Winter Warming Reds, Ontario Whites and New Zealand’s Scintillating Syrahs
Valentine’s Day is the theme of this release, but it is a candy coated selection that doesn’t seem particularly relevant or romantic. I was much more struck by some of the big reds – both expensive reds and great value reds – that will warm the winter soul and fuel romance in their own in way. I was also struck by two snappy Ontario whites to put away for a spring day. And finally I want to bring you a report on New Zealand syrahs – one of the great revelations of my current stint in the other hemisphere.
More Expensive Reds
Cirrus 2007 Syrah from Stellenbosch ($33.95) is one of those wines that could make you re-evaluate your perceptions of South Africa. It has certainly re-enforced my thinking that South Africa has gone off on the wrong tangent in emulating Bordeaux (cabernet) when the climate and terroir is much more south of France/Australia. This is profound, edgy, challenging wine. Not a thing of grace, but it has energy.
Barossa Valley Estate 2007 Ebenezer Shiraz from South Australia ($40.95) is absolutely delicious and virtually at peak readiness – a real cracker. Ebenezer is made from 100% Barossa grapes that just miss the cut for the famous E & E Black Pepper Shiraz, which became legendary in the 1980s as one of the monumental wines of the region.
Villa Girardi 2008 Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico ($41.95) is from a fairly new winery established in 1986 – new by Italian standards. I have always enjoyed the elegant and more polished touch of this house, perhaps having to do with the limestone soils of their estate near Verona. Regardless, this is a real smoothie and a cuddler.
Less Expensive Reds
If the Ebenezer above is just a bit rich for your pocketbook have a go at Chateau Tanunda 2010 Barossa Tower Shiraz ($18.95). It is not as complex and deep, but still a Barossa classic at an excellent price. It is claimed that the restored Chateau Tanunda – an iconic building that really does have a tower – is the birthplace of the South Australian wine industry in 1854. Many of Australia’s best winemakers have worked in its cellars.
Hecht & Bannier 2010 Côtes Du Roussillon-Villages ($23.95) is yet, another rich and polished wine, this time from the sunniest corner of France up against the Spanish border in the Mediterranean southeast. The boys of Hecht & Bannier only went into business ten years ago but they have done a great job as “negociant eleveurs” to highlight wines from various appellations and present them in a modern style, at good prices.
Aneto 2009 Red from the Douro Valley is a fine example of the youth movement underway in Portugal’s famed port region. Founded only in 2001, with a mere seven hectares of vineyard, Francisco Montenegro has fashioned a rich wine with poise and structure, and delivered it for only $19.95. It really is quite delicious, yet built to last as well.
Tawse 2010 Sketches of Niagara Riesling is not one of the nuanced single vineyard biodynamically farmed Tawse rieslings. But nonetheless, priced at only $17.95, it captured a gold medal in the Canadian Wine Awards last year and helped propel Tawse to its third straight honour as Canada’s Winery of the Year. There is an infectious brightness and balance to this riesling.
Norman Hardie 2009 Chardonnay ($35) hails from a Niagara vineyard, not Hardie’s home base in Prince Edward County. But the combination of a leaner, high acid vintage in 2009, as well as Hardie’s riveting winemaking style makes this a mouth-watering chardonnay of the traditional Burgundy school. The length is quite remarkable.
New Zealand’s Scintillating Syrahs
This report was penned in New Zealand when I was attending Pinot Noir NZ 2013, a massive event held every three years in Wellington, the windy capital, to celebrate NZ’s most famous red grape. There were certainly some wonderful wines and great surprises among the hundreds of pinots I tasted, and I will report on them in due course. But for now I want to talk syrah, the great revelation of the journey.
Syrah is a newcomer to New Zealand, a place once thought to be too cold for syrah to ripen properly. But around the world, syrah keeps proving that it can perform well in cooler or moderate climates, as long as one is seeking a more northern Rhone-like expression of syrah, and not an Australian shiraz expression. The northern Rhone wines of Hermitage and Côte Rotie, are after all, from a more moderated climate that straddles continental and Mediterranean.
What is the Rhone expression? It is mid-weight, more acid and mineral driven style of syrah with lifted scents of pepper and smoked meat amid the fruit. The fruit is normally “black fruit” like black cherry, blackberry, but in cooler climates it can express as red fruit as well – raspberry, currants. The syrahs of New Zealand move between the red and black fruit spectrums, depending on microclimates, but there is no question that they are Rhone-like and not Australian.
This point was amply made in a blind syrah tasting staged by the Hawke’s Bay Winegrowers that pitted eight Hawke’s Bay syrahs against three Rhones and one Australian (that stood out like a sore thumb). It was more difficult to separate the NZ and Rhone syrahs, although I did well enough getting two out of the three. The organizers of such taste-offs always claim the purpose is not necessarily “to win” but to show their wines belong on the same playing field. In this case my favourite wine was a terrific Cote Rotie from Yves Cuilleron, and my least favourite wine was also a Rhone – Jaboulet’s legendary Hermitage La Chapelle, which was a disappointment to one and all.
But that left the Hawke’s Bay syrahs comfortably in the middle ground, and those from the excellent 2010 vintage really stood out – Crossroads 2010 Syrah Winemaker’s Collection, Craggy Ranch 2010 Syrah Gimblett Gravels and Trinity Hill 2010 Syrah Gimblett Gravels, all hit ratings above 90 pts, as did Villa Maria 2009 Reserve Syrah. All were perfumed, complex, elegant, almost silky yet finishing with depth and firmness. Later, still in Hawkes Bay, Trinity Hill would rise to the top again as I encountered one of the great red wines of New Zealand. Trinity Hill 2010 Hommage Syrah, is one of those wines that leaps from the glass and imprints directly into your memory banks. Sourced from very low yielding, 15 year old vines in the Gimblett Gravels sub-region, it sells for $120 in NZ. Yes folks – Hawke’s Bay syrah over $100. And worth it!
But Hawke’s Bay, with its moderate climate and seams of excellent well drained, riverbed gravel soils is not the only place I tasted great syrah. One of the first wines I encountered on Waiheke Island off shore of Auckland was the silky, quite dense and powerful Man O’War 2010 Dreadnaught Syrah, from a young vineyard planted on a steep volcanic slope that almost seems to rise from the sea. In the Martinborough region at the bottom of the South Island I tasted a fine 90 point Kusuda 2010 Syrah, among others. And even farther south in Marlborough I encountered excellent examples in Fromm 2010 La Strada and Staete Lane 2009, the latter organically grown.
So how relevant is all this to us here and now in Canada? NZ syrah is still only being produced in relatively small quantities and not much finds its way to us yet. However, VINTAGES did release two excellent examples (and only two) last fall, and both remain in stock despite achieving 90 point WineAlign ratings. And nor are they very expensive. So I encourage you to try them – Trinity Hill Syrah 2010 and Alpha Domus The Barnstormer Syrah 2010, to get a sense of the elegant styling, and to glimpse what will surely be an important wine in NZ’s future.
And that’s it for this time. I did not get to taste all the wines on the February 2 release, but I will try to catch up on my return. Next stop is Nelson and a conference built around aromatic white grape varieties; then back to Canada and B.C. for the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna on Feb 8 and 9.
VP of Wine
From the February 2, 2013 Vintages release: