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Wine of the Week for week ending 27 June 2004
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Newton Forrest Gimblett Road Cornerstone Syrah 2002
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

It seems of late that every time I drink New Zealand Syrah, it 's like I've never had one before. I am simply amazed and stunned at the deep pool of colour, the alluring fragrance and the beautifully balanced and generous flavours of the wine.

What I am seeing with New Zealand Syrah is that the quality is simply outstanding and it seems to be a consistent trait right across the board. Of course we are being spoiled now with so many wines from the fantastic 2002 vintage finding their way to the market place. Nevertheless the winemakers say that Syrah, unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, is consistent across vintages, it is prolific and ripens well even in cool years, as many terrific Syrahs from the much cooler 2001 vintage will attest to. I am sure that as soon we see New Zealand Syrah being made in sufficient quantities, it will be hailed by international critics as the red wine parallel to our Sauvignon Blanc, because the style seems to be unique. With our cool climate growing conditions, there is no jamminess, there is an abundance of natural peppery spiciness and the pristine fruit flavours are deliciously preserved.

The exceptional quality of the 2002 vintage Hawkes Bay Syrah in particular – and indeed other reds from that same year – is not unexpected. I tasted the wines at the Inaugural Hawkes Bay Vintage Review and Barrel Tasting just 6 months after harvest and came away from that raving about Syrah – the wonderfully coloured, well structured wines, some with floral notes, most showing the pepperiness of the grape and all with good fruit weight.

Take the Newton Forrest Cornerstone Gimblett Road Syrah 2002, a wine that found its way to my tasting bench this week. A dense, thick wine full of charry new French oak and sweet fruit at the barrel tasting, like the others on show it was full of promise. It has been in the bottle some time and now it is simply glorious. Here is my note….

Newton Forrest Cornerstone Gimblett Road Syrah 2002 Inky purple black in colour, it cries amethyst-coloured tears when the wine is swirled. It smells biscuity and yeasty with cherry fruit, creamy oak and an exotic spice complexity. It is dry on entry with succulent berries, creamy vanillin oak, a wonderful array of spices – pepper, liquorice, fruitcake spices - and cherries, with a dark savoury, almost meaty, complexity. Ripe, round and very complete with a decent structure of velvety tannins behind it and a gorgeousness that envelops the senses this is so wonderfully mouthfilling, wonderful yummy and so totally moreish. The finish is extremely long with flavours reminiscent of purple fruits, tar, anise, violets and rose-coloured peppercorns. Though outstanding now, good acidity in the wine means it will continue to improve and develop in the cellar.

Grown on the Gimblett Gravels on vines that are thinned to one bunch per shoot, the grapes for this wine were harvested on the 5th April 2002, fermented in small open fermenters then pressed off to new French barriques. The wine carries 14.5% alcohol, 6.0 g/L total acidity and has a pH of 3.7.

The first night the wine was matched to several foods, the outstanding match being a thickly cut piece of fillet steak coated on one side with red (rose) peppercorns that had been crushed in a mortar and pestle, then cooked in a hot pan to the rare side of medium rare. The next night the match was a roast leg of organic, free range lamb from our own property. Cooked with whole sprigs of mint and rosemary, the flavoursome piece of meat was also outstanding with the wine.

Great wine with simple food, what more could you want!

The wines that the trans-Tasman partnership of Aussie Bob Newton and Kiwi John Forrest are producing from their vineyard in the heart of the Gimblett Gravels on the corner of Gimblett Road and State Highway 50 in Hawkes Bay, are quality across the board.

The Newton Forrest Gimblett Road Cornerstone Merlot 2002 is so easy to give 5 stars to after it has tempted and seduced the palate. Another intensely coloured wine, shining black with bright crimson rims, it is fragrantly scented with smoky oak and violets tempting the senses. In the palate it is succulent throughout with blackberries, black cherry, plum, vanillin oak, tobacco and cigar box, then liquorice and a chocolate cherry sweetness on the finish – a beautifully balanced wine with big tannins, big alcohol (14.5%) and big fruit to match it. This wine was tasted elsewhere and was not matched to food.

The Newton Forrest Gimblett Road Cornerstone Cabernet Merlot Malbec 2002, a 35-34-31 blend respectively, was a more brooding wine when tasted early in the day alongside the Merlot. There's a little more red to the hues of the shiny black colour and it's a massive wine in the mouth, fleshy, perhaps even slightly oily, with up front succulent redcurrant flavours joined by dark smoky oak, tobacco, prunes and blackcurrants with spicy grainy tannins, a wine that needs time. But match this wine to food, as we did that evening, and it unfolds layer by layer. Despite my being so smitten by the Syrah, this was the best all round food match, outstanding with a piece of fillet steak marinated in smoked paprika and pomegranate molasses – a recipe that Peta Mathias used to marinate duck breasts in Episode Five of Toast New Zealand (click for recipe). But it is pretty difficult to find duck at short notice, like on a Saturday afternoon, so fillet steak had to do. Peta had designed the recipe to match to Stoneyridge Larose Cabernets and while disappointing as a match to the Newton Forrest Syrah, it just loved the flavours of the Newton Forrest Cabernet/Merlot/Malbec blend.

The above three wines are all are closed with a screwcap and all are labelled as having 14.5% alcohol by volume. They each cost $35 a bottle from the Forrest Estate winery in Marlborough (cellar door sales or mail order) and have a recommended retail price of $39.95 in retail. Exceptional wines of gold medal quality.

Find out more from the Forrest Estate website.

© Sue Courtney
20 June 2004

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