Driving through the Marlborough wine region on Friday 21st April, at the end of a three-week South Island holiday, it appeared that all of the region's grapes had been picked. No sign of nets, no sign of grapes, no sign of any vineyard activity at all. In fact the only movement amongst the vines that we saw, was in the plots that had become vine-studded paddocks, where lambs for fattening were attending to the weeds and providing natural fertiliser for the vines. It was a stark difference to two years before when there was plenty of harvest action going on.
We stayed overnight in Renwick, a village that would be a fabulous base for any wine tourist wanting to do a walking tour of the many cellar doors in this part of Marlborough wine country. But we were driving and on departure from our overnight stay we headed east towards the coast. Then we turned south into Godfrey Road.
"Stop," I said to Neil as we approached the Fromm Winery entrance. The sign on the gate said the cellar door opened at eleven a.m. It was only half past nine, I hadnít made an appointment, so I took some photos instead. Then suddenly we saw it, the tractor with a 500 kilogram bin of plump, purple-red grapes on its tray at the back.
"It's coming here," said Neil and quickly moved the car out of the driveway so the tractor could turn in.
I wondered what kind of grapes these were and where the red grape vineyard was. Obviously the grapes were not from the Fromm home vineyard as that was adjacent to the winery in Godfrey Road, so I am assuming they were from the renowned Clayvin Vineyard in the Fairhall Valley, further south.
I remembered the fabulous tasting I attended just before my South Island holiday, a vertical of some of the Fromm red wines. Fromm is an unusual producer in Marlborough in that they do not produce a Sauvignon Blanc. This is surprising as Marlborough is a name synonymous with the world's best Sauvignon Blanc. Fromm instead produce some of the deepest, darkest reds that I've ever seen from the district.
Like Kathy Lynskey Wines, who are directly opposite in Godfrey Road, they seem to be able to coax the best out of their grapes and produce rich red wines that you would never guess were from Marlborough.
At the tasting the semi circle of glasses in front of me on the table were some of the deepest darkest reds I have ever seen. They were Syrah and the intensity of colour across all the wines, given that the oldest vintage was 1996 and the youngest 2004, was incredible. Even the oldest looked like a baby in colour.
"In Marlborough Syrah is a marginal variety yet it surprises us time and time again," said winemaker Hatsch Kalberer. "It is the only grape that never gets overripe and often reaches physiological maturity at relatively low sugar levels. In this sense it is perfectly suited to our climate, providing its crop levels are low and viticultural standards high."
Then I tasted them, one by one, and recorded my notes. Here they are for you to read Ö.
Fromm La Strada Reserve Syrah 2004
Deep in colour, like a boysenberry, opaque in the core of the glass and right to the edges where is has an intense violet red hue on the rim. The aromas are full of freshly ground multi-coloured peppercorns and the peppery spices follow through to the palate with leathery tannins. It's very dry with an earthy mystique and a meaty richness, then a succulent fruit sweetness emerges while the 3% Viognier that was co-fermented with the Syrah plays a part in adding muskiness to the lingering aftertaste. Just a baby, it really needs to be cellared for at least two years more before approaching but it has years of life ahead of it and can easily be cellared for at least ten years, perhaps longer. 13% alc.
Fromm La Strada Reserve Syrah 2003
Deep in colour, it looks like the 2004 but as it is a year older, it seems even more concentrated in retrospect. The enticing aromas are quite Rhone-like in their fragrance with black pepper, old rose and sweet leather and lead into a sweet-fruited palate with cherry and boysenberry fruit and a ton of black pepper seasoning. It's a beautifully structured dry red wine with a succulence to the grainy tannins and a fruit sweetness lingering with old rose on the liquorice-infused peppery finish, and a powerful aftertaste. Still not really ready, Hatsch says cellar to 2013. 14% alc.
Fromm La Strada Reserve Syrah 2002
There's 6% Viognier in this wine which has obviously had some effect on the amazingly intense, vivid boysenberry purple colour. It's very ripe and seemingly sweeter with vanillin infusing into the red and black peppery spices while the tannins are velvety with a deep earthy richness. There's a pleasing balance of fruit, tannin and oak while a nuance of citrus adds flare to the finish. The Viognier adds that lovely slipperiness to the texture as well as fruit sweetness and aromatic components, while chocolatey notes come through to linger on the lasting finish. It's very rounded and quite voluptuous and despite the fruit sweetness there's a meaty richness to the wine. It's more integrated than the 2003 and the youngest wine that was starting to show some approachability to drinking now, with cellaring potential to at least 2012. 13.5% alc.
Fromm La Strada Reserve Syrah 2001
There is a miniscule amount of Viognier in this wine, less than 1 percent. The deep intense opaque colour continues although this is more of a dark cherry pink on the rims than the violet red seen in the younger siblings. Headily fragrant with pepper, nutmeg and a nuance of rose petal, the aromas carry through to the palate where a herbs de Provence character comes through. Itís dry with a little chocolate, a touch of violet jam, dry silky tannins, a meaty sweetness to the finish and a dry spicy aftertaste with nuances of rose petals as it lingers. Perhaps not so rounded as 2002 at this stage, but getting there. It definitely needs another year or two in the bottle to let the components integrate further. Hatsch recommends cellaring to 2013. 13.5% alc.
Fromm La Strada Reserve Syrah 1999
Still incredibly deep coloured, this is similar to the 2002 in appearance but while there is no hint of its age from the colour, there enticing aroma emits some bottle developed characters along with a fruit cake cherry scent. Thereís a bouquet of violets in this wine with vanillin oak, pepper, liquorice, nutmeg, then from within the bouquet of flowers, lavender and roses emerge. It's a rich, meaty wine with fine powerful tannins and a chocolatey nose on the finish with purple berries, violets and pepper lingering on the aftertaste. 13% alc.
Fromm La Strada Reserve Syrah 1998
Show no signs of its age in its deep black red colour, this is a big oaky wine in comparison to the others. In contrast to the 1999, this is amazingly youthful in its smell and taste and hides its bottle developed characters well. There's vanilla, chocolate, cherry and spice on the nose and primary cherry and blackberry fruit in the palate with a fruit cake richness, dry peppery spices, a touch of liquorice, herbs, creamy vanillin oak and a lovely floral character to the long, succulent, creamy aftertaste. An incredibly concentrated wine with beautifully proportioned velvety tannins and drinking so beautifully that I want to take it home. Eight years old, yet outstanding, I can only compare it to the legendary
Penfolds Grange 1998 in its concentration, flavour and depth. It's like a teenager, rounding out beautifully with all the curves in the right places, and has a long life ahead of it. Hatch recommends cellaring to 2010. It will be interesting to taste it then to see if he's right. I predict it will go for longer. 13.5% alc.
Fromm La Strada Reserve Syrah 1997
Deep dark red with a fading dark red core in comparison to the younger wines. On the nose it's fragrant and floral with a touch of mercurachrome adding a slightly medicinal note plus black olive and dark, integrated chocolate cedary oak. It's savoury to the taste, mellow and meaty, slightly herbal with marinated olives, almost no primary fruit characters at all - just a touch of blackberry - and fruit cake rather than peppery spices. There's a fruit cake sweetness with a touch of vanilla as it lingers while rose petals adding a distinctive nuance to the spicy aftertaste. It has fairly robust tannins but with a mouthfilling, silky vinosity that has developed with the secondary characters, it slips down easily now making it an interesting dinner time drink. This is nearing the end of its cellaring potential but may stay on this plateau for some time. 13% alc.
Fromm La Strada Reserve Syrah 1996
Looking more youthful in colour than the í97, with more pinks to the hue, it's quite dry in comparison to all the others. Drying out would be a better description but still the underlying succulence of the wine this once was, shines through. It's earthy and leathery with the tannins now very fine and vinous, and hints of wild blackberry fruit. Thereís some heat to the wine as it lingers with peppery spices emerging while the now typical aromatic floral notes of the Fromm Syrahs linger on the long earthy aftertaste. Again, nearing the end of its long-term cellaring potential, but enjoyable drinking with the right food for some while to come. 12.5% alc.
In summary the Fromm Reserve Syrahs can be summed up as 'deeply coloured and concentrated with peppery spices, dry tannins and a Rhone-like floral, rose petal nuance'.
All of the grapes for these wines came mostly from the home vineyard, the Clayvin Vineyard being replanted in the late 1990's and the first Syrah exclusively made from the Clayvin Vineyard being designated a non-reserve wine.
Fromm La Strada Syrah 2004 from the Clayvin Vineyard is deep dark cherry red, almost opaque in the centre but not quite. It has rose petal, pepper, leather and tar aromas and sweet, bready fruit in the palate with a red liquorice infusion into the nutmeg and aromatic spices with hints of anise. Firmly structured with silky (grainy) tannins, beautifully integrated dark savoury oak and red fruits flourishing with rose pepper on the finish, like the 2004 reserve, this has 3% Viognier in the blend. It carries 13% alcohol and costs about $35.
Fromm's Syrahs have an exciting future. While the Reserve wines reatila at about$55 for the current releases, find out where to buy these wines and other fascinating details from the Fromm Wineries website.
© Sue Courtney
30 April 2006