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Wine of the Week for week ending 9 November 2003
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Craggy Range Block 14 Syrah 2001
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

Syrah, Syrah, Syrah. New Zealand Syrah. I just love it. OK, I know I've been raving about this variety for a while now but soon everyone else will be too now we've beaten the Aussies at what they do best. You see the Kingsley Estate Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2001 from Hawkes Bay took out the Wine of the Show as well as the Champion Syrah at the Tri Nations Wine Challenge, the results of which were announced in Sydney on Friday night (more info here). Fantastic, Congratulations, Well Done, etc., etc., Don't we love it when we beat the Aussies. Just don't mention the cricket.

Just what is so great about New Zealand Syrah?

I think a real defining point came at the First Glass Wine Options Extreme in mid October where the Delas Fréres Hermitage 'Marquise de la Tourette' 1999 was poured. It's a reasonably pricey little number (about NZ$97) from the Rhone but it had exactly what I've been finding in many New Zealand Syrahs - that real definition of pepper and plums, the savouriness rather than sweetness, the lick of leather, the glorious tannin structure, the concentration, the flavour, the length. It could have almost been a New Zealand Syrah but there was something so European about it, besides the questions were pointing that way too. We correctly guessed Rhone but picked a Cote Rotie option ahead of the Hermitage and lost some points. But this is the direction New Zealand Syrah is headed. It's like Hermitage or Cote Rotie but with a solid backbone of new world fruit.

So earlier in the week when I opened the last of the Syrahs waiting for review, I added a ring-in - the Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Block 14 Syrah 2001. It wasn't a wine I'd been sent for review, it was one of 2 bottles I had intentionally purchased after trying for the first time when it had been poured in the First Glass Auckland Wine Options in July. We crashed and burned on that wine too (wrong country, wrong label) but it didn't take anything away from the impression it made. I decided to add it to the tasting after someone on the Auswine discussion forum had requested some information on Craggy Range Syrah. So I grabbed one of my prized possessions and popped that into the tasting too. I'm sorry guys - the Craggy Range blew the others away.

I posted my findings on the Auswine forum and this is what I said.

"A seriously good Syrah - inky purple crimson in colour, terrific pepper aromatics of mixed colour peppercorns and the leathery smell of pressed red grapeskins on the nose, wonderful fruit weight in the palate - plums, definitely plums with leather and spices - pepper and nutmeg and heaven knows what else - perhaps some dried rosemary, it's a little hot and zesty on the front of the tongue (14% alc), lovely tannin structure, creamy savoury oak backbone and harmonious in its flow from entry to ending. I think it is the savouriness of these wines that does it for me (I always went for the sausage rolls and the little mince pies rather than the chocolate cakes and sticky buns as a kid). The lingering flavour has some liqueur cherries and a hint of red liquorice mingling in with those savoury notes and what stays in the mouth is persistent and long. "

We tasted the wine with food that night - a medium rare barbecued piece of scotch fillet steak matched to a barbecued seared portobello mushroom - this is a fantastic match with good NZ Syrah. The following night it was lamb shanks, braised then slow cooked in red wine with onions and mixed dried herbs. Then last night it was a pumpkin and nutmeg gnocchi with a tomato pasta sauce. Terrific with the first two, OK with the gnocchi - but I have to say the Trinity Hill Gimblett Road Syrah 2001, on eof my runners-up along with the Te Mata Woodthorpe Syrah/Viognier 2002, was absolutely terrific with the pasta.

I don't know much about the Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Block 14 Syrah 2001 - I searched the Craggy Range website to no avail. So all I know is what's on the back label. Block 14, in the heart of the Gimblett Gravels wine growing district in Hawkes Bay, has densely planted Syrah vines. The grapes are fermented with only the wild yeasts of the vineyard and the cellar. The wine is matured in a combination of new and one year old French oak for 18 months. It carries 14% alcohol by volume. It cost me about $30 a bottle. Unfortunately when I went back to buy a replacement on Saturday, it had sold out from my retailer. Shop around, you may be lucky.

P.S. Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Block 14 Syrah 2001 was runner up to the Kingsley Estate in the Tri Nations Challenge.

© Sue Courtney
2 November 2003

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