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Wine of the Week for week ending 5 October 2003
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Mudbrick Reserve Syrah 2002
Waiheke Island, New Zealand

"She laughed and tossed her head back.
The delicate chocolate and plums leaving an alluring track across the lips.
An amalgum of floral scent, coffee and berries lifted the air.
Spiced up my life - reel me out - Palate 'n all.
"        James Rowan

James Rowan's poetic and tantalising tasting notes for his Mudbrick wines stir the imagination and help you understand the romantic passion that lies within this young winemaker, a passion for producing intimate wines for which the key is undoubtably enjoyment for the drinker.

I tasted the outstanding Mudbrick Reserve Syrah 2002, which James describes above, at the New Zealand Wine expo at the end of August. I found it to be a big Syrah, a rich meaty savoury wine with dark succulent fruit, pepper, herbs, dark chocolate, black cherry and a touch of rose petal as a contrast. A youthful looking deeply coloured purple-red wine with clear potential - just needing a little more time to unfold its gossamer wings from its cocoon.

James describes Syrah as a seductive and beguiling variety layered with aromas and flavours that sometimes send the taster in a spin to try and nail them down. So I was very pleased that an opportunity to taste this wine came round again. But it was a tasting at the Mudbrick cellar door on Waiheke Island, which meant I was allured by the beautiful surroundings of the Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant. Did the rows and rows of lavender in flower lend their heady scents to the fragrance? Did the herbs growing in the garden surrounded by the brick paved courtyard lend more to the exotic scent? Low lying clouds masked the beautiful view that lay beyond. I shut my eyes to bring back memories of the images that the vista could offer on a blue sky day and to try and nail some of the flavours that filled my senses.

There was no doubt that a floral component was one of the key elements of the sweet leathery fragrance. Not a richly scented flower, just the subtle musk of rose and dianthus pinks together with rose pepper, aniseed, liquorice and chocolate. "We've gone for floral, we've gone for more elegance", said James, his voice interrupting the moment. A medium to full-bodied wine still rather tight in the palate with a lovely seam of supple elegance, the wine builds in power to become rather rich and opulent with chocolate flavours coming through on the well-structured plum and cherry fruit finish.

We had to catch the ferry back to Auckland. "Take the bottle with you" said James. And so we did, to try again at dinner that night.

Tasted with food at Claret Restaurant in Onehunga (BYO, corkage $5) my meal of slow-cooked lamb shanks on a creamy potato and garlic mash with shiitake caps and a red wine and mint jus, a trio of Syrahs were just divine. Compared to two older wines, the Vidal Estate Soler Syrah 2001 and a CJ Pask Reserve Syrah 2000, the Mudbrick Reserve Syrah 2002 was primary in its sprightly peppery flavour. It smelt youthful and sweet and tasted of cherry and chocolate with firm though very seductive tannins and a lovely fruit structure.

It wasn't a boozy night and wine was left over, so two days later these three wines and another from Hawkes Bay were lined up for a blind tasting. The wines had been firmly recorked since opening and had not deteriorated at all in my opinion - all were fantastic, all were deliciously drinkable. But it was the seductiveness of the Mudbrick that wooed me the most. It was showing that serious potential I first thought it had. An excellent example of New Zealand Syrah with good balanced acidity to ensure its longevity.

Right now the wine is available from the Mudbrick Vineyard where it can be purchased at the cellar door for $38 a bottle or in the restaurant for $59 a bottle or $12 a glass. But never fear. Mudbrick have just signed with Negociants New Zealand as their national distributor to market the Mudbrick wines throughout New Zealand. Syrah is one of the wines they will handle. So soon you'll be able to find it at fine wine retailers and other discerning restaurants.

Negociants Clive Weston said "In our minds, Mudbrick is synonymous with the best of Waiheke, delivering outstanding wines and fair value to the discerning wine consumer." I agree.

Check out the Mudbrick website to find out more about this little piece of island paradise.

© Sue Courtney
28 September 2003

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