While the Bordeaux blend tasting was well attended, the syrah one not only sold out in four days, a waitlister showed up hoping he could squeeze in and was rewarded for his gumption with an additional tasting place laid out.
As part of our introductory handout we were provided with not only a heavily detailed data sheet, we also get a detailed look at the ripening cure for syrah. That the 2013 vintage was exceptional, is not news. It has been described as the ‘vintage of a generation’ on that may only be experienced every 25 years.
The data sheet took nearly 200 emails to winemakers to gather the information compile, it covered everything from: the percentage of hand-picked, percentage whole-bunch, residual sugar, days cuvaison and whether the MLF took place in the tank or barrel, along with seventeen other criteria.
The ripening curve information was provided as an excerpt from an article our host, Geoff Kelly, wrote for the World of Fine Wine. The underripe spectrum ranges from the green and stalky, through to red currants, carnations and white pepper. The overripe side of the curve shows boysenberry, dark plum and black pepper, while the cassis and florals have been left behind.
Perfectly ripened syrah is characterised as showing full cassis berry darkening through to fresh plum to bottled black dorris plums, freshly-cracked black peppercorn. The florals now darker and sweeter, such as dark red roses or violets. The ripeness is where sweet florality peaks, black pepper is subtle, and cassis or dark plums dominate at a alcohol that is preferably less than 14%.
These tastings were set up not only to assess the claims made against the 2013 vintage, but also as a leisurely precursor to the Hot Red Hawke’s Bay exposition in Wellington on 11 June. Each of the wines were decanted three times and served blind.
2013 Te Mata Estate Syrah Bullnose
The nose of the wine is dramatically floral, it is this florality that landed the Te Mata first in the lineup. Along with the carnations, wallflowers and violets there’s also savoury spice and brambly fruit character. The palate sees more in the way of earthy spiciness with a mix of black and white pepper, the suggestion of cassis, vanilla from the oak and red berry fruit. The youth of the wine has the oak and acid taking a place of prominence, but with time these will meld into the greater whole. This elegant wine is focusing on the prettiness of the variety, rather than the weight or bigness it often expresses.
2013 Church Road Syrah Grand Reserve
Where the last wine was florality and prettiness, the Church Road is bigger and burlier. The oak currently dominates the wine, all vanilla, cloves and woody tannins. Sitting behind the oak you find a darker fruit character showing blueberry, boysenberry and bramble. Pepper spice, black olives and very high cocoa content chocolate round out the wine.
2013 Black Barn Vineyards Syrah
Where most wines were triple decanted, this one was moved jug-to-jug ten times to try and get air into the wine. Even still the wine remained a slightly shakey specimen. There is something brown to the wine – barnyard, sticking plasters, the seal wallows of Cape Palliser, tree bark. The palate allows for more favourable descriptors along the lines of bacon fat, black olives, raspberry and red currants.
2013 Mills Reef Winery Syrah Elspeth
Not a big wine, but one that shows great beauty. As you move from the nose to the palate you get the most complete expression of a wine, showing plenty of sweet, ripe fruit both red and black plums and berries throughout. The oak is rather subtle, the spiciness showing as white pepper and cloves with some savoury black olive character. viewed as part of a rather bit lineup of wines, the Elspeth is pure subtlety.
2013 Esk Valley Syrah Winemaker’s Reserve
A wine that was going through some growing pains on the night of the tasting. This wine shows the heat of high alcohol more so than any other in the flight. The tannins are rather drying and the granular oak weighs down the wine constricting the freshness. But give it time. The structure is sound, there is plenty of red and black plums showing, verging on prune and the oak adds pleasant biscuit and vanilla notes. Dried herb, tobacco leaf and both black and white pepper provide added complexity to the wine. This is one to follow the progression of its maturity.
2013 Vidal Estate Syrah Legacy
While many of the wines in the lineup shared rather similar traits, the Vidal stood apart as something a little more out of the ordinary. Cheery red plum character, savoury cured meat, black olives and a herbal quality. But it’s the fresh orange peel and citrus notes with a touch of honey that really captured the interest of the audience. The nose has more in the way of sweetness, the palate savoury, both rather fresh. The tannins are chewy and drying and the youthful acidity is zesty, these two structural elements present the illusion of a thin wine, but the big amount of fruit on the palate tells the story of a wine that will benefit from being tucked away a wee while.
2013 Crossroads Syrah Elms Vineyard Winemaker’s Collection
This wine in a word: elegance. I have that term dotted throughout my tasting notes. Blueberries and violets, freshly crushed black pepper. The wine does carry with it some seriousness but this is seen more as lightness, and a persistent, elegant balance.
2013 Mission Estate Syrah Huchet
Fragrant and aromatic with the delicacy of crushed petals and the richness of stewing raspberries, all very fresh. This vibrancy shares space with a savoury earthiness, baking spice and mushrooms as well as a thread of grapefruit that permeates the entire wine. Structurally robust, this is a big wine. A big, well-balanced wine. The finish wraps up with a slight wafting of pipe tobacco.
2013 Sacred Hill Syrah Deerstalkers
Defined by balance. A good synthesis of oak and fruit, the big tannin well met by the acidity. Prominent roasted, smoky oak, plenty of spice and heaps of savoury elements from bacon fat and cured meats to tobacco and mostly white pepper. All this bigness, savouriness and the wine still retains some charms by way of rich red plums and fresh, floral fragrance.
2013 Matua Syrah Matheson Single Vineyard
This was the headliner, the clear favourite on the night. Intensely perfumed with potpourri, dried violets, aniseed and just a hint of iodine making up the bouquet. The palate mimics the nose but with more white pepper. Velvety smooth from the richness of black fruit and asphalt character. Hugely concentrated. The acid, alcohol and tannin are all rather high and the structural elements stand apart in a tightly bound, rather austere fashion. This wine has a long future that will continually evolve in unexpectedly charming ways.
2013 Elephant Hill Syrah Airavata
The nose at this stage is rather non-descript, showing hints of red fruit. The bouquet is yet to develop. Really rich, full palate, with a bit more in the way of oak and spice, red berries and olives. So weighty and rich, it’s this body and textural depth that allows tasters the opportunity to see the potential in a wine with a muted nose. Once the nose starts to show this wine is sure to be outstanding.
2013 Villa Maria Syrah Reserve
Our host on the night could not say enough good things about both this wine and the winemaking that achieved it. He insisted that if you put it away 10 years, you will be astounded by what the wine becomes. Our host is a fan of the delicate, elegant and subtle in most things with a steer towards the classic, if that’s suits your tastes I would recommend you follow his advice. On the night the wine was cheery. There was something doughy, like lightly spiced Turkish eggs (eggs poached in yoghurt). The fruit on the wine was masked. The palate marked by drying and grippy tannins. Perfectly enjoyable without being amazing. One of the first wines I’ll reach for at Hot Red Hawke’s Bay next week.