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14 August 2023

New Zealand: Syrah, Cabernets, Malbec and Merlot.

New Zealand Wine Inc. Craggy Range Syrah.

Syrah isn't the newcomer to New Zealand's vineyards that I imagined it might be, with 'a long history dating back to the mid-1800s.' Most of this seductive variety is planted in Hawke's Bay region, a vast cove on the east coast of North Island and one of NZ's sunniest spots; followed by the Auckland / Waiheke Island area in the north with its warm seaside climate. But, at 350 and 50 hectares of Syrah plantings respectively, the wines are of niche interest even if very promising.
As a quick although admittedly facile comparison, nearest winemaking neighbour Australia has 40,000 ha of Syrah. Merlot is the dominant red grape in both places mentioned above, with the other southwestern French varieties also making their mark at certain wineries there: Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon and Malbec. Here's half-a-dozen diverse reds tasted and rated in Dublin a few months ago.

NZ Wine Inc. Trinity Hill.


Hawke's Bay:
Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2020 (13% abv): Gimblett Gravels is one of five subzones located in the middle of the bay a little inland, which is formed by rivers, gravel beds and stony terraces. This tasty restrained yet generous Syrah had a small amount of Viognier skins added to the must, and was aged for 14 months in 5000 litre casks. Not showing its age particularly, enticing ripe black cherry fruit with well-integrated oak tones, quite weighty rich and concentrated with firm gritty tannins; in the end, rounded mouthfeel though thanks to light toast notes and lingering ripe spicy fruit. Very nice. Liberty Wines Dublin & London. £25 UK. €29-€35 Ireland. $40 NZ and US.
Smith & Sheth CRU Heretaunga Syrah 2019 (13.5% abv): Heretaunga is Maori for Hawke's Bay. 'The grapes are sourced from private growers as well as Smith & Sheth own estates (Bridge Pa, Omahu and Mangatahi). Maturation: 14 months in French barriques.' Structured wine with trademark black cherry fruit and subtle oak tones, attractive textured tannins on the still closed up finish; quite fine Syrah. €37 Ireland (Curious Wines). £27-£33 UK (image from louislatour.co.uk). $32-$40 US. $40 NZ. Kr280 Sweden.

Waiheke Island:
Man O'War Dreadnought Syrah 2018 (14% abv): Found just to the east of Auckland, this island's climate is described as 'warm, dry and maritime.' Sourced from 'steep hillside vineyards' and with '22 months in barrel.' Maturing colour and nose, still quite toasty though and a tad extracted but there's dark spicy fruit in there with attractive savoury flavoured finish; pretty big wine in comparison with good substance, even if a touch clumsy. €40 Ireland (O'Briens). £34-£42 UK. $55 NZ.
Giesen Clayvin Vineyard Syrah 2021 (14% abv): With clay and gravel soils, this high-density north-facing vineyard in the Southern Valleys contains a mere 1 ha of certified-organic Syrah. 'Matured in new and used 225L French oak for two winters before racking and blending.' Medium-purple colour, lightly spicy oak mingles with peppery black fruits, the oak was a little obvious and it was quite firmly textured, but powerful and concentrated too with ripe fruit flavours then lingering coconut and vanilla notes; still young, promising more. Bibendum Wine €39 Ireland. $41-$45 Aus. $50-$55 NZ.

Other good Syrah-producing estates include Craggy Range (photo top), Te Mata and Esk Valley.

Other reds

Both from Hawke's Bay:
Smith & Sheth CRU Heretaunga Cabernet Franc 2020 (14% abv): Clay and gravel soils, 'old vine Cabernet Franc from the Fratelli Vineyards in the Bridge Pa subregion, traditionally fermented on skins and aged in French oak barriques.' Lightly herby red fruits, spicy and ripe though while structured and powerful with fresh acidity, quite tight mouthfeel to finish but offering good substance and nice tangy red fruit characters. $38-$40 US. $37-$40 NZ.

Esk Valley Artisanal Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2020 (14% abv): Vineyards planted in deep stony soils: 55% Malbec, 28% Cabernet, 17% Merlot. 'Esk Valley's first Malbec based wine from Gimblett Gravels. The individual parcels were pressed to French oak barrels and aged for 18 months.' Deep colour, leafy vs ripe nose, fairly intense and concentrated with firm structured palate, ripe berry and liquorice notes too mixing with spicy red pepper, full-bodied and powerful, tannins are noticeable but well-textured; will improve, good value. €20 Ireland (Barry & Fitzwilliam). $20-$25 NZ and US. £16-£20 UK (bottle shot from hatchmansfield.com).

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