Conclusions from the tasting:
The range of winestyles displayed in this tasting at Trinity Hill's winery, Hawkes Bay, was of particular interest and appeal. It is not every day that one can assess good New Zealand Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blends with the real thing from Bordeaux, and at the level of a Second Growth. Likewise the assessment of a range of New Zealand syrahs in the context of highly-rated Australian shirazes proved of interest. The tasting attracted a lively group of wine industry people, a keen group of medical professionals from the Napier Public Hospital, and several wine enthusiasts. There was therefore no inhibition about using technical terms, and good discussions followed the blind tasting and ranking stages.
One reflective note to arise subsequently: tasting through these wines after writing them up, and trying them with food, there is a certain sadness in recording that on the good side, now that our industry has matured to the stage where cropping rates bear some relation to French ones, and therefore the wines now mature gracefully for a reasonable time in bottle (unlike earlier decades), nonetheless most of these wines are only now approaching maturity. New Zealand is such a young wine country that sadly, most of these wines have long since been drunk, long before they have mellowed sufficiently to in fact be at their best with food. This sad state of affairs is not helped by nearly all New Zealand winewriters posting ridiculously short keeping times for wines, when they review them. It is as if they by and large simply do not cellar wine, in any meaningful way – or do not like the taste of properly mature wine. The young wine country syndrome again. By the same token, New Zealand restaurants have much to answer for, their present wine pricing almost without exception being extortionate, particularly having regard to their total refusal to cellar wine until it is in fact ready to drink. Cellaring wine is essential both for its optimum enjoyment, and if we are to be taken seriously as a wine country.
The five top wines from this 2002 vintage review Library Tasting are all now drinking magnificently, though there is no hurry at all to finish them: 2002 Craggy Range Syrah Block 14, 18; 2002 Vidal Syrah Soler, 18 +; 2002 Ch Cos d'Estournel, 18 +; 2002 Sacred Hill [ Merlot ] Brokenstone, 18½; 2002 Villa Maria Malbec Omahu Individual Vineyard, 18½ +.
Background Information for the Tasting:
The 2002 vintage was successful in Hawkes Bay, being seen as a successor to 1998, with some bigger and riper wines. In the most recent of my Vintage Tabulations for Hawkes Bay, the notes are:
La Nina changing to El Nino March. Modest early season and 45 mm rain 9 & 10 Dec at late flowering, 65 mm 18 Dec, damp early summer, 105 mm Feb 13 & 14, 40 mm 14 & 15 March, bleak prospects, then miraculous Indian autumn (apart from 25 mm 26 April no significant rain till end May) gave best quality and quantity vintage since 1998, but high alcohols – referred to locally by some as the Californian vintage. At best very good reds, but some too big. The Terraces made. Not the technical knowledge then as now, but the best cellaring well. Rating 7 – 9.
It was good though warmer in South Australia, Halliday rating the Barossa Valley 10/10, and McLaren Vale 9/10, with Coonawarra (a blending component in one) also 9/10. For Bordeaux, Parker rates the vintage in Bordeaux / Saint-Estephe 88 and Tannic, and Wine Spectator (who I think have the more thoughtful vintage summaries) rate 2002: 86: drink, cool-style clarets, with firm tannins; stick to top names. Sadly, New Zealand does not figure in the Wine Spectator vintage chart, which despite all our cockiness about New Zealand wine, shows how far we still have to go. For Argentina Wine Spectator rate 2003 (the exact vintage for the malbec, not matching, regrettably) 91: Drink, February heat wave during a long, dry season led to some inconsistencies, but Malbec excellent.
Why I would include malbec in this vintage review may arouse some curiosity. Some New Zealand authors, notably Stephen Bennett MW, have consistently held the view that New Zealand is too cool to ripen the variety properly. Apart from those using it as a bulking-up variety, some serious winemakers have persevered with the variety for good wine. It has formed a significant part of the noteworthy New Zealand red Esk Valley The Terraces. Babich have also in some years managed to conceal it constructively in their top cabernet / merlot, The Patriarch. But all too often, the tell-tale thread of stalkyness malbec brings adds weight to Bennett's view. With Villa Maria's preparedness to take a pioneering role in the evolution of New Zealand wine, there is interest in assessing whether in years like 1998 and 2002, the variety does in fact have a legitimate place in New Zealand. Hence including the Argentinian premium Individual Vineyard bottling, to match the Villa Maria likewise.
From Australia we have three of their most highly-regarded labels. Clarendon Astralis has achieved a cult-like following there, with prices on the auction market matching Grange. It has drawn some criticism from winemakers, but wine-lovers even in Australia (where wine technology sometimes dominates too much) do not always heed technical assessments of wine – hence the auction values averaging $A450. Penfolds Shiraz RWT is interesting too. It was an exciting innovation from this big wine firm in the later 1990s. It is deliberately made in a more French style, with all-French oak, both to stand apart from their Grange Shiraz, and to more closely emulate the great syrahs of France. Likewise their Bin 389 despite its volume, is in some years one of the great red wines of Australia. Around 2002, it was not oaked quite so aggressively as Grange.
For the syrah / shiraz group as a whole, the range of styles presented will be stimulating. We will span the range from lighter and hopefully more elegant New Zealand reds, through medium-sized examples to two famous South Australian wines. Few in New Zealand have in fact made the comparison between better Martinborough syrahs with more subtly-styled Hawkes Bay ones. Inclusion of our most Cote-Rotie-like syrah (Te Mata's Bullnose) with Dry River Syrah of the same year should therefore provide much interest. [ Later: the Bullnose opened TCA-affected, a reserve syrah from Vidal was substituted. ] The Craggy Range Block 14 Syrah is included both to bridge the stylistic gap between these first two syrahs and the more boldly conceived Esk Valley Reserve wine, and to provide a link with the Thursday tasting, where 6 vintages of Craggy Range's top (and now famous) syrah Le Sol will be up against the exactly matching vintages of Trinity Hill's equally famous top Syrah Homage. Where the Esk sits relative to the two Australian examples should be of great interest.
For the cabernet-oriented wines, Newton-Forrest Cornerstone is one of the most highly-regarded wines of the vintage, and the second-growth Ch Cos d'Estournel is the top-equal wine from Saint-Estephe. How these two sit with Penfolds highly-regarded cabernet-led Bin 389, and the two malbecs, should be of great interest. The cabernet-related and syrah-styled wines will not be separated into two flights. Instead we will have the fun of seeing if we can assess which class each wine falls into.
Acknowledgments: John Hancock and Warren Gibson invited me to present these tastings at Trinity Hill in the first place, and then with Janine Bevege continued with much-appreciated assistance in the conducting of them.
Cooper, Michael, 2005: Buyer's Guide to New Zealand Wines. Hodder Moa Beckett, 416 p.
www.robertparker.com various authors
www.winecompanion.com.au = James Halliday
www.winespectator.com various authors
THE WINES REVIEWED:
# The first price given below is the current wine-searcher value, which gives an indication of the broader market estimation of the wine now. Where available, the original purchase price is given in the text following.
Ruby, carmine and velvet, astonishingly fresh, the deepest colour. Bouquet is extraordinary, a total outpouring of perfectly ripe plummy berryfruit, no baked hints as in the Argentinian malbec and some of the Australian wines, instead black more than red fruits showing perfect physiological maturity and great freshness, shaped by subtle oak. There is a tiny aromatic minty lift. Palate follows beautifully, with exemplary fruit richness, ripeness and balance, sufficient almost to make one think malbec can be a noble grape after all, the wine showing great length on firm but ripe tannins. There is absolutely no hint of leafy undertones here, that observation being sharpened in the tasting by one of the cabernets showing exactly that character. Is this New Zealand's greatest-ever straight malbec wine ? Like the Brokenstone, it is at an early peak of perfection, which it will hold for some years. Cellar 5 20 years. Top or second wine for six tasters, the favourite wine of the evening, but not easily recognised as malbec. A great achievement, in which Villa Maria can be justifiably proud. GK 09/16
Rich ruby and velvet, youthful for its age, above midway in depth. Bouquet is particularly attractive, a dominance of dusky violet and rose florals over bottled dark-plums fruit, shaped but not unduly dominated by cedary oak. This smells for all the world like a modern (slightly oaky) Saint-Emilion. In mouth it is again beauty rather than size or power that creates the greatest impression, a total harmony of plummy berry / oak interaction, lovely freshness and length, oak a little more noticeable now in comparison with the Cos d'Estournel, appropriate alcohol. This is a great New Zealand Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blend at an early peak of maturity, which it will hold for many years. Top or second wine for four tasters, second equal favourite on the night, but not easily recognised as to variety. Cellar 5 15 years. GK 09/16
Ruby, garnet and velvet, older than some, midway in depth. Bouquet has that distinguishing characteristic of good temperate-climate red wines, showing both lightness and strength, with great volume. There is a floral violets and dark roses note, but also a countervailing lightly smoky bacon suggestion which is drying, and puts the wine into the Clarendon Astralis camp momentarily: namely, is there a light brett component ? Palate is glorious, all the velvet of perfectly ripe dark berryfruit not over-oaked, showing reasonable concentration and a weight a little less than the Brokenstone. It is not a big wine, but the supple velvety length of flavour and the aftertaste are a joy, berry dominant over oak, with no hint of drying brett here yet. Top or second wine for three tasters, and clearly seen as cabernet / merlot dominant and Bordeaux by over half the group. Nicely mature now, and will cellar for at least 10 years more. GK 09/16
Ruby and garnet, some velvet, the second lightest wine in colour. Bouquet is fresh, fragrant, lightly aromatic with a hint of pennyroyal, and nearly wallfower-floral, immediately suggesting syrah and a Cote Rotie winestyle. Palate weight is lovely, plenty of blueberry and plum fruit, great freshness relative to its age, none of the over-ripeness and undue weight of the Australian wines, yet the flavours linger beautifully and are wonderfully food-friendly. This is an attractive New Zealand syrah at full maturity, the ratio of oak slightly new-world relative to most Cote Rotie / Hermitage yardsticks, but pretty good. Cellar 3 8 years. This wine was well-liked, two rating it their top or second wine, and it was recognised as syrah by quite a number. GK 09/16
Ruby, garnet and velvet, just below midway in depth. This was the most clearly varietal syrah in the tasting, the bouquet showing fragrant berry freshness, suggestions of cassis, raspberry and dark plum, clear sweet black pepper, all remarkably pure. On palate the oak stands out a little, with the achieved ripeness fractionally less than the Vidal, so the latter wine seems fractionally more harmonious and complete. This Craggy wine is showing great form, considering it was the affordable / mainstream release. Cellar 5 12 years more. Two people had this as their favourite or second wine, but curiously many thought it malbec. GK 09/16
Rich ruby and velvet, a remarkably youthful colour, nearly as fresh as the Brokenstone, the third-deepest wine. This wine really divided the room, some loving it, others seeing it as the least wine in the lineup. The fresh aromatic cassisy depth of berry on bouquet is remarkable, by any standards, for a 14-year-old wine, one taster commenting (at the blind stage) that it could only be a screwcap wine. There is a black pepper lift, but it is hard to tease out from noticeable fragrant oak. In mouth the richness is extraordinary by New Zealand red standards, with a matching depth of flavour pretty well hiding the high alcohol, but not concealing rather too much new oak. Nonetheless I am on the positive side of the line for this wine: it simply needs putting away for another 10 years, when it may well score appreciably higher. It should be remarkably long-lived for New Zealand syrah, cellar 5 20 years more. Two second-place votes. GK 09/16
Rich ruby, some garnet, and velvet, the freshest of the Australians. Bouquet is rich, sweet, ripely plummy, a big fragrant wine which is only slightly euc'y, and not crassly boysenberry, attributes which serve it well in an overseas blind tasting. At the blind stage it shares much with the Esk, both being powerful wines and maybe syrah / shiraz (on the first run through). In mouth however the wines diverge, the RWT immediately more hot climate, spirity, blueberry and moist prunes rather more than plums, with a malty quality thickening the wine, but not illuminating it. The Esk is infinitely fresher and more vibrant. Both wines show far too much oak, even if it is fine French oak, by Northern Rhone fine-syrah standards. In the later flavour a hint of devaluing Australian boysenberry creeps in, but even so, the whole wine is a pleasing package conveying careful winemaking, within its climatic (and oak) limitations. Both will cellar for many years, 5 20 years say, though the Esk will end up much the fresher wine. Three people had this as their second favourite wine, and there was less doubt as to what it was than for any other wine shiraz. GK 09/16
Rich ruby, scarcely any garnet, youthful, midway in depth. First impressions are of a lovely fresh cassisy wine, dramatically cabernet-dominant in the blind 12, much more clearly recognisable than any other wine. The group agreed. Second sniff however and I immediately picked up the Cos d'Estournel to compare. Yes there is just a tiny edge of methoxypyrazine taking the edge off perfect cassis ripeness, for cabernet sauvignon. Only fair to say that later, at the discussion stage, tasters mostly did not agree. In mouth the vibrant freshness of cassis is textbook, with good richness and cedary oak all in a good new-world balance. I look forward to following this wine, having now broached the case. Will my green edge turn into brown tobacco complexity, as Steven Spurrier considers in his general discussion of Bordeaux / cabernet sauvignon flavours ? For the present, it is not totally food-friendly. Two people rated this their top or second-favourite wine. Cellar 5 20 years. GK 09/16
Garnet and ruby, well below midway in depth, disappointingly old and light considering the reputation of the wine, and the vintage in South Australia. Bouquet continues that thought, being loudly vanillin and coconut American oak, almost to the point of obscuring the varietal detail. There comes a point when one is weary of wines shouting at you: I am a Penfolds wine. Given the incongruous bouquet (in the context of several clearly bordeaux blends in the tasting), flavours in mouth are vastly better. There is rich juicy berry wrapping up the oak almost totally, giving a long smooth harmonious flavour in which cassis can still be seen, sufficiently so that at the blind stage, a majority of tasters classed the wine as more likely cabernet / merlot than syrah / shiraz. Aftertaste is long and relatively soft, the American oak still much too obvious but now almost sweet, with a thought of boysenberry creeping in too. The wine is fully mature now, but should hold its style for years, say 5 15. This wine did not rank in the top or second place stakes, at all. GK 09/16
Ruby and garnet, a good hue, but the lightest wine in depth of colour. Bouquet is quite different from the other wines. It is floral and fragrant, fair berry, white pepper much more than black, quite complex. It was clearly recognised as syrah. The whole bouquet is totally in the style of wines from the IGP Les Collines-Rhodaniennes, in particular the cooler dissected terrace lands above the favoured slopes of Cote Rotie. In mouth red fruits dominate, not black, so redcurrant, red cherry and red plums, not cassis, plus white pepper not black, in a wine of good concentration. The oak handling in particular is exemplary, making the wine more attractive with food than most in this set. Suggestions of stalks can be seen, the tannins merging with the subtle oak, so it is hard to tease out cause and effect. The character the wine displays makes perfect sense, Martinborough being marginal for syrah even though not so very much further south than Hawkes Bay, and nearly as dry. The whole relationship of the two districts is closely analogous to that between Les Collines versus prime sites in Cote Rotie. Fully mature, but no hurry at all. One vote for top wine of the evening, but five for least. The less-ripe dianthus / white pepper phases of syrah are perfectly legitimate winestyles, so my score is therefore higher than some would think reasonable. In general, syrahs like this one do not seem to appeal in places where the grape reaches full physiological maturity. The smells and tastes of cassis and black pepper are preferred. GK 09/16
Garnet, ruby and velvet, the third to lightest wine. Bouquet is very distinctive in the set, showing some baked plum notes like the Trapiche. But whereas the Trapiche reminds of baked plum tart, this wine also reminds of both the skin on roast lean beef, and smoked bacon hocks. Below these characters is a strangely 'pure' grapes-drying-to-currants slightly baked aroma which is quite winey. So the whole bouquet is strong and evocative, but some of the chemistry suggests brett. In mouth the wine is totally different, really quite extraordinarily so. The common link is the grapes or blackcurrants shrivelling to dried currants, very intense dark and dry-berry flavours, yet critically unfresh as soon as you taste the Esk Valley Syrah Reserve alongside. The aftertaste is extraordinary too, an absolute distillation of dark grape flavours, and all softly oaked. I would love to know a dry extract for this wine: it is so saturated with berry flavours. At the discussion stage, in a tasting company dominated by winemakers, there was to my surprise no wholesale condemnation of the wine on technical grounds, but I remain uneasy it is drying prematurely. At the moment the concentration obscures the brett component, I think. Maybe not a bottle to cellar for the decades the present concentration suggests, but it should be good for 5 15 years at least. An interesting wine to follow the auction price in Australia must mean something. No votes for first or second place, four for least wine of the evening. GK 09/16
Ruby, some garnet and velvet, the second deepest wine. Bouquet is big, but in the company, clearly showing baked fruit / hot-climate-country qualities on bouquet, reinforced by massive oak way beyond any old-world idea of reasonable oak deployment in wine. It is vastly more oaky than either Penfolds wine, a company which often sets the pace in these matters. In mouth the baked plum tart aromas and flavours (plus the oak) continue, a rich and strong wine, not unpleasing, instead like the Australian wines, simply looking incongruous when measured against fragrant temperate-climate wine standards as expressed in the Cos or Brokenstone. It is strange the Trapiche people have so massively over-oaked it, given both their old-world heritage, and the cropping rate being not particularly low, so there is not the innate grape richness / dry extract to carry such an oak load. Intriguingly, even though Argentina is the home of malbec (pace Cahors), it is the Villa Maria / New Zealand wine in this tasting which vividly illustrates the quality of malbec the variety. But as noted in the introductory text, in New Zealand this can only be achieved in a favourably warm year. The Trapiche is mellow, softish and mature now, in its very oaky way, and will hold many years, 5 20 say. Four people had this as their top or second wine people do like oak but again it was hard to recognise the wine as malbec. It is even more oaky with food. GK 09/16