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Wine of the Week for week ending 3 Jul 2005
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Mills Reef Elspeth Syrah 2002
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

It was almost a year ago when Mills Reef released the 2002 vintage wines from their top tier Elspeth range. There were five red wines and they were all delicious, as expected from this fabulous red wine year. I reviewed the Mills Reef Elspeth Malbec 2002 as my Wine of the Week but I havenít had the chance to taste the Malbec again since then. But I have been in the fortunate position to try the Mills Reef Elspeth Syrah 2002 at least four or five times since that July 2004 tasting - and the wine seems to get better and better.

Last weekend the Mills Reef Elspeth Syrah 2002 was served as the ultimate wine in the First Glass Wine Options wine tasting competition held in Auckland. The Elspeth had a hard act to follow, coming straight after the multiple gold medal and trophy winning Wirra Wirra RSW Shiraz 2002 from the McLaren Vale, but in this particular instance the Elspeth completely outclassed the Aussie wine. Perhaps because I didnít pick the Wirra Wirra correctly may have something to do with it, though. But I donít think so.

The Wirra Wirra RSW Shiraz 2002 is a massively structured wine that hides its inner power behind its sweet oak facade. When this wine was poured in the competition, our team - named "I'm as Shiraz as I'll ever be" - correctly identified variety, country, subregion and vintage. But when it came to the last question, which was 'Is this wine labelled Ö.?", (with a choice of three wines), it didnít seem as monstrous as any of our team members remembered the Wirra Wirra RSW Shiraz 2002 to be. It was softer, more succulent and although it had grunty tannins, it was quite juicy and already deliciously drinkable. So we went for something else. Boy, did we kick ourselves when the answer was revealed, as we needed the points.

Why was this so different from the sample we had tasted just a couple of weeks before? That was a big, charred oak, tarry monster, a wine that indicated it had years and years ahead of it. Then I realised that we normally taste wines poured straight from the bottle. But in the wine options competition the wine that is poured into the glass is a blend of 17 bottles. The 17 bottles are opened by the pouring team (in a secret room 'out the back') and the contents more or less shared equally - with vigorous pouring - amongst the 15 clear plastic jugs that are used by the pouring team. But wait, there's more! The prepared jugs sit on the bench for at least 15 minutes before their contents are poured into the competitors glasses. So, with all this splashing, aeration and more aeration, the tannins had considerably softened.

So what could beat that beautiful wine? Only the Mills Reef Elspeth Syrah 2002 on the day. Now this had the power and the structure that I expected the Wirra Wirra RSW to show. Aeration hadn't mellowed this wine at all. It was black as black in colour - an inky black core with crimson purple-red rims. Characteristic peppery aromas with an overlay of tarry oak and intense blackberry and blackcurrant fruit paved the way for the rich, powerful flavours that seduced the palate. Lots of oak, creamy oak, slightly sweetish vanillin oak, spices and succulent fruit harmonised the powerful tannins and nicely balanced the terrifically long tarry, savoury, finish. We knew we had something good in the glass.

I've heard Mills Reef Elspeth Syrah 2002 criticised as being 'too commercial' (but I've heard the same applied to Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon too). I'm not actually sure what 'too commercial' means. It's quite an abstract comment. The bottom line is that this is a delicious red wine with structure, flavour, power and poise - and lots of people like it.

Mills Reef Elspeth Syrah 2002 retails in New Zealand for around $40 a bottle - fantastic price for wine of this quality. It carries 14% alcohol by volume and is closed with a cork. Find out more from the Mills Reef website.

As for the Wine Options, our team, "I'm as Shiraz as I'll ever be" came 4th. Full results are on the First Glass website - click here

© Sue Courtney
26 June 2005

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