Saturday, 7 June 2014

White pepper Syrah

The intense white pepper from the Craggy Range Syrah that I tasted in their cellar at Gimblett Gravels back in 2008 was so pronounced that I finally understood why Syrah is so often characterised as smelling of white pepper. Since then, I have always kept an eye out for Gimblett Gravels Syrahs and they have not disappointed.

This distinctive aroma can be attributed to the combination of the gravelly soil and the climate—free draining, warm days and cool nights. It is more akin to the Northern Rhone style than the full-bodied, jammy Shiraz from warmer regions. However, being New Zealand, the wine is more vibrant than Hermitage. To me, it is a perfect combination of climate, soil and winemaking technique.

At last year Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection tasting, Tony Bish, Chairman of  the Gimblett Gravels Winegowers Association, presented 12 wines—eight red blends and four Syrahs independently selected by Andrew Caillard MW—that best represented the vintage and the region. I was particularly impressed by the William Murdoch and Vidal Legacy Series. A couple of attendees remarked "... Gimblett Gravels is a fresh spring for me", and " was exciting to taste so many promising Syrahs from the region". I couldn’t agree more.

If anyone is scratching his head about how to identify white pepper in Syrah, get a Gimblett Gravels Syrah and you’ll never forget it. It is my favourite Syrah!

Once dismissed by sheep farmers as useless land, the Gimblett Gravels Wine Growing District is an 800ha vineyard area strictly determined by the gravelly soils laid down by the old Ngaruroro River in the Hawke’s Bay area of of New Zealand’s North Island. Believed to be the first designation for a winegrowing district outside Europe, it is now home to around 30 vineyards and is quickly gaining fame in the wine world.

Not to be outdone by the district's Syrahs are its Bordeaux blends. They have the structure of a cool climate region but again with a New World fruit forwardness that many have described as elegant and sophisticated. Although some of the wines at the tasting were too young to drink, they nevertheless had concentration and ageing potential. Asked if the wines were released too early, Tony agreed but said the wines have been kept for two years and most wineries cannot afford to store them for longer because they need the space and the cash for the new vintage. He hopes consumers can cellar the wines for a while to realise their full potential. Well, I suppose we have to be a little patient.

The wines we tasted were:

Blended reds (Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon dominant):
Babich The Patriarch, available from Watson’s Wine
Craggy Range Te Kahu, available from Montrose
Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve Merlot Malbec Cabernet, available from Summergate
Mills Reef Elspeth Cabernet Merlot, available from Northeast
Newton Forrest Stony Corner, available from Kerry Wines
Sacred Hill Brokenstone, available from Jebsen
Sacred Hill Helmsman, available from Jebsen
Trinity Hill The Gimblett, available from ABS Asia

Squawking Magpie Stoned Crow
Vidal Legacy Series, available from Asia Euro
Villa Maria Reserve, available from Summergate
William Murdoch, available from Vintage International

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