I was very pleasantly surprised by Steve (our guest contributor) when he offered up this wine. I can be a bit sniffy when it comes to NZ’s Marlborough branded wines but this Wither Hills PN from the Wairu Valley is excellent value at £10 (WSoc). It is matured 16 months in French oak which lends smoky, spicy notes to the nose. It is a hefty 14.5% ABV but wears it well – much better than many wines of the same alcohol level.
Trying it ‘blind’ there was the soft red fruit smell of ripe cherries, made more serious by the oak ageing. The colours were very slight purply red with quite pronounced legs. Initially sweet with gentle tannins, it had medium length and a dry finish. Not particularly complex, this wine would be ideal with ham, duck, cooked beetroot. It is much better quality value than many High Street PN’s – managing to combine gluggability with gravitas. Thanks, Steve.
[Richard: Steve, our friend and neighbour invited us round to try something from his recent WS case. I saw the bottle before Geoff arrived but, even if I hadn’t, the wine was unmistakably pinot, from the appearance to the nose to the taste. Lots of sweet red fruit with some acidity and length. Very easy to drink, despite the ABV which was surprisingly high. I always try to catch Geoff out with New World pinots but it didn’t work on this occasion as he identified the New Zealand origin instantly.]
This wine was the second, fortunately, of two red wines tasted on Sunday. And what a lovely drop it was. From the noted Gimblett Gravels, sub region of Hawkes Bay, North Island, NZ, the Syrah grape produces a drink in the same style as the northern Rhone. It is made only in years when the conditions are ideal.
We have written about a less expensive Gimblett Gravels which were also good because they retained the lightness of style and peppery quality that makes northern Rhone Syrahs so attractive. However, this was a considerable step up in quality and, it must be said, a more powerful and intense wine.
My notes mention a brick rimmed wine with an intense red core and sweet, stewed black fruits on the nose. At first it was difficult to identify the fruit but the blackberry notes came through bringing with it the slight firm ‘greenness’ you get with blackberries. This rescued it from being unattractively jammy. The velvety mouth feel was notable, as were the wine’s tannins and its lengthy dryness. There was a pleasing bit of tar in its richness. Richard summed it up well with the phrase “restrained power”; we got a sense of it being rich and firm rather than broad and wallowing. Lovely.
The Trinity Hill web site is very informative about the soils being not fertile and low in moisture making the vine less vigorous with less berries means greater concentration of flavours. It worked for us.
[Richard: from Great Western Wines. Intended as a homage to Rhone reds, made from vines which were grown from cuttings of older vines on the Côte Rôtie. An addition of 2% viognier adds to the complexity. Very classy, elegant and fragrant with great mouth feel and persistence. A pleasure to drink. Not cheap but worth the money, I felt.]
With it’s distinctive white pepper aroma Syrah is an easily identifiable grape. This wine was so peppery – in the taste as well – that I thought it must be French. However, had I pondered a bit longer I might have identified a rather bright character, with no heaviness, which would point away from the Rhone with its high temperatures towards, say New Zealand. And so it proved (Quarter Acre 2011, Hawke’s Bay, from M&S). A very nice wine with an easy to drink, tempting, spicy taste, if a little short. Recommended.
[Geoff: this wine scored well in the recent Decanter awards, hence my purchase (£15). I liked its bold peppery smells and taste – as R. points out. Can see it being a ‘crowd pleaser’ and good value. Very enjoyable.
On Monday, R & I attended a WS tasting in Leicester devoted to two grape varieties – Riesling and Syrah. Richard thought that it would be a perfect preparation to prime our palates with a Gimblett Gravels NZ Syrah from Craggy Range. This was Le Sol 2009 and cost £38; I tasted it blind.
The colour was an intense ruby red and it showed some viscosity but not overmuch. The nose, initially an alluring menthol, was dominated by black fruits but, surprisingly, no pepper notes which steered me away from Syrah. The flavour of very ripe cherries was long; it had a great depth with well-integrated tannins and some fresh acidity which lifted the wine. A very enjoyable wine which surprised me with its fuller style – a contrast to the lighter style of NZ Syrah recently tasted.
The age of this wine certainly contributed to our enjoyment unlike the WS Syrahs at the tasting many of which I thought were much too young. They needed decanting to take away some of their raw edges but, credit to the WS for putting on an interesting niche tasting.
[Richard: as you can see from the label I took this out of the rack many times, wondering if it was ready (purchased 2012 from the WS). Finally it was and it proved a useful reference to the wines tasted on Monday – better than all except a 1989, £220 Hermitage. Very well made, classy and easy to drink.]
Probably the most reliable indicator for spotting a particular grape is white pepper on the nose and taste. This invariably means syrah.
Given the taste and appearance I felt confident that this was a syrah from the Old World, that is France, Rhone valley. Right, wrong and wrong. In fact from the Gimblett Gravels region in New Zealand. Not a style I know very well but this was certainly an excellent example, being light and youthful in appearance, lean and savoury on the palate.
[Geoff: This was a purchase from a recently discovered wine shop in Ledbury called Hay Wines. Just over £10, it had all the characteristics of a gentler Northern Rhone syrah with bags of refreshing flavours and weighing in at a lightweight 12.5% ABV. Ideal for us oldies and rather nostalgic as this is the alcohol level we grew up with. A lunchtime syrah, no less. It was the first of two good wines this Sunday]
A (man made), flinty aroma of freshly struck matches is, for me, the most instantly recognisable wine smell. As ever, Jancis Robinson explains it well. She quotes an Australian producer, ”over the last three to five years or longer we have seen winemakers of high-end Chardonnay actively seeking to emulate the reductive “struck match” characters found in so many Burgundian whites including Domaines Leflaive and Coche Dury.”
And so it was with this wine. Pronounced struck match nose which followed through onto the taste, a rich mouth feel, lots of tropical fruit flavour but slightly too sweet for me. I had no hesitation in identifying New World chardonnay, which was correct, from Australia, which wasn’t. In fact it was a 2015 New Zealand from Dog Point, a wine I’ve tasted before, although I don’t remember it as being so sweet.
[Geoff: I have to admit looking forward to this wine because of my liking for well-made chardonnays. Only a few days before I enjoyed an excellent Newton Johnson chardonnay from South Africa; the Dog Point, I assumed, would be at least as good. Richard’s notes sum up my experiences, everything spot on until it came to the finish which was sweet and seemingly out of balance with the relieving acidity. Can’t help but think the Marlborough region must have been very sunny and/or hot that year. Even a spell in the fridge couldn’t up the acidity notes and Claire, my wife, remarked on the sweetness. I recall having the same issue recently with a Pinot Gris from Kumeu River, so much so I returned it. What a pity! Got another bottle to go.]
“This is a Burgundy.” I declaimed. “It’s firm but nicely aged and serious.” Richard laughed and produced the Ata Rangi 2009 from Martinborough, on the other side of the world to Dijon. He’d done it again. So much for the skills of the wine taster!
The colour was an intense brown-red with a distinctive brown rim. The nose was pure and sweet with the aromas of bitter cherries giving it the ‘come-hither’ attractiveness of Pinot Noir at its best. This was followed by a big mouthful of serious wine, mature and of medium length – surely typical of a well-matured Cote de Nuits?
Nope. And after Richard had enjoyed his revelation and my embarrassment we then got to discussing how lacking in complexity this wine was. It’s easy to be wise after the event and start developing theories once you know the result.
[Richard: as you can see from the dust, another from the depths of the ‘cellar’. Purchased about 5 years ago for £37, so certainly Burgundian in price. Compared to the Chambolle of a couple of weeks ago this was bigger, richer but less complex and nuanced. Unfortunately I’m running out of New World pinot so this is a game that hasn’t got much longer to run.]