Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Syrah in Hawke’s Bay

Syrah is one of the key grape varieties of the Languedoc, so every now and then it is useful and interesting to compare it with wines from other parts of the world, for a sense of perspective.  A couple of New Zealand wine makers, Steve Skinner from Elephant Hill, and John Hancock from Trinity Hill, were in London recently, to present a range of different Syrah from Hawke’s Bay on New Zealand’s North Island.   They asserted that this part of New Zealand is able to produce world class Syrah, and that Syrah has an even better future in Hawke’s Bay than the Bordeaux blends that first created the reputation of the region. The first Syrah actually arrived in New Zealand in 1830, and was subsequently planted in Hawke’s Bay in the late 1800s.  However, its modern history began with a winemaker called Alan Limmer saved some Syrah vines from the Te Kawhata research station and made his first wine at Stonecroft in Hawke’s Bay in the mid-1980s.  And from that hesitant beginning Syrah has developed apace, though it does still only account for a meagre 1% of the country’s production, and only 4% of Hawkes Bay. 

Both John and Steve enthused about the transparency of Syrah, that it shows where it is grown.  The wines from Hawke’s Bay are distinctly peppery, with region variations depending on  soil, and, in the case of the coastal vineyards of Te Awanga, climate, with a strong cool maritime influence.  You can’t ripen Cabernet Sauvignon at Te Awanga, but you can ripen Syrah.  Gimblett Gravels is just that, as much as 100 metres depth of gravel, with very little organic matter,  making irrigation absolutely essential.  This is an old river bed with the youngest vineyard soils in the world. And at nearby Bridge Pa you will also find gravel under old top soil.  And New Zealand very firmly calls Syrah Syrah, and not Shiraz as they do across the Tasman Sea, asserting that Syrah conveys an impression of elegance and subtlety in contrast to some of the richer, heavier flavours of the Barossa Valley and elsewhere in Australia. 

Winemaking techniques were discussed, whether any Viognier was added, and whole bunches in favour of destemmed grapes or proportions of both.   There are now several different clones available.  And this is what we tasted.

2014 Babich Winemakers’ Reserve Syrah, Bridge Pa
£21.95 -
This is a pure Syrah, given 12 months ageing in French oak, of which one third was new.
A rounded perfumed nose, with red fruit.  A fresh palate, with good acidity as well as tannin, and quite a dry meaty finish, with some grippy tannins.    2014 was a good dry vintage.

2014 Paritua Syrah, Bridge Pa
£17.99 -,
Deep colour, with a firmer,  more intense nose and on the palate very dense, ripe and oaky, with ripe blackcurrant gum fruit, and good balancing tannins, with a fresh finish.  All Chave clones.  The wine has spent 14 months in French oak, half new.

2015 Rod McDonald Wines Quarter Acre Syrah,    - £23.00
A blend of grapes from Havelock North, which is one of the cooler parts of Hawkes Bay, and Maraekakaho.   Also a mixture of clones, Chave, Grippat and Mass Selection, from the Limmer clone.
Medium colour.  Fresh pepper and red fruit on the nose and an elegant fresh palate,  Not obviously oaky even although it has spent 18 months in French oak.   Very elegant and finely crafted with youthful tannins and plenty of potential. I liked this a lot.

2015 Craft Farm, Bridge Pa - £25.00
14 months in French oak, 505 new.  Chave clone 
I found this a touch bretty on the nose, but the palate was quite elegant, but with some meaty notes.   There was good acidity, as well as tannin, and the bretty notes blew away.

2012 William Murdoch Coldstream Syrah, Gimblett Gravels  - £40.00
Mass selection clones and 13 months in French oak, two thirds new.
Very perfumed cassis gums on the nose and on the palate,  Concentrated tight knit flavours, with perfumed fruit.  2012 was a difficult vintage and this was deemed to be very good for the year, with John observing that acidity was the hall mark of the vintage, but the wine was none the worse for that.  Increasing I find that Syrah grown in hot conditions, indeed in some parts of the Languedoc, the flavours are too ripe and jammy, confit as the French would say.

2015 Te Mata Bullnose, Bridge Pa
The Wine Society - £30.00,
This wine has spent fifteen months in French oak, both new and old.  Medium colour, with rounded perfumed fruit and on the palate, elegant tannins and supple fruit.  This estate has some of the oldest Syrah vines of Hawke’s Bay.   Lovely depth of flavour and a star performer in the line-up.   Possibly benefits from the cooler summer of 2015

2014 Vidal Estate Legacy Syrah, Gimblett Gravels
2013 is available from The Halifax Wine Co - £30.00 and the 2011 from the New Zealand House of Wine - £36.00
Probably Limmer clone
The wine spends 18 months in French oak, one third new.  Good colour.  A rounded sturdy cassis gum nose and palate.  Firm and structured with good fruit, and oak on the finish.  Youthful and tight.  Needs time

2014 Trinity Hill Homage, Gimblett Gravels
Mainly mass selection, i.e. Alan Limmer’s clone
14  months mainly in new French oak
£61.60 for 2013 vintage from; The New Zealand House of Wine – 2010 vintage - £66.99
Good colour. Quite firm peppery fruit.  Medium weight elegant palate.  Spicy cassis gum fruit; nicely perfumed and youthful.  John Hancock talked enthusiastically about his Syrah.  He made it for the first time in  1997, and this particular cuvée in 2002.  He uses open top fermenters, with 30 – 35% whole bunches, which adds another dimension, but not necessarily every year, especially not in the cooler years. He also favours a small amount of Viognier, as they do in Côte Rôtie, making for supple fruit, and while he likes new oak, he prefers larger oak barrels, including 50 hectolitres foudres.  Syrah is now Trinity Hill’s biggest selling wine, with three different cuvées, and as John no longer makes a pure Viognier, he adds it to the Syrah, probably as much as 3%.  And he is also firmly described Syrah as the wine of the future.  ‘We can make it our own’. 

2015 Craggy Range le Sol, Gimblett Gravels
Hennings wine - £55.00.  Hedonism Wines - £66.60 – 2013.  The New Zealand Cellar - £60.60  - 2011 vintage. and The New Zealand House of Wine – 2010 vintage - £47.84 and 51.99 respectively
This is pure Syrah, as Craggy Range does not grow any Viognier and the wine is aged in French oak, 30% new.  Quite a deep colour.  Rounded perfumed fruit on the nose, and on the palate, ripe with some acidity and supple tannins and a freshness on the finish.  More elegant than some, and less intense.  2015 is generally considered to be a very promising vintage.

2013 Elephant Hill Airavata, Gimblett Gravels and Te Awanga
Clones – Mass Selection and 470.  17 months in French oak, 60% new; mainly barriques or 300 litre barrels.   Includes just 1% Viognier and 28% whole bunches.  Quite a deep young colour.  Solid rounded spice on the nose.  Firm youthful tannins on the palate; some solid oak balanced with a fresh streak of tannin.  Promises well.  2013 was an easier vintage after the complicated 2012.

Other common themes included lower average alcohol – about 13.5°, which makes for more refreshing flavours.   There is also a trend towards older and larger oak. John Hancock asserted: do what the vineyard says and don’t apply make-up, i.e. heavy oak to the finished product.  The oldest Syrah vines in Hawke’s Bay are only about 20 years old.  Syrah generally does not like stress and does need irrigation in the appropriate conditions.   

And what comparisons, if any, could one draw with the Languedoc? I think it becomes apparent that Syrah performs well in slightly cooler areas, that it does not like drought or stress and in the Languedoc, could benefit from judicious irrigation on occasion.  I also found the lower alcohol levels nicely refreshing, again another lesson that the Languedoc could learn.   And of course, the main focus of the Languedoc appellations is the blend.  In theory, you should not find a pure Syrah in an appellation; in practice, of course you can.  John finished by observing that it was Côte Rôtie that inspired him, whereas Steve admitted to being more of a Cornas man. 

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Organic wines at the Maison du Languedoc

Some highlights from a recent tasting

Maison Albert which is the owner of Château Auris in the Corbières as well as Château les Bugadelles, which has recently been promoted from simple Languedoc AOP to La Clape.   For some reason the property was excluded when the original delimitation was done for  La Clape.  So Château  Bugadelles produced its first la Clape in 2016, ands very good it is too, a red wine that is a blend of Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre, with firm spice on the nose and palate, and some ageing potential. For the moment they cannot make white La Clape as they do not have any Bourboulenc and need 40% for the appellation.

Les Domaines  Auriol.
This is a company set up by Claude Vialade, and her son, Jordi Salvagnac, was pouring his mother’s wine.  They have vineyards and also buy grapes, to make an extensive range of Languedoc wines.  2015 Montmija Corbières, from Syrah, Grenache and 50% Carignan Noir, had some rugged spicy fruit on both nose and palate.   Château Gabaron from Faugères, with Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre, was elegantly spicy with youthful freshness on the finish.  Chant de l’Ame from the Terrasses du Larzac, from Carignan, Syrah, Grenache and Cinsaut, had some rounded fruit with silky tannins and a fresh finish.

Mas des Quernes
Here Pierre Natoli was pouring his father, Jean’s wines.   As well as varietal Pays d’Oc there were a couple of Terrasses du Larzac, les Ruches, from Mourvèdre, Carignan and Grenache Noir, with rounded fruit, from an élevage in vat. La Villa Romaine from Carignan, Mourvèdre and Grenache, aged in barrel for 12 month, was sturdier with a tannic streak, balanced by rounded spicy fruit and an elegant finish.  Finally 2016 Les Petits Travers was an AOP Languedoc from Cinsaut, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, with light cherry fruit and a fresh finish.  It was lighter than the two Terrasses du Larzac.

Les Chemins de Bassac
This estate in Puimisson has recently changed hands and now belongs to Bruno and Thama Trigueiro, who have recently returned to France from Brazil.  And they specifically wanted an organic wine estate, and found les Chemins de Bassac in the village of Puimisson in the Côtes de Thongue.   The previous owners, Isa and Remy, are continuing to advise them and they also use the same oenologist, and for the moment make the same range of wines.   Their 2016 Rosé Côtes de Thongue, their very first vintage, was firm and fresh with a crisp finish. 

Mas du Novi
it is always nice to have one’s prejudices upset.  I had a memory of an earlier visit to Mas du Novi of rather solid oaky wines that tended to lack charm.  The wines are now made by Thierry Thomas, since 2011 and he has effected some successful changes, reducing the amount of oak, with a more finely  tuned élevage, so that the wines are significantly more elegant.  I particularly liked the Grès de Montpellier O de Novi, from 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache Noir, aged in vat, with some firm fruit and an elegant structure.

Clos des Vins d’Amour
2016 Maury. A lovely example of a young Maury, with fresh red fruit, and more tannin than sugar.  It was fortified to leave 85 gms/l residual sugar - the minimum is 70 gms/l, and there was some ripe fruit and an appealing freshness on the finish.

And now that Occitanie includes parts of south west France I could not resist trying a couple of wines from the Vignerons du Brulhois, the  cooperative responsible for most the wines from the little known appellation of Brulhois near Agen.  I went there in the mid-1980s when I was researching French Country Wines and I am happy to report that the quality of the wines has soared.  2016 Domaine Bel Casse from Merlot, Fer Servadou and Tannat has some lovely fresh fruit, with some herbal notes and an elegant balance of tannin.  The Fer Servadou, which is very much a grape variety of the south west, gave it a nicely original touch.  

Monday, 16 October 2017

The Languedoc with les Caves de Pyrène

That excellent wine emporium, Les Caves de Pyrene is always a good source of wines from the south, and their portfolio tasting a couple of weeks ago did not disappoint.   What follows is what they were showing, a nicely eclectic range of delicious things. 

Mas Montel, Pays d’Oc, 2016 La Petite Syrah - £9.40
Light red colour. Soft peppery fruit on nose and palate.  Easy simple Syrah with a fresh finish.

Moulin de Gassac 2016 Pinot Noir - £10.70
You could call this the second label of Mas de Daumas Gassac, from local grapes that they buy, rather than grow.   Pinot Noir is particularly tricky in the south, but this works very nicely, with soft dry, raspberry fruit on the palate.  Medium weight, with no great depth, but elegant with a fresh finish.

NV Crémant de Limoux, Les Hautes Terres, Joséphine - £23.65
Quite a rounded leesy nose with some yeast autolysis, and an underlying nuttiness from a few months ageing in barrel.  Gilles Azam was a pioneer of barrel-aged Creémant, inspired by the champagne producer, André Salosses.   Good depth on the palate with nutty notes.  A Crémant with character from an up-and-coming producer.

2016 Minervois, Arbalète, Domaine Jean-Baptiste Senat - £15.60
A blend of Grenache and Syrah.  Medium colour.  Quite rounded ripe fruit on the nose, and on the palate, supple with a streak of tannin.  Some ripe cherry fruit from the Grenache Noir.

2016 Clos du Gravillas, Emmenez-moi au bout de Terret. - £17.70
As you might surmise from the name, the grape variety is Terret, which is beginning to enjoy something of a revival in the Languedoc.  It has the great advantage of producing good acidity in hot growing conditions.  This wine has a firm stony nose, and on the palate, there is indeed a lot of acidity, with firm stony mineral notes.  Very pure.  

2016 Vin d’Oeillades, Thierry Navarre – £13.35
Thierry Navarre is the leading independent wine grower of the village of Roquebrun, which is one of the crus of St. Chinian.  He is particularly enthusiastic about some of the neglected grape varieties of the Languedoc, such as Oeillade, which is related to Cinsaut.  The colour is light red, with lovely perfumed, fragrant fruit on the nose and more elegant red fruit on the palate, with a stylish finish.

2014 Faugères Tradition, Clos Fantine -£17.60
Corinne Andrieu at Clos Fantine is one of the more natural wine makers of Faugères, and I will say that this wine has a slightly ‘funky’ note.  There is a hint of VA, but here is also some intriguing fruit.  I suspect the bottle probably needed more aeration than it was getting at the tasting.

2015 Pic St Loup, L’Orphée, Mas Foulaquier - £18.15
A youthful Pic St Loup with fragrant elegant fruit on the nose and a rounded supple palate, with less tannin than some.

2015 Languedoc blanc, Domaine d’Aupilhac - £18.35
Sylvain Fadat is one of the leading growers of the small village of Montpeyroux and makes his white wine from a blend of Vermentino. Grenache blanc, Clairette and Ugni blanc.  The colour is quite golden, and the wine is ripe and rounded on the palate with some intriguing leesy notes on the nose.  A fresh elegant finish.

2016 Côtes du Roussillon, Domaine des Foulards Rouges, Frida Rouge - £25.45

From equal parts of Grenache and Carignan.  Quite a rounded spicy nose, with quite a full-bodied palate, in an elegant way.  A refreshing note on the palate.  Surprisingly juicy.  A youthful finish. 

In conclusion, a lovely range of wines.  it was one of those tastings that I really enjoyed.