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edited by Sue Courtney
e-mail address: winetaster@clear.net.nz

Wine of the Week for week ending 7 Dec 2008
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Cottage Block Hawkes Bay Syrah 2006
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

"Roses," I said to Neil. "I get roses in this wine." I was tasting the most delicious, gorgeous Syrah.

"I don't get that," he said.

So I went and picked a Dublin Bay rose from the sprawling climber outside the bedroom window. "If you rub the stem like this," rubbing the stem immediately below the flower head between my first finger and thumb as I spoke, "or even scratch it a little with your finger nail, then smell your finger, you should get what I mean. It's a slightly rose oil peppery scent. It's what I call 'rose spice'."

"Oh yes," said Neil with a newfound revelation - although I was sure we had had this discussion before.

The rose had been in full bloom and as I stuck my nose right into the flower head, a petal fell off, then another and another and another. Rose breeder Sam McGredy says there is no scent to this rose - but there is, it's just that on the rose scale of scents, there may as well not be.

I picked up a petal and chewed it. Dry, a little tannin, a touch of acid too - but most importantly the unique and delicately spicy rose character at its subtle best.

There is a correlation between wine and roses - they are both products of seasonal plants and they flower at the same time.

But what gives syrah that subtle rose like character that to me is the hallmarks of New Zealand's best Syrahs? I'm sure I don't know.

I get tar in many New Zealand Syrahs too. Tar and roses - when I was learning about wine this was a classic descriptor for Northern Italy's Barolo but for me, a rare Barolo drinker, it's now a stock standard descriptor for New Zealand Syrah.

I was tasting a line-up of nine wines - never quite finding the right tone or temperament until this weekend. But I was lucky I had waited because the Air New Zealand Trophy winner, the Church Road Reserve Hawkes Bay Syrah 2007, had arrived earlier in the week and it was great to have this lauded wine amongst the samples. It would serve as a benchmark in some respects. But of course I had to taste the wines blind to remove all preconceptions that the labels would no doubt give me.

I did the tasting a little differently than usual, tasting the wines one at a time, like they did in Wine Competitions back in the 1970's. I tasted them at the computer desk, so I could type up the notes straight away. Then they were lined up as a flight with dinner, and a third tasting on the deck on Sunday afternoon, also in a flight, to allow for comparison of the deep dense colours.

In the initial tasting, the first wine was so good I immediately gave it 19 points. The multi-coloured peppery scent was so mesmerising and beguiling, the rose spice was perfect, the flavour was full throughout the palate and the finish was increasingly long. But all the wines, except one that I thought was too spoiled by the Brettanomyces yeast, turned out to be sensational. There was a marked similarity to all of them with a merry-go-round of flavours from the big and bold to the focussed and floral. I've been saying for many years that the future of New Zealand Syrah is exciting. And this lineup was the veritable proof.

In some ways Syrah is similar to Sauvignon Blanc. The similarity is the after-flavour that kicks in and simply lasts and lasts and lasts.

After an intensive tasting that encompassed almost 24 hours when I compared and contrasted , I nervously narrowed it down to the one wine that would be this week's Wine of the Week. And I made the decision before the wines were revealed.

It is Cottage Block Hawkes Bay Syrah 2006.

A dense blackcurrant / boysenberry red, showing its youth with the saturation of colour right to the edge - I thought from the colour it would be a 2007 but I was wrong. Oodles of pepper on the nose - white, black and red pepper, suede and concentrated red fruits - it smells opulent from the outset. The peppery aromas carry through to the palate, which is tight and firm-grained in texture with a meaty richness and beautifully fragrant rose spice - my Dublin Bay for sure - the rose spice carrying through and lingering on the lasting finish. Concentrated and juicy with a firm tannin backbone, beautifully integrated oak and rich, ripe dark brambleberry and plum fruit, this was the first wine in the tasting and set a very high benchmark. I started out with a score of 19/20 but finished with a score of 19.5/20. This wine is simply outstanding.

Cottage Block is the pinnacle label of Corbans wines, which, according to the website, is the name the winemakers bestow on special rows of vines in a vineyard that produces the best fruit. It is the Redstone Vineyard in the Ngatarawa Triangle of Hawkes Bay that produced these Cottage Block designated Syrah grapes. The concentrated colour no doubt comes from the 26 days contact with the skins before, during and after ferment. The wine was matured in French oak, of which 40% was new. It costs about $38.95.

The runner-up wine, Bilancia La Collina Hawkes Bay Syrah 2006, is also outstanding and I found a remarkable similarity between this and the Cottage Block. Both from Hawkes Bay. Both from 2006. However the precipitous hillside La Collina Vineyard is unique and different. The wine is dry and peppery with an alluring texture and gorgeous floral and spice. I also rated it 19.5/20. It costs about $87.95.

Church Road Reserve Hawkes Bay Syrah 2007 was in 3rd place - it's rich and concentrated with an opulent sweetness. 19.25/20.

Fromm La Strada Marlborough Syrah 2006 is a blockbuster wine - rich, ripe, savoury and succulent and very, very powerful. Simply stated, "Yum". 19/20.

Passage Rock Reserve Syrah 2007 rounded out the Top Five. Loved the nose, and the finish was like an orgasmic afterglow, but the youth showed in a slightly lesser mid palate concentration. 18.75/20.

Mills Reef Elspeth Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2006 is one for lovers of the Australian style. Sweet and ripe with vanilla and chocolate, it is harmonious, clean and spicy and perhaps the most immediately drinkable of them all. 18.5/20

Dry River Lovat Amaranth Syrah 2006 from Martinborough had a distinct point of difference with mouthfuls of juicy fruit supported by a rich, savoury meaty backbone and lots of fragrant peppery spices. 18.5/20.

Passage Rock Waiheke Island Syrah 2007 is rich and savoury with a moist fruit cake sweetness, dry grippy tannins, dried herbs and pepper abounding. 18/20.

Man O' War Waiheke Island Dreadnought Syrah 2007, was out of place in the line-up. It is very juicy and savoury with beautiful tannins and a floral sweetness to the lingering finish, but personally I could not get past the Brett.

I found it interesting there was a range of closures - the two Passage Rock wines had screwcaps. The Bilancia and the Fromm had Diam technical corks and the others had natural corks.

I was so glad when the rigourous tasting was finally over. At last we could just enjoy these beautiful beautiful wines and what a good match they were to spicy chorizo cooked on the BBQ.

© Sue Courtney
1 Dec 2008


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