What lies beneath?

A recent edition of the television series Antiques Roadshow featured a fifteenth century silver teaspoon that had been found when workmen were clearing a building site. Its owner was delighted to learn that the teaspoon was worth around ten thousand pounds. In this country we’re unlikely to discover antique silver teaspoons when digging up spuds although early Maori relics are a possibility in my garden which is in the vicinity of an old pa site. So far I’ve only found vast numbers of old cockle shells but I live in hope.

Planting a vineyard is a bit like digging for buried treasure. In 1973 when the first Sauvignon Blanc vines were planted in Marlborough no one could possibly have known the area would produce such delicious wine it would spearhead a billion dollar wine export industry in less than 40 years. The free-draining gravelly soils of Marlborough’s Wairau Valley had lain in wait for hundreds of years. It just needed the right grapevine to unlock the area’s potential.

The same principal applied to the Gimblett Gravels district of Hawke’s Bay. When the Ngaruroro River last changed course in 1867 it left a bed of stones and gravels with layers of sand. Until the late 1980’s it was regarded as very poor agricultural land. It took three acres of land to feed one sheep. The local council gave approval for the land to be used as a site for warehouses, coolstores and even a drag strip. A concrete company bought 150 hectares to mine for gravel. The land was regarded as virtually worthless.

In 1980 Chris Pask took a punt and planted Cabernet Sauvignon on his newly acquired land. Three years later the first Syrah was planted by Dr Alan Limmer for his Stonecroft label (tastings). The early wines produced in the Gimblett Gravels were a revelation. The reds in particular were deep, dark wines oozing with flavour. Land prices skyrocketed as winemakers scrambled to buy a piece of the action. Today the entire 800 hectares of land in the Gimblett Gravels district is planted with grapevines.

Gimblett Gravels has become this country’s most celebrated area for premium Syrah production. My top three local examples of Syrah were produced from the region while the fourth, Church Road Reserve 2008 Syrah (tastings), included a small percentage of Gimblett Gravels grapes. The fifth wine was made from grapes grown on Waiheke Island, another area that suits the variety.

Four wines in my top value list of New Zealand Syrah are made from grapes grown in Gimblett Gravels while the fifth, Mission 2010 Syrah (tastings), is a blend of three vineyards that includes some Gimblett Gravels grapes.

Top Syrah producer, on the basis of my tasting, must go to Trinity Hill (tastings) which produced the top overall wine and also earned a place in my “best value” list with their 2010 Syrah (tastings).

My Australian top wine list includes wine from South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales in a variety of styles from the classic Barossa Valley blockbuster (Barossa Valley Estate 2006 Ebenezer Shiraz – tastings) to some relatively “new wave” modern wines such as Torbreck 2006 Barossa Valley Woodcutter’s Shiraz (tastings) and Tyrrell’s 2007 Vat 9 Shiraz (tastings).

If New Zealand’s trump card is consistency then Australia’s must be variety. A huge range of Australian climatic and soil types together with wide ranging winemaking techniques provides a bewildering number of different wines – all made from exactly the same grape variety.

Vine age, something which is in short supply in this country, gives the Aussies a bit of an edge. Shiraz vines can remain productive for 150 years or more in certain Australian wine regions (but not in Europe) although the quantity drops and the concentration increases with age.

Faced with such a choice how can you choose an Australian Shiraz to suit your taste and budget? Regional styles provide a clue.

If you like big, rich and cuddly wines oozing with dark fruits and chocolate/mocha characters I suggest you look at the wines from the Barossa Valley or McLaren Vale. If you really want “big” then pick “old vine” wines although be prepared to pay a significant premium for them.

More elegant Shiraz can be found from slightly cooler regions such as the Clare Valley, Margaret River and Coonawarra.

Yarra Valley winemakers mostly favour co-fermenting their Shiraz with a small percentage of the white grape Viognier to give a slightly perfumed character and often a silkier texture.

If you like Shiraz edgy with cooler climate pepper and floral characters the Great Southern in Western Australia is a happy hunting ground.

At the cheap and cheerful end of the scale Australian Shiraz is more homogeneous in style with simple plum and dark berry flavours seasoned with American oak. At best these wines can be absolutely delicious, offering more sensuous pleasure per dollar than just about any other wine style the world has to offer.

Top five New Zealand Syrah

#1 Trinity Hill 2009 Homage Syrah Hawke’s Bay $120.00

New Zealand’s biggest, best and most expensive Syrah. Well worth the price if you want to humiliate an Aussie wine lover. – view on bobcampbell.nz

#2 Mills Reef 2009 Elspeth Syrah Hawke’s Bay $45.00

Super-serious Syrah that’s surprisingly good drinking now but will age magnificently. – view on bobcampbell.nz

#3 Forrest Estate 2006 John Forrest Collection Syrah Hawke’s Bay $70.00

Dense yet elegant Syrah with a range of flavours from floral to dark berry and from chocolate to black olive plus a seasoning of cracked black pepper. – view on bobcampbell.nz

#4 Church Road 2008 Reserve Syrah Hawke’s Bay $36.95

An exotic, Rhone-style red offering an edgier alternative to other blockbuster styles produced in Hawke’s Bay this vintage. Best value in the top five. – view on bobcampbell.nz

#5 Mudbrick 2010 Reserve Syrah Waiheke Island $52.00

Big, powerful Waiheke wine with a generous dollop of everything including alcohol, which weighs in at a hefty 15.6%! – view on bobcampbell.nz

Top Value five New Zealand Syrah

#1 Mission 2010 Syrah Hawke’s Bay $16.50

Pure, focused wine that’s “not too heavy and not too light” as well as being highly drinkable. Outstanding value. – view on bobcampbell.nz

#2 Te Awa 2009 Left Field Syrah Hawke’s Bay $24.00

There is plenty to chew on here with plum, dark berry, some black pepper and spicy oak flavours. Classy Syrah at a competitive price. – view on bobcampbell.nz

#3 Mills Reef 2009 Reserve Syrah Hawke’s Bay $24.95

Quite intense flavours of dark berry, black pepper, licorice and oak with more subtle floral and white pepper notes. – view on bobcampbell.nz

#4 Babich 2008 Winemakers Reserve Syrah Hawke’s Bay $24.95

This wine scores particularly well in texture with gobs of sweet fruit smothering fine, ripe tannins. – view on bobcampbell.nz

#5 Trinity Hill 2010 Syrah Hawke’s Bay $19.00

Quite richly textured wine with appealing sweet fruit and seductive plum and berry flavours. – view on bobcampbell.nz

Top five Australian Shiraz

#1 Taylors 2004 St Andrews Shiraz $65

At seven years of age this intense, complex wine is just starting to hit its straps. A lovely, mellow wine that’s deliciously drinkable now. – view on bobcampbell.nz

#2 Torbreck 2006 Barossa Valley Woodcutter’s Shiraz $37

Beautifully perfumed wine with red fruits and floral aromas that lead into a sumptuously textured Shiraz that’s seductively smooth – view on bobcampbell.nz

#3 Barossa Valley Estate 2006 Ebenezer Shiraz $52

This legendary wine has the incredible density of an “old vines” red with classic Christmas cake/dried fruits and chocolate/mocha characters. Silken textured and decently sumptuous. – view on bobcampbell.nz

#4 Brown Brothers 2006 Patricia Shiraz $55

Powerful wine with strong sweet berry and spice flavours. It’s a top-of-the-line Shiraz with an impeccable pedigree. – view on bobcampbell.nz

#5 Tyrrell’s 2007 Vat 9 Shiraz $75

Modern style Hunter Shiraz from the greatest producer in the district. – view on bobcampbell.nz

Top five value Australian Shiraz

#1 Taylors 2009 Clare Valley Shiraz $22.99

Very attractive Shiraz with dense, ripe flavours suggesting dark berries and plum together with some chocolate/mocha characters. rich and weighty with a lingering finish. – view on bobcampbell.nz

#2 Oomoo 2008 McLaren Vale Shiraz $19.99

Dense, deep red with masses of sweet fruit and mocha/chocolate characters. Offers great value at this price. – view on bobcampbell.nz

#3 Terra Mia 2009 McLaren Vale Shiraz $21.99

Rich, chewy wine with dark berry, liquorice, chocolate/mocha, vanilla and spicy oak flavours. – view on bobcampbell.nz

#4 Taylors 2009 Promised Land Shiraz $18.99

An elegant rather than blockbuster style. Supple, peppery Shiraz with bright red berry flavours. – view on bobcampbell.nz

#5 Wyndham Estate 2007 George Wyndham Shiraz $23.95

Dry, savoury Shiraz with red berry, mocha, mint and earthy flavours. An elegant example in a fine and fairly austere style. – view on bobcampbell.nz

First published in Taste Magazine NZ – Jul 2011.

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