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Wine of the Week for week ending 1 October 2006
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Stonecroft Serine Syrah 2004
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

With the New Zealand International Wine Show Awards last Friday Night (22nd September) it seemed appropriate that the winner of the Trophy for Champion Gewurztraminer, the Lawson's Dry Hills Gewurztraminer 2005, would be the this week's 'Wine of the Week'. But I'm on the ball with this wine, having predicted it as a potential gold and Trophy winner when I reviewed it as Wine of the Week back in March of this year.

So I'm picking the other wine that really tantalised my tastebuds this week and that was a wine I tasted at the Eurowine agency road show held in Auckland last Monday.

Eurowine has a fantastic portfolio that includes some of New Zealand's most sought after brands representing most of New Zealand's wine regions, at least from Hawkes Bay south. They have Te Mata and Stonecroft from Hawkes Bay, Ata Rangi from Martinborough, Allan Scott and Seresin from Marlborough, Neudorf from Nelson, Pegasus Bay and Muddy Water from Waipara and Carrick from Central Otago.

There were some gorgeous wines in the room, some utterly gorgeous wines, but the highlights in both the red and white wine categories came from Stonecroft.

There was the Stonecroft Hawkes Bay Gewurztraminer 2006, a wine that had only been bottled a few days before. Nevertheless it sated my Gewurztraminer fetish with its delicate floral aromas and rich, weighty palate full of all the delicious flavours I associate with the variety and had a long, focused finish with fantastic length. An absolutely super Gewurztraminer and not even the top label from Stonecroft. They have another called 'Old Vines', the 2006 of which will be released later on.

But my red wine pick, the Stonecroft Serine Syrah 2004, was the star of the tasting.

"What does Serine mean," I asked owner / winemaker Alan Limmer, like many others before me had done. By this time I was sitting down at his table, taking my time over the wine to delve into its depth and pull out the intricate nuances that canít be appreciated when flitting from wine to wine at a trade show tasting. Alan, who was recovering from a knee operation and limping around the room worse than I was, was probably wishing he could sit down too.

"It's a old-fashioned synonym for Syrah," he said and went on to say how he thought that it could be the original name for the clone he rescued from the Te Kauwhata Viticultural Research Station's wine collection (now defunct), and revived back into production in 1984. In fact in Cote-Rotie in the famed RhŰne Valley in France, the clone of Syrah they grew there was originally called Serine.

Stonecroft Serine Syrah 2004 is deep vivid purple red in colour, medium in its density. Fragrant blueberry fruit, savoury oak and peppery notes come through to titillate the nose and follow through to the palate where it's firm in structure with a dry backbone, lots of floral and spice connotations and beautiful balanced creamy oak. It seems a little austere at first, but that's only on the first sip because the depth of the berry fruit comes through to mellow that austerity and the tannins seduce with their smooth, velvety texture. It's not a big wine, in the sense that Australian Shiraz is, it's just a gorgeous medium to full-bodied wine. It's a wine that you need time over. It's a wine that bodes well for evolution in the cellar. I rate it excellent.

I thought the wine must be another level up on the standard and always stellar Stonecroft Syrah, but to my surprise this was a wine that Alan Limmer thought of lesser quality - at least when he was preparing it for bottling at the beginning of 2006. He thought it not up to scratch for his $38-priced premium wine and didnít produce that one at all from 2004, instead subtitling the wine he had made 'Serine', and giving it a $25 price tag.

"I might have made a mistake," he said reflectively when I told him I though it was equal to his top Syrah, if not better. In fact, now, I'm somehow glad I couldn't get to the Stonecroft release tasting back in February because I might have agreed with Alan that it was a bit of an ugly duckling then. But eight months later the Serine has developed into a red swan that sings.

With a $25 price tag from the cellar door, the consumers are the winners, without a doubt. It's closed with one of those Diam technical corks, which are showing super results in the AWRI closure trials in the fight against cork taint. In fact, this is a wine I love so much I might have to get some of it for myself.

You too can buy it by clicking on to the Stonecroft website and sending off an email - or look for it in fine wine stores although you may have to pay a little more.

Footnote: There's also another New Zealand syrah using the name 'Serine' and that is the Northland Wine company's Serine Syrah from Kerikeri, a wine that has collected silver medals at the Bragato Wine Awards for growers. They quote similar reasons for using the name 'Serine'.

© Sue Courtney
24 September 2006

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