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Wine of the Week for week ending 23rd March 2003
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The Great NZ Syrah Tasting
Dry River Arapoff Syrah 2001
Vidal Estate Soler Syrah 2001

The idea, I said to Neil, is to pick the favourite, to pick the Wine of the Week.

There were half a dozen Syrahs, some which were regarded as New Zealand's best labels. I had tried most of the wines before but only in front of the winemaker - a quick sip, a quick note then on to the next one.

I much prefer to muse over my wine for a while, to let it develop in the glass over 1, 2 or 3 hours. If possible I like to taste the wine the next day. I also like to taste wine with food. With NZ Syrah, especially so. For generally NZ Syrah is not usually cheap quaffing, barbecue wine. Most have a price that dictates they are wines to open for dinner, prices that make them special occasion wines, trophy wines perhaps. And some of the wines had labels that would make heads turn.

I had bought a selection of salamis, some Prosciutto and a couple of pieces of eye fillet steak - one piece to be quickly seared and served hot, the other piece to be frozen and later thinly sliced and served as Carpaccio. Both pieces of fillet were well seasoned with freshly ground peppercorns. I also had some black olives and something called 'Plum Fruit Cheese' which is not a dairy product but a fruit product that is a firm fruit jelly designed to be thinly sliced and served as you would cheese.

But first the wines were tasted on their own.

Neil sorted out the order by pulling the bottles randomly out of the box and poured the wines out of my sight. As he brought the numbered glasses to the table the winey aromas of cherry chocolate, red berries and fragrant spices filled the room. We were in for a treat.

Or were we?

The first wine left a lot to be desired and as I moved on I realised Wine No. 1 was hopelessly out of class. But the rest of the wines all impressed and it came down to a head to head battle between Wine No.2 and Wine No. 5.

Wine No. 2
The darkest colour, a deep black red with bright carmine rims. If you are the kind of person who drinks with their eyes, this is the one you would pick.
Seemed jammy at first on the nose with ripe berry fruits and a good sprinkling of peppery spice. Not as forward on the nose as the colour would suggest. But wait, there's more. Coming back after going smelling all 6 wines, the spicy peppery aromas are fragrant and inviting. There is perhaps a hint of chocolate too.
Ripe fruit, sweet but balanced to the spicy French oak. Wonderful fruit - juicy roadside blackberries, black stone fruits, red pepper and nutmeg spices. Terrific structure. Wonderful velvety tannins. Delicious. A definite contender for the Wine of the Week.
Coming back to it later after having finished my initial assessment of all six wines, I can only describe the lingering flavour of nutmeg-influenced oak and chocolatey fruit as 'fantastic'. There is just so much going on in this wine. Top stuff.

Wine No. 5
Dark red black, the colour of juicy blackberries.
Intense aromas, very inviting, ripe fruit, not overripe, lots of spice, savoury, classy well-integrated oak, the best and most appealing aroma of the group. Should I keep on smelling it or have a sip. 'Go on, put it in the mouth', I convinced myself.
It is a really ripe syrah, quite chocolatey and creamy with an abundance of red fruits yet still meaty, savoury and spicy. Despite this, it is still quite tight with very firm tannins and meaty oak. It is a wine that has a lot of evolving to do. Long, savoury, spicy and sweet fruited on the finish. Very very good indeed.

And those notes were taken without food. I had sorted out my top two and without food, Wine No. 2 with its spice-laden sweet fruit and exquisite balance was leading by a hair's breadth. But Wine 5 was so very classy. It was vinous and creamy with a tannin structure that was built to last. And it was getting better with every sip.

The seared peppered eye fillet steak will decide the winner I thought. Why? Because this is the type of food we are most likely to eat as a wine accompaniment for NZ Syrah. We bought the salamis, etc., to try out as I often find savoury meat flavours in wine. Olives and plums as well as they are often flavours described in Syrah. But fillet steak is my favourite.

The eye fillet steak that had been thinly sliced, coated with peppercorns and quickly seared in a hot pan for about 1 minute each side was sweet and juicy. It was terrific with No. 2 but then it was terrific with No. 5 as well. It was a tie.
Ditto with the Carpaccio.
With the Prosciutto, 5 came out over no 2, but wine 6 was actually best.
With the Plum conserve the sweeter fruit of No. 2 was the best, while it made No. 5 taste dark and nuggety. Wine No. 3 was the pick with this.
All the wines went well with the black olives.
No. 6 was best with the Prosciutto while No. 5 was better than No. 2. Wine No. 4 was the only one that went with the hot, spicy Pepperoni salami but the sweeter salamis made No. 2 taste even more chocolatey.

Still I couldn't decide. "Perhaps I should look at the labels", I said to Neil. That was a mistake, however.

Wine No. 2 was Dry River Arapoff Syrah 2001 from Martinborough.
Wine No. 5 was Vidal Estate Soler Syrah 2001 from Hawkes Bay - sealed with a screwcap.

"How on earth can I make a decision now?" Both were stunning wines with very well respected labels.

So I declared a tie.

Dry River Arapoff Syrah
12% alcohol. Mail order price: NZ$52. A little is available in retail if you hunt hard. Tiny quantities alos exported.

Vidal Estate Soler Syrah
14% alcohol. 18 months in French and American oak barriques. RRP NZ$29.95. Available in retail. Star Buy and incredible value for money. Export status unknown.

The runners-up were -

Wine No. 4 - CJ Pask Reserve Syrah 2000
13% alcohol. 16 months in new French oak. About NZ$35.
Medium dark black red. Dark oak, nuggety, a little tarry, perhaps a little leathery and some cherry chocolate on the nose. Seems just very slightly oxidised on the first taste but that thought soon went away. Soft and fruity, some dark chocolate flavours, quite easy to drink. The finish on this wine is good, like a good moccachino - sweet and chocolatey with boysenberry fruit and creamy oak. Sweet spices, a hint of anise, perhaps. Dried herbs too. This is a wine that would be a crowd pleaser.
Going back to it later I found it quite liqueur-ish with its fine vinous flavours. It has a good spicy character, a lovely finish and lovely flavours that linger. It's a little meaty too. A good wine - the kind of wine that makes you want more.

Wine No. 3 - Stonecroft Syrah 2001 - Hawkes Bay
? alcohol. French oak. Mail order price: NZ$45 a bottle. Some available in retail.
Medium weight pinky red colour. Ripe fruit like raspberry jubes or jelly baby lollies. But then the aromas become quite brambly and the peppery spice begins to emerge. Fruit seems a little dilute at first but fragrant lavender-like flavours come through to become quite intense with the plum fruit and hot pepper spices. Firm tannins with hints of fennel on the warm spicy finish that just broadens out so well with its flavours. Seems like a wine that needs some time to develop. The finish is very good and later strong blackberry fruit emerges and lingers.
'If this is the Stonecroft I will forgive the insipid start to the wine', I thought. It turned out it was the Stonecroft. The sample in this tasting came from a bottle that had been open for the duration of the Stonecroft mail-order customer tasting. Alan Limmer gave me the remnants of the bottle to bring home. I filled a 187ml screwcap bottle to the brim to preserve the wine for this tasting and finished the rest of the bottle then - see my previous notes here.

Wine No. 6 - Schubert Syrah 2000 - Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay (90%) and Martinborough (10%)
14% alcohol. 22 months in French oak (70%) new. Winery Price: NZ$45.
Deep red black, with blood red rims. A meaty aroma, marmite, yeasty, black and savoury, lots of crisp peppery spice and becomes quite creamy. Good intense aromas but personally the marmite detracts for me.
A dark, tarry, savoury wine in the mouth with nuggety oak, violets, roses, lavender, dried herbs, spices. Fruit is not so obvious. Creamy and quite silky textured on the palate. Lots of new French oak. Quite a classy wine but needs to be put into the cellar for a while.
But there is a character in here I personally don't like, a character that contra-indicated with so many of the foods. It was good with some salamis but with the juicy fillet steak others were better.
You know I find it hard to get past that meaty, upfront character - which seems to get worse as it sits in the glass. But it is a wine of two halves as the finish is really, really terrific. A gold medal winner at the recently judged NZ Wine Society Royal Easter Wine Show. A wine that is quite masculine - I know some fellas that would simply love this style. Neil rated this wine as his second choice initially - after the Dry River - but then demoted it to his 3rd choice after we had tasted the wines with food.

Wine No. 1 - Matakana Estate Syrah 2000 - Matakana
12.9% alcohol. 15 months in predominantly French oak. About NZ$28.
Medium weight red, looks just a little developed. Plummy aromas, fairly closed, hints of peppery spice, a little soapy. Quite frankly, the wine tastes weird and as I sipped it I thought there is no way this could become a 'Wine of the Week'. That soapy taste comes through and it showed some green flavours as well. Based on this bottle it would be lucky to get a medal in open competition. When the wine was revealed I was a little disappointed. The Matakana Estate Syrah from the 1999 vintage was one of the top wines of that vintage in my ratings. Matakana Estate certainly makes the best dry Semillon in NZ but this bottle of the 2000 Syrah leaves a lot to be desired.

There were five sensational Syrahs in this Great NZ Syrah Tasting. The Schubert had won a gold medal in the Easter Show. The others were not entered in that competition. This tasting is just more proof to me that NZ Syrah is the variety that it set to rock the International wine scene very very soon.

Footnote: -
My rankings before food: 2, 5, 6, 4, 3, 1
My rankings after food: 2 & 5 equal, 4, 3, 6, 1

Neil's ranking before food: 2, 6, 5, 4, 3, 1
Neil's rankings after food: 2, 5, 6, 4, 3, 1

© Sue Courtney
16 March 2003

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