.00
2019 was a very dry vintage. There were some whole bunches in the ferment – 18% to be precise, and the wine spent fourteen months in oak, 25 % new. The colour is deep with a firm dense nose, with black fruit and pepper. The palate is tight knit again with firm fruit and a certain juiciness of the finish. There are peppery notes with tannin and black fruit, and a long finish.
2017 Man o’ War Dreadnought Syrah - £37.50
Man o’ War is one of the leading estates of Waiheke Island, and also the largest estate on the island, with an extensive vineyard at the eastern end of the island. Conditions on Waiheke are warmer than in Hawke’s Bay.
Deep colour. Red fruit with a very perfumed nose. Some quite firm tannins and oak on the palate, with fleshy red fruit. Medium weight. Rebecca explained that as well as being warmer, the soils are richer and the wine had a higher alcohol level at 14° than the wines from Hawke’s Bay, averaging 13°. 2017 was quite a wet vintage.
2016 Fromm Vineyard, Marlborough - £42.50
Marlborough is of course better known for Sauvignon, and also Pinot Noir. This Syrah was planted in 1992 and it ripens a month later than Pinot Noir, with the talented winemaker at Fromm, Hätsch Kalberer, agreeing that Marlborough is marginal for Syrah. Marginal or not, this was delicious. Good deep colour. Quite a perfumed fragrant nose, beginning to evolve a little, as the oldest wine of the tasting. Again, the palate was beautifully balanced, with a tight structure and some spice and pepper. Hätsch includes just 2% of Viognier juice. All the grapes are destemmed and he uses indigenous yeast and ages the wine in barrel for eighteen months. And he made just six barrels in 2016. It was a delicious finale to the tasting. And Rebecca concluded with the observation that 80% of the Syrah drunk in New Zealand comes from Australia!