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Wine of the Week for week ending 21 September 2003
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Selaks Founders Reserve Hawkes Bay Syrah 2002
Mohaka, New Zealand

Ask me "what's the most exciting thing happening in New Zealand wine right now?" and I'll tell you "Syrah". And rather specifically Syrah from the 2002 vintage, wines that are available on the market or just starting to be released.

Not that Syrah is a new variety for New Zealand. The first vines probably arrived in 1833 with British Resident and viticulturist James Busby, to be planted in his Waitangi Vineyard in Northland. Sixty-something years later the grape had spread and visiting expert, Romeo Bragato, tipped it as one of the varieties for Hawkes Bay and further north. But Syrah disappeared for most of the 1900's and it was not until 1989 that modern New Zealand Syrah, in the form of Stonecroft Syrah, was produced. Since that minuscule production, the plantings of Syrah have grown and the 2002 vintage realised almost 400 tonnes from approximately 118-producing hectares. There are plenty more than a handful of producers and they're mostly all doing good things.

Syrah was my red wine highlight at the Inaugural Hawkes Bay Vintage Review, a review of the 2002 vintage wines mostly still in barrel. The Syrahs on show were well-coloured, well-structured, weighty wines in a range of styles. The fruit was juicy, ripe and sweet, some of the wines had wonderfully floral aromatics while most had good definition of peppery spice. Tannins varied from rich, grippy and meaty to long and smooth.

It seems that at last Syrah is delivering and proving that Mr Bragato was absolutely right because it is not just Hawkes Bay where Syrah is doing sensational things. From 'further north' I've tasted terrific examples from Clevedon Hills in South Auckland, from Mudbrick Vineyards, Passage Rock, Peninsula Estate and Kennedy Point on Waiheke Island, from Matakana Estate north of Auckland and from Okahu Estate in Northland.

But this week's Wine of the Week, the Selaks Founders Reserve Syrah 2002, is from a completely new wine region, the Mohaka. Although 'technically 'Hawkes Bay' as far as geographic boundaries go it is remote northern Hawkes Bay, halfway between Napier and Gisborne about 60 kilometres north of Napier as the crow flies and almost 100km by winding, rugged country road.

I first tasted this wine last year December, a barrel sample again but totally impressive nevertheless. Then I wrote " dense and bright in its black-red colour . The nose is that typical creamy berries and white pepper of NZ syrah. There's a creamy texture in the mouth and the fruit is sweet and ripe with pepper, cinnamon and clove reminding me of the Iceberg rose I smelt at the garden centre last week. I like the structure and the firm ripe tannin of this 50/50 blend of new French-coopered American oak and one year old French oak. It's definitely one to look forward to when it's released mid-2003".

So now the wine has been released and it's a little different to the barrel sample blended for that December tasting for the final bottled blend has 30% new American oak and 70% one-year old French oak. It's a crisp blackcurrant, black berry looking colour, deep in the centre with magenta hues on the rims and smells quite fragrant and floral as well as meaty and savoury with rose pepper, leather, creamy berries and oak.

There's good acidity to give a bright citrus and berry-flavoured lift to the smooth creaminess in the palate where pepper and leather soon dominate. The finish is savoury with herbed rare roast beef flavours lifted by the sensational fruit layered with creamy chocolate, a touch of liquorice and sweet musky peppery spices that linger. It's a medium-bodied wine that is rather moreish and softly crisp.

I'd be happy to sip on this wine without food or accompany with simply a tasty cheddar. But for dinner we accompanied with peppered beef steak. I used the pink fragrant 'rose pepper' to coat the steak that was cooked rare and to form the base for the sauce that had just a splash of the syrah used to deglaze the cooking pan.

Recommended retail price in NZ is $32.95, though already I've seen it in retail for about $5 less. It's just been released. Aucklanders are lucky - they can take a leisurely drive out to Huapai one sunny weekend and pop into the Nobilo Winery in Station Road to buy a bottle. For the rest of you you will just have to enquire with your retailer or check out for advice.

© Sue Courtney
14 September 2003

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