Te Awa Syrah 2004
Te Mata Bullnose Syrah 2004
Shhh…don’t tell them about the Syrah.
After a visit to Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, I feel like I’m
about to give them some unwanted publicity. You see, the Syrahs
here are quite good, with a definite stylistic contrast to the heaps
of Shiraz made not far away in Australia. But while Australia has
an overabundance of grapes, including Shiraz, Syrah makes up only
a tiny amount of Hawkes Bay’s vines, so there isn’t
much to go around. Most of the best vineyard acreage is already
planted, so there’s unlikely to be a big increase in supply,
Lying on the Southeast side of the country’s
north island, Hawkes Bay enjoys a relatively warm climate. Many
liken it to Bordeaux, and like Bordeaux the neighboring sea helps
moderate temperatures and prevent heat spikes in summer, so the
grapes can ripen evenly and the physiological maturity (flavor development)
can keep pace with sugar (and therefore alcoholic) ripeness.
Other similarities to Bordeaux also arise: in 1867
the Ngauroro River changed course after a flood, and the gravels
of the exposed former riverbed offer similar drainage to the Medoc.
That area, now known as the Gimblett Gravels Wine Growing District,
is responsible for Hawkes Bay’s most distinctive wines.
The area’s winemakers have not been slow
to exploit these similarities, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and
Cabernet Franc make up a high proportion of the plantings. The resulting
wines lie in between and Bordeaux and Napa in style, with the former’s
structure and some of the latter’s fruit. Most of the wineries
make single varietal wines in addition to a blend, which is usually
their flagship wine.
So why, then, am I talking about Syrah? Syrah plantings
are increasing all over the world, and many winemakers are trying
for a style that leans toward the meaty, smoky flavors of the Rhône
rather than the sumptuous fruitiness of Australia. Some are succeeding,
most notably in Washington and parts of California. But while the
flavor profile of those wines may have a Gallic touch, many of them
still have the high-alcohol weight that reveals their hot climate
The Syrahs of Hawkes Bay, however, are more restrained,
presumably due to that maritime breeze – few other Syrah areas
are this close to the ocean. The restraint shows in the wine’s
structure, ageability, and food-friendliness. With Australia so
nearby, you’d think the wineries would want the marketing
advantage that comes with the popularity of Shiraz; the wines, however,
are something else, so so is the name.
Te Awa Syrah 2004 is remarkable
for its complexity, showing aromas ranging from dark fruits like
pomegranate and blackberry to black olive to smoked meat and cracked
black pepper. It’s medium to full-bodied and very focused;
while it’s drinking well now, its structure suggests there’s
more to come after a few years of aging. Te Awa also makes a single-vineyard
Syrah, the Zone 2; the 2004
is fuller and earthier and, unlike the basic bottling, really needs
a couple of years or some food to bring out its aromas.
Range makes two Syrahs as well, both from individual
vineyards. The Block 14 Syrah 2004 has about the
same weight as Te Awa’s wine, but is less meaty; aromas instead
include blueberry, graphite, smoke, and earth. It’s also a
touch more tannic, with impressive length. The premium bottling,
Le Sol, has a similar, but more subdued, elegant
flavor profile, despite being fuller in the mouth.
Te Mata Bullnose Syrah 2004
is a touch fruitier, with notes of plum and boysenberry, but there’s
still an enjoyable meatiness and the tell-tale note of black pepper.
It’s got impressive length as well, with moderate tannins.
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