Surprising syrah from the north
Northland has just 58 hectares of vines in 2017. Chardonnay leads the way with around 20 ha, ahead of pinot noir with 13 hectares and syrah with 10ha. The region often suffers from warm, moist cyclones during the ripening season. For that reason, disease-resistant grape varieties, such as Chambourcin, are a popular choice. It has demonstrated the potential to produce top class reds, particularly syrah, although vintage variation can be considerable.
2015 was an excellent red vintage, ahead of 2016 and this year. Perversely Northland’s white wines appear to have escaped the devastating effect of not one, but two cyclones (Debbie and Cook), because most were harvested with good flavours before the first storm struck.
Ben Byrne manages two small vineyard blocks on volcanic soils inland from Kerikeri and takes grapes from a third making the wine at Marsden Estate (tastings) where he has a day job as an assistant winemaker.
I liked the 2015 Byrne Puketotara Vineyard Syrah, an elegant, fragrant red from a cool site and with a relatively low alcohol of 11.5%. It’s a supple rather than blockbuster syrah, although it certainly doesn’t lack density and power. Only 280 bottles of this wine were produced.
My favourite, the 2015 Byrne Waingaro Vineyard Syrah was, unusually, fermented using 30% whole bunches and 9% Viognier. The viognier does show through, although it is matched by the is robust red’s plum, dark chocolate, mocha and spice characters. A distinctive and intriguing wine. 750 bottles made.
The 2015 Byrne Te Puna Vineyard Syrah was the richest, ripest, warmest and most concentrated of the three wines with dried fruits and Christmas cake characters plus spice and fresh herb flavours with a smooth, almost syrupy texture.