WineFolio ‘Top 10 Tasting’ – NZ Syrah

WineFolio Top 10 tasting of NZ Syrah

It is mid-winter of 2023, on the day that Auckland passes it’s entire usual rainfall amount for the year. We take shelter in the laneway that houses the Morningcider Bar, and dig out the entries sent over for this tasting of Syrah. The last time we did this is was labelled ‘a landmark tasting’ in one reader comment, and this time we do get plenty of ‘top level’ wines – from across the country. Fellow judges are Nigel Cottle and Curt Thomas.

Syrah does very well in New Zealand. I won’t go over old ground – you can read what I said back in March 2021 here > I also recall asking Rod McDonald this question about Syrah – “Are you one of those people who thinks that Syrah will be the best of Hawke’s Bay?” And his answer was “I think so. We’re world famous for it. We’ve got the dirt for it, it’s just that everyone has planted Cabernet and, particularly, Merlot. I think Syrah has the potential and has the characteristic that Pinot has – to reflect its site beautifully.”

If you look at our Top 10 list below – Hawke’s Bay takes out the podium places, but there is good evidence that Syrah does well further north too – with Waiheke and Northland both having wines that feature in our ten best. One label managed two entries into the list – and the Champion from last year – The Landing – was a very creditable 4th place this time around.

Winemaker Warren Gibson had this to say about the winning wine: “The 2021 la collina is the third in a great trio of vintages. The weather conditions at our site, Roy’s Hill in Hawke’s Bay, were close to perfect throughout the season. The main distinguishing features in comparison to the two previous seasons was that 2021 was quite an early starting harvest, slightly contradictory in that it was also not very warm. There were very few days above 30°C all season. The sugars tended to be higher than average, hence alcohols too. The cooler season also kept acidities naturally higher. As a generalisation, it is a vintage highlighting Chardonnay and Syrah. The Syrahs should show the trademark Hawkes Bay spice, red fruit and liquorice with beautiful natural acidity and purity along with being particularly age-worthy. Seasons that we remember being most like 2021 would be 2010 and 2004, with 2021 perhaps resulting in better wines than both those previous”.

The winemaking is fairly simple;

  • Hand-picked over two days; 3rd and 4th of April.
  • Two deliberately and distinctly different fermentations from separated aspects/areas of the hillside:

  1. 100 % whole cluster including some Viognier (less than 2%)

  2. 100% de-stemmed Syrah

  • Fermentations were in open top vessels with twice daily plunging. (Foot stomping for the whole bunch ferment until it is possible to work the skins with a plunger.)
  • Maceration times are relatively short post alcoholic fermentation, generally 12-14 days total. Malo-lactic concurrent with the yeast fermentation and either finishing in tank or tailing off after going to barrel. 100% aged in bespoke French burgundy style barrique, approximately 50% new. (These barrels have been curated/manufactured to suit the fruit/style from our particular site).
  • 20 months in barrel. No racking. No finings. One filtration for clarity.
  • Ideally 12 months bottle age before release.

The WineFolio Top 10 NZ Syrahs:

#1 Bilancia ‘la collina’ Syrah 2021 – Starts with a calm classic nose that is very varietal. A hint of leafy green, then redcurrant, cranberry, damson, white wood smoke and rose petals. A simple, subtle presentation – not overly extracted or unnecessarily complex. It is very youthful, with a lithe balance, but there are sinewy tannins and plenty of power in the body.

La Colinna 21

#2 Church Road ‘1’ Redstone Syrah 2020 – On the lifted nose, there’s a funky ‘forest floor’ note, mingled with dark plum, baking spices, white pepper, graphite and violets. This is serious. Some great oak and notable tannin through the palate. Powerful and linear at the moment, with an underlying power. The finish is minerally and yet smooth…persistant.

#3 Coopers Creek Reserve Syrah 2018 – The perfume of this is so good. A dark fleshy colour and quite a big, edgy personality – unashamedly boisterous. Excellent structure – the edge of a couple of extra years age to this really helps it shine. Plush and ripe, with a spicy oak. An extra point for that note of good ‘negroni bitterness’ at the finish.

Church rd 1 2020 syrah
Coopers Creek reserve 2018 Syrah

#4 The Landing Syrah 2022 – The Landing Syrah was the #1 wine from our 2021 version of this Top 10 Tasting. Quite a dark colour in the glass, and the perfume has hints of depth too – mocha, christmas cake, pepper, liquorice and a distinctive cherry cola note. I believe this was just bottled and does have a young, jazzy feel to the palate, but no mistaking the quality and richness here. A complex, lingering finish.

#5 Schubert Syrah 2020 – A lighter colour but not lacking in interest on the nose. Red fruits – raspberry, cherry, rosehip and plum. Quite firm at first – elegant and restrained. A tight, coiled energy on palate – it needs air and time – but it is rare to see a wine grow in the glass so much – it was commented upon by all judges that each time we returned, there was more to find.

The Landing 2022 Syrah
Schubert 2020 Syrah

#6 Ash Ridge ‘Maximus’ Syrah 2016 – You have to settle in for the ride with this one. Full-on, with the dial turned right up. Aromatics brimming with smoky spices, ‘barnyard’, pickled plum, cracked pepper and vanilla. A big oak frames what one judge termed “ripe shiraz-like fruit”. Super acidity gives balance. Ready for drinking now, this will find fans for the bold style.

#7 Villa Maria Reserve Syrah 2020 – A Gimblett Gravels wine. An inky depth of colour but initially a bit shy on the perfume. The fruit sits forward, tart and raspy into the palate, with lots of plum and bramble richness developing rapidly. A grip of tannin and zesty acidity carries it into a long finish with hints of chocolate.

Ash Ridge Max 2016
Villa Maria Reserve 2021 Syrah

#8 Bilancia Syrah 2021 – Another expression from Bilancia that is, again, so expressive of the varietal. An untamed energy flows through the palate – textural and minerally. It was noted that there’s an almost “raw simplicity” to the fruit, unhindered by distractions of winemaking. Clean, vibrant and yet very smooth.

#9 Marsden Estate ‘Vigot’ Syrah 2019 – A bold nose, with a mushroom earthiness, redcurrant cordial, damson plum, middle-eastern spices and violet florals. Dark and ripe – another one that had hints of peppery Shiraz to it – in a good way. It brought contrasting comments from the team – “easy drinking” but also notes of “complex layering” too.

Bilancia 2021 Syrah
Marsden Vigot 2019 Syrah

#10 Passage Rock Syrah 2021 – A warm, toasty nose, showing nougat, peppercorn, toffee and breadcrumbs alongside the deep red fruits. A wine with “a real bounce” through the palate. Juicy acidity contrasts that bold opening, leading to a quite complex finish.

Passage Rock 2021 Syrah

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