Welcome to the travelling Trinity Hill Homage roadshow. The face, and founding winemaker, of Trinity Hill, John Hancock, has been touring the country showcasing the release of the 2010 Homage Syrah. Last Thursday, at Regional Wine and Spirits in Wellington, marked the fourth day in a row of the Homage roadshow and I had front row seats.
A natural storyteller, Hancock took the group of 25+ wine-lovers through the stories of Trinity Hill and Homage. Hancock, along with his London-based business partners Robyn and Robert Wilson, were some of the first to set up shop in what’s now the Gimblett Gravels. In 1993 when they first bought land it was about $500 per acre, as Gimblett Gravels was an unknown quantity. Today that same land would sell for around $50,000 per acre. If there were any unplanted land left to buy in the Gravels, that is.
Hancock’s career to date has spanned 42 harvests in Australia, France and New Zealand. His winemaking approach and his direction at Trinity Hill has been influence not by the Shiraz of Australia, but rather by the Cote Rotie Syrahs of the Northern Rhone.
The name Homage is in honour of the late Gerard Jaboulet of the La Chapelle vineyard who mentored Hancock during his time in France. It was cuttings for the La Chapelle vineyard given to Hancock that have grown into the Homage wines.
Homage is Trinity Hill’s flagship wine. First made in 2002, Homage is only made in the the best years. As part of this tasting we looked at the four most recent vintages made: 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010.
What follows are my impressions of the wine mixed with some of Hancock’s comments.
The Trinity Hill wines
Arneis is an Italian food-friendly white variety. The wine is fermented in old oak with 100% uninoculated yeasts. At less than 2g/L residual sugar, this is a dry wine, but it comes across a little sweet due to lower acid. A clean, lightly aromatic wine, with aromas of white fleshy fruits like pear and peach, hints of citrus and red apple skins. This is a nice example of a smile-inducing wine with a silky, medium body and a slight citrus and mineral quality.
The ever misunderstood Viognier, at $35 it’s a hard sell for the average punter. Unfortunate, as this one has a creamy, lovely mouth-feel, as my partner describe, it ‘coating the tongue like rainbow oil.’ As aptly described by Hancock, it’s the “Pinot Gris for the thinking drinker.” Fermented in old oak, the wine is rich in structure. With aromas of the pungent sweet spices of nutmeg and vanilla, citrus notes and white floral characters. Much of the Trinity Hill Viognier vines have been pulled out and replaced with Syrah.
As with the Arneis, the Chardonnay is fermented with 100% uninoculated yeasts in 100% French oak, 25% of it new. Winemaker Warren Gibson takes his cue from the Australian winemakers who are shifting away from the big, oaky Chardonnays of the past. To provide the required structure and complexity without overpowering the wine in oak, the 2011 Chardonnay was fermented in larger 600L barrels rather than the usual 225L barriques. This is a wonderful, modern example of Chardonnay with nutty almond, coconut and apple notes with a winning creamy texture from the 30% malolactic secondary fermentation.
A blended 86% Tempranillo mixed with 9% Touriga Nationale, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Viognier. This wine spent 14 months in a mixture of new and old, French and American oak barriques resulting in a very drinkable medium tanning, medium acidity, medium body red. This wine is big on florals and violet petals with notes of black doris plum, liquorice and black cherry. The small amount of Viognier provides a softness to an otherwise austere win.
2010 The Gimblett
Another blended red, the Gimblett is made up of 60% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec, all having spent 18 months in French oak, 20% of it new. The wine is a bit shy about showing it’s more complex nature and although it’s a very drinkable red, I would want to see it again in another couple of years. Could have been the night, could have been the wines that came before and after. A bone dry, high tannin example with characters of dark cocoa, pepper and a prominent earthiness.
The 2011 Syrah leads with a punchy hit of white pepper, beneath the peppery nature is some black and red fruit, along with savoury portobello mushroom qualities. With 18 months in French oak, 20% new, this is a good introductory Syrah, enjoyable in it’s own right. Compared to the more complex Homage range, it becomes a fruit bomb respectively.
The oldest Homage in the tasting is a luscious, juicy, aromatic red wine ‘ice cream’. Fermented with 4% Viognier to give the wine a softness that lead it to win best in show at the Air New Zealand wine awards. Along with all the wonderful fruit, the 2006 Homage has plenty of spicy pepper, medium tanning and lower acid this wine is drinking very nicely. A favourite for my partner, Glynn.
The amount of Viognier added is a direct result of the vintage, 2007 saw the addition of 9% Viognier. The spicy, peppery, oregano character of the wine gains a silky smooth texture from the addition of Viognier that helped it to win the Cuisine wine of the year. The complexity of flavours and aromas doesn’t quite match that of the 2006 or the 2010, but it maintains a seal of quality simply from the texture of the wine.
2009 was a hotter vintage, resulting in rich baked plum, prune and raisin characters throughout the wine. With only 2% Viognier added, this wine has a nice, easy drinking character that is consistent across all the Homage wines. With medium tannins and high fruit qualities, the wine is juicy, described as wine cordial by my partner Glynn. For me this is a standing up wine, the kind you have when drinking and socialising.
In direct contrast to the 2009, the 2010 is a sitting down wine, a wine that you take your time with and consider carefully. The 2010 vintage made for a softer, rounder Syrah naturally. The addition of Viognier would have made it too soft, so it was left out for this vintage. This is the closest to a Hermitage in style due to the lack of Viognier, at 100% Syrah and fermented in 100% new oak, this wine is full of red fruit and spice. It has a similar juicy, luscious character but with a more prominent structure and wonderful complexity. As a young-ish wine, the 2010 Homage is yet to develop secondary characteristics, and it’s worth exploring again in a few years. The wine has gained structure from oak without taking on an overpowering oak smell. This was my favourite of the reds.