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Wine of the Week for week ending 7 March 2004
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Stonecroft Hawkes Bay Syrah 2002
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

He's mad about cars. He owns two Porsches and a bright yellow Torana. He can occasionally be seen at Manfield Raceway putting the yellow car through its paces and from time to time you may see him raising a bit of dust in Hawkes Bay's Mere Road. He's come a long way since his go-karting days.

He's Alan Limmer, the former soil chemist who ditched science for viticulture after his taste buds were seduced to the extent that he wanted to make his own wine.

"Making good wine is about taking risks", says Alan, which means he's not afraid to experiment. That's probably why he decided to plant Syrah, an unknown at the time, from vines that were growing at the Te Kauwhata Research station and were about to be destroyed.

Alan replanted the vines in his Mere Road vineyard in 1984 and nursed them back to health. Then in 1989, grapes from the single row of vines were harvested to make the first New Zealand Syrah of the modern era.

I tried that wine the other day. However I wouldn’t have picked Syrah if I had tasted it blind. I probably would have thought it an older wine from Bordeaux varieties. It was a good wine however, smooth and creamy in the palate, lifted, quite leathery but with a sweet core of fruit in the middle and good tannins throughout. It had good depth of colour and was wonderfully fragrant, though well into its secondary phase and had lost that Syrah distinction of pepper and spice.

The single row of vines did not quite fill a barrel so Alan topped it up with Cabernet Sauvignon, which comprised about 10%. It was made in the days when 'big is better' and had lots of extraction to squeeze every single drop of flavour out of the grapes. So it may not have been distinctly varietal in the first place.

Neighbouring growers watched Alan's experiment with interest. The grape performed well in the inconsistent Hawkes Bay conditions and by the mid-1990's everyone was clamouring for cuttings. Now Syrah is one of the stars of the region and Stonecroft Syrah is one of the leading lights.

Stonecroft Syrah 2002, a blend of the 1984 plantings on Mere Road and some newer plantings at his 'Tokarahi' vineyard at Roys Hill, is one of the best. In fact it is probably the most seductive Stonecroft Syrah I've tasted on release. It's deeply coloured, almost black, with a crimson brightness to its hue. Right from the first sniff the peppery signature of New Zealand Syrah is there backed up by fabulous berry fruit and tar, which adds to the wonderful floral of the aromatics, it's enough to make one swoon. The palate fulfils the expectation that the aromatics promise. Bright fruits, sweet ripe fruits with fantastic concentration, just the slightest hint of leather, honeyed oak and aromatic spices of anise, musk and liquorice, a dry wine with fruit sweetness throughout, it's soft and round wine with wonderful balance and the wine lingers with a fragrant persistence.

While the Stonecroft Syrah 2002 was lovely on its own, it was even more divine with rare fillet of beef topped with chicken liver paté.

For followers of Stonecroft Syrah, you'll be pleased to hear there's been a price reduction. It's all to do with production levels and competition, now that Syrah is a hot variety. The price this release is $38 a bottle on mail order and because 2002 was a productive vintage it should have reasonable retail availability.

2002 was Alan's fourteenth season of growing Syrah alongside Cabernet Sauvignon and says his money for the future is on Syrah. "In temperate years it performs really well, probably better than in the rare hot years like 1998. It has a big future from Hawkes Bay as a world wine style. It is just possible that in this locality is an ideal terroir for Syrah to express itself".

Check out the Stonecroft website for further information.

© Sue Courtney
29 February 2004

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