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Wine of the Week for week ending 19 December 2004
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Bilancia 'La Collina' Syrah 2002
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

Next time you see a bunch of flowers with a few carnation stems, put the flowers to your nose and inhale the scent. If the flowers are fresh you will most likely smell a spicy, floral, slightly peppery perfume.

Next time you are holding a rose stem of a delicately scented rose, rub the stem with your fingertips then smell your fingertips. You should smell a floral, spicy, slightly musky perfume, what I call a 'rose spice' peppery scent. The Dublin Bay rose does this well.

These are some of the characters I love to find in Syrah and New Zealand Syrahs in particular are providing me with these pleasurable, evocative scents.

Hawkes Bay is New Zealand's high flying Syrah region and the buzz word of the moment is Gimblett Gravels. These gravelly soils, that were once a river bed, are where wines like Trinity Hill 'Homage' Syrah, Stonecroft Syrah, Craggy Range 'Le Sol' & 'Block 14' Syrahs, Kingsley Estate Syrah, Vidal Estate Soler Syrah, Matariki Syrah, Mills Reef Syrah, Newton Forrest Syrah and Unison Syrah, to mention just a few, are grown.

But Hawkes Bay is not all gravelly soils. In fact there are at least 16 different soil types including clay, sandy loams and limestones in this, the second largest of New Zealand's wine regions.

And it is an alternate soil type that characterises the col, or hill, that stands like a guardian watching over the Gimblett Gravels. This is Roys Hill, which is composed of a sandstone/limestone subsoil. Here, on the steep north to north west facing slope, is a terraced vineyard planted with Syrah vines. It is Warren Gibson's and Lorraine Leheny's La Collina vineyard, which is part of the estate they call Bilancia*.

Bilancia La Collina Syrah 2002 allures from the start with its inky, blackberry-like colour and its evocative peppery floral scents as well as nuances of lavender, rosemary and thyme. These particular herbs are planted on the steep hillside terraces amongst the vines to add aesthetics to the vineyard and to stabilise the soil. It is a dense rich, spicy tasting Syrah with soft round tannins, black cherry and blackberry fruit, fruitcake spices, liquorice, creamy biscuity oak and a long savoury, slightly meaty finish then a sweet fruit and musky rose petal aftertaste on the lifted, aromatic finish.

What makes this different from a Gimblett Gravels' Syrah? Like a Gimblett Gravels Syrah it has wonderful purity of fruit so it is possibly the meatiness of the wine, a more earthy character, that the wines on the Gravels don't get. New Zealand winemakers like to compare their Syrahs to those from their symbolic home, the Rhone. Gimblett Gravels wines are often likened to Hermitage or Cote Rotie. Warren likens La Collina Syrah to a Cornas.

A lot of time goes into the vineyard so Lorraine and Warren have put a lot of time into the presentation of their wine that comes in one of the weightiest bottles with one of the biggest punts in the base of the bottle that I've ever seen. The bottle is adorned with the Bilancia logo and the wine can also be purchased in 6-pack designer boxes.

Bilancia La Collina Syrah will not be made every year so this delicious wine from the 2002 vintage will be sought after by collectors. It was matured in new Burgundian style oak, was bottled in September 2003 and released last month. It carries 14% alc by volume. And like most collector wines, it attracts a collector's price of about $80 a bottle.

Lorraine recommends lamb or venison as an accompaniment to the wine. She likes to marinate the venison in a little Syrah with garlic, then the reduce the remaining marinade is reduction to a sauce. She also recommends lamb with a not too heavy sauce.

*Bilancia (be-larn-cha) is an Italian word that means balance, harmony and equilibrium; the scales, of the zodiac (libra).

The company has an 'under construction' website at but you can find the contact details there.

Warren Gibson is also the winemaker at Trinity Hill, whose 'Homage' Syrah I reviewed as a Wine of the Week in September. The Trinity Hill Homage Syrah 2002 was just released last week. Another collector wine, it carries a price tag of about $105. You'll read more about the 'Homage' wines on this website soon.

It would be an interesting exercise to taste Bilancia La Collina Syrah and Trinity Hill Homage Syrah together - wines made by the same winemaker from the same wine region, but from different soil types. Perhaps one day .

© Sue Courtney
5 December 2004

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