To receive 63 entries for only our second-ever syrah tasting panel tells us all is well and healthful here in Godzone for this increasingly popular whiz kid of a wine. When 11 per cent of those entries earn 4.5 star ratings or higher, that’s even more cause for applause.
Back in 2013, in our inaugural syrah tasting, the top scores were spread among outstanding examples from Waiheke Island and Hawke’s Bay’s powerhouse red regions – the Gimblett Gravels and the Bridge Pa Triangle. The 2016 tasting results again proved the same pattern. We were expecting (and definitely received) big things from two exceptionally strong syrah vintages, 2013 and 2014. However, with all eight entries from 2015 walking away with solid medals, it looks like New Zealand has a three-peat on its hands; a ridiculously uncommon occurrence for red wines.
When the results of our blind, international competition-standard tasting were revealed, our Top 12, or delicious dozen if you will, consists mostly of brands with a proven track record. “I don’t think it’s so much about being ‘the usual suspects’ either,” commented judge Cameron Douglas MS. “It’s actually showing where dedication and attention to detail has a meaningful role to play.” These producers have learned how to create good wines consistently, and if you can’t do it consistently then why continue? Syrah is a highly demanding, "vigorous" grape that needs constant attention in the vineyard. Therefore, success with syrah isn't something that miraculously happens overnight and it won't happen if you don't have the right site and the right conditions, remarked senior judge Jane Boyle. "It's extremely site specific and vintage specific. It’s a grape that also needs to speak for itself and not be overwhelmed with oak or artifice.”
Both Villa Maria and Mills Reef Winery each had multiple entries achieve top scores in our tasting – showing their time-taught talents in this area. “Syrah is our darling,” says Mills Reef’s Chief Winemaker Tim Preston. “We get so much pleasure from the way syrah from the Gimblett Gravels rewards winemaking and we love how it evolves, developing layers of intrigue throughout its 18 months in our care. This style of syrah with its purity of fruit and elegant, powerful structure has a huge global future.”
Our three highly experienced senior judges welcomed associate judge and sommelier at Mt Eden’s Molten restaurant Sven Nielsen to the team, just a day before he was awarded Wine List of the Year at the 2016 Restaurant of the Year Awards. “I was very impressed with the overall quality of the line-up,” says Sven. “Most examples were clean and on the strength of the ’14 vintage, I can definitely see New Zealand syrah being a growth category in the restaurant industry.”
Tasting date: April 2016
- Yvonne Lorkin (Dish drinks writer)
- Cameron Douglas (Senior Lecturer AUT and Master Sommelier)
- Jane Boyle (Wine consultant)
- Sven Nielsen (Sommelier, Molten Restaurant)
Superb. Strongly recommended.
A cut above the rest in quality.
A good quality crowd-pleaser.
(NB: All wines are judged blind and the scores of judges for their own wines cannot exceed those of other judges.)
Top Wines of the Tasting
Valentina Waiheke Syrah 2014 ($38)
★★★★★ Gold Medal
An instant hit of exotic pepper, coffee bean and cocoa complexity on the nose wowed our judges, while wave after wave of concentrated red fruits, plum, blackberry and blackcurrant saturate the palate and add to the already extensive persistence of flavour. “Great oak moments at play here, plenty of acidity and the tannins are well managed,” noted Cameron Douglas, while Jane commented on the textural layers. Grown on Soho’s Jomara vineyard on the island, it’s a stunning example of what Waiheke can achieve when the stars align.