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The best of New Zealand syrah, young and mature in 2019

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Kiwis’ demand for syrah has led to the emergence of two key styles: a drink-young and a good maturer.

Renowned for its densely packed, peppery, perfumed reds, syrah is a classic variety of the Rhône Valley, France, where it is the foundation of such great reds as Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage. Australia’s bold, spicy shiraz (made from the same grape variety as syrah) has long been popular with Kiwis, but syrah has also spread here, from just 62ha of plantings in 2000 to 435ha of bearing vines in 2019, mostly in Hawke’s Bay and the upper North Island.

Two key styles have emerged. From favourably warm sites and vintages, growers are producing powerful, tightly structured reds, capable of maturing well for many years. But there’s also a wave of lively, lower-priced reds that are buoyantly fruity, smooth and delicious young.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

Awaroa Waiheke Island Syrah 2016 •••••

Savoury and complex, this characterful red was hand-harvested and matured for a year in French oak barriques. Deep and youthful in colour, it is full-bodied (13.8% alc/vol), with concentrated, plummy, peppery flavours, a hint of liquorice, earthy notes adding complexity and a spicy fragrance. $45

Askerne Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2016 ••••

A refined young red that was matured for 18 months in barrels. Full-coloured, it is mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), with good density of plummy, peppery flavour and a long, spicy finish. $23

Alpha Domus Collection Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2016 ••••

For sheer drinkability, this is hard to beat, and for a wine that was not oak-aged, it shows greater complexity than you would expect. Deep ruby, it is mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol), with good depth of plummy, spicy flavours, savoury notes adding interest and ripe, supple tannins. $20

Blank Canvas Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2015 ••••½

This ageworthy red was matured for 10 months in French oak casks. Dark and purple-flushed, with a peppery fragrance, it is mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), with strong, youthful, plummy, spicy flavours, lively acidity and excellent concentration and structure. $45

Coopers Creek Select Vineyards Chalk Ridge Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2016 ••••½

This single-vineyard red, grown south of Havelock North, is deeply coloured, full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol) and well-structured. It has fresh, concentrated plum and spice flavours, a hint of black pepper, fine-grained tannins and impressive complexity. $28

Brookfields Hillside Syrah 2016 •••••

This distinguished Hawke’s Bay red is from a north-facing slope, described by the winemaker as “surreal – a chosen site”. Matured in French and American oak casks, it has deep, youthful colour and a fragrant bouquet, with hints of spices and liquorice. Powerful (14% alc/vol), with concentrated, vibrant, plummy, spicy flavours, braced by firm tannins, it should flourish for at least a decade. $47

Church Road McDonald Series Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2017 ••••½

Grown in the Gimblett Gravels and the Bridge Pā Triangle, this is a deeply coloured red, with a fragrant, youthful, spicy bouquet. Strongly varietal, it is full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), with powerful, plummy, spicy flavours that show good complexity and a long, spicy finish. $28

Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Single Vineyard Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2016 ••••½

This label lives in the shadow of its famous syrah stablemate, Le Sol, but is far more affordable. Densely coloured, with a floral, peppery fragrance, it is mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), with good density of plum, spice and black-pepper flavours that are fresh and firm. $40

Craft Farm Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2016 ••••½

From a hillside site overlooking Bridge Pā, this youthful, smooth-flowing red has a fresh, spicy, varietal fragrance. Full-coloured, it is mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), with strong, vibrant, plummy, peppery flavours, oaky, savoury notes adding complexity and a finely balanced, sustained finish. $48

Fromm Syrah Fromm Vineyard 2016 •••••

Estate-grown in the Wairau Valley, Marlborough, this rare red is certified organic. Deeply coloured, it is mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol) and concentrated, with ripe blackcurrant, plum and spice flavours and a long, finely structured finish. $63

Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2016 •••••

Hand-harvested in the Cornerstone Vineyard, this is a distinguished, dark, purple-flushed red with fragrant plum and spice aromas. Sturdy (14% alc/vol), with concentrated plum and black-pepper flavours and good tannin backbone, it has lovely harmony and length. $65

Huntaway Reserve Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2017 •••½

Drinking well now, this is a barrel-aged, medium- to full-bodied red (12% alc/vol), distinctly spicy, with good depth of berry/plum flavours, a hint of tamarillo, savoury notes adding complexity and a smooth finish. $22

John Forrest Collection Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2014 •••••

This classy, delicious red was grown in the Cornerstone Vineyard and matured for 20 months in oak casks. A notably powerful (14% alc/vol) wine, it has lush ripe plum, blackcurrant and liquorice flavours and a finely textured, harmonious finish. $80

Hãhã Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2018 •••½

Delicious young, this floral, ruby-hued red is vibrantly fruity and supple. Medium to full-bodied (13% alc/vol), it has gentle tannins, good depth of fresh, youthful, plummy, spicy flavours and a rather pinot noir-ish charm. $25

Luna Blue Rock Martinborough Syrah 2016 ••••½

From vines on what the winemaker describes as a “precipitous, north-facing slope”, this classy red was barrel-matured and bottled unfined and unfiltered. Full and purple-flushed in colour, it is mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol), vibrantly fruity and supple, with fresh acidity and intense, plummy flavours. A refined, distinctly cool-climate style. $45

Martinborough Vineyard Syrah/Viognier 2016 ••••½

This skilfully crafted red includes a splash of viognier (4%). Matured in French oak casks, it is deeply coloured and floral, mouthfilling (14% alc/vol) and vibrantly fruity, with concentrated plum and spice flavours, gentle tannins and instant appeal. $50

Leveret Estate Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2016 •••½

Still youthful, this is an easy-drinking red, mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol), with moderately rich plum and spice flavours that show some savoury complexity and a well-rounded finish. $20

Mission Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2017 •••

Priced sharply, this is an easy-drinking red, fresh and peppery. Ruby-hued, it is medium-bodied (12.5% alc/vol), with plummy, spicy flavours, slightly nutty and savoury, and gentle tannins. $15

Pask Declaration Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2014 •••••

Estate-grown in the Gimblett Gravels and aged in mostly new French oak barrels, this stylish red is maturing gracefully. Deeply coloured, it is fragrant and mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol), with concentrated plum, spice and nut flavours, complex and finely textured, that build across the palate to a lasting finish. $50

Mills Reef Estate Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2018 •••

A barrel-aged red that is ruby-hued, floral and supple. Medium-bodied (13% alc/vol), with decent depth of plummy, distinctly spicy flavours that are showing a touch of complexity, it’s an enjoyable, drink-young style. $20

Redmetal Vineyards Bridge Pā Triangle Syrah 2017 •••½

An attractive, drink-young style, this lightly oaked red is ruby-hued, fresh and medium-bodied (12% alc/vol), with clearly varietal, plummy, spicy flavours, showing good depth, a touch of complexity and a smooth finish. $22

Smith & Sheth Cru Omahu Syrah 2015 •••••

Built for cellaring, this old-vine Gimblett Gravels red was barrique-matured. Deep and bright in colour, with a fragrant, plummy, peppery bouquet, it is a full-bodied (13.2% alc/vol), clearly varietal wine that is concentrated, savoury, complex and structured. $55

Saint Clair James Sinclair Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2018 ••••

Already enjoyable, but set to unfold well over the next couple of years, this is a strongly varietal, full-coloured red with a fresh, spicy, fragrant bouquet.  Medium to full-bodied (12.5% alc/vol), it is vibrantly fruity, with very good depth of plummy, spicy, slightly nutty flavours and a smooth finish.  $28

Staete Landt Arie Marlborough Syrah 2015 ••••½

Showing good personality, this estate-grown Rapaura red was matured for 17 months in French oak barriques. Full-coloured, it is mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol) and smooth-flowing, with strong plum and spice flavours that are peppery and lingering. $40

Stonecroft Crofters Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2018 ••••

Made for early consumption, this is a ruby-hued, medium-bodied wine (12% alc/vol) with fresh, spicy, plummy aromas and flavours, showing some complexity and good depth and harmony. Certified organic. $24

Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2018 ••••½

This perfumed, peppery, elegant red is well worth cellaring. Still purple-flushed, it is medium to full-bodied (13% alc/vol), with supple tannins and good intensity of vibrant, plummy, spicy flavours, gently seasoned with nutty oak. $40

Te Mata Estate Vineyards Syrah 2018 ••••

Enjoyable young, this floral, bright-ruby red was grown in Hawke’s Bay and briefly barrel-aged. Slightly peppery aromas lead into a medium- to full-bodied wine (12.5% alc/vol) with vibrant berry, plum and spice flavours, gentle tannins and good freshness, harmony and depth. $20

Terrace Edge Waipara Valley Syrah 2016 ••••

Grown on a 45-degree north-facing “roasted slope” and matured in French oak barrels, this is a sturdy red (14.5% alc/vol) with a fragrant, peppery, slightly herbal bouquet. It has generous, spicy flavours, hints of herbs, liquorice and nuts and lots of drink-young appeal. $31

Yalumba Samuel’s Collection Barossa Shiraz 2017 ••••

Already delicious, this is a weighty (14.5% alc/vol), sweet-fruited red with a strong surge of fresh, ripe, plummy, spicy flavours and a seductively smooth finish. $20-$25

I Am George Shiraz/Cabernet 2016 ••••½

This powerful South Australian red is a 3:1 blend of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, French oak-aged. Robust (14.6% alc/vol), it is boldly coloured, with rich, youthful blackcurrant, plum and spice flavours and a well-rounded finish. $19-$23

This article was first published in the May 4, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.