Joelle Thomson

Writer, author, journalist

Month: October 2017 (page 1 of 4)

Trinity Hill Homage… the journey of a great Syrah

Best ever is a big claim but when the product in question has evolved as radically as the new 2015 Trinity Hill Homage Syrah has, it’s a claim worth investigating. Last month a bunch of wine writers had the chance to do just that at a tasting of every vintage of Homage ever made in Hawke’s Bay. I was invited .

The newest wine from 2015 is the best yet, and next month you can taste it, alongside two others – from 2013 and 2014 – at a Trinity Hill tasting at Regional Wines & Spirits on Thursday 16 November from 6pm to 8pm. Well, that is, you can taste, if you have booked a spot because this tasting sold out almost as soon as we opened it up. If you’re keen to come along, you can get on our waiting list – email John Shearlock at

And if you’re as interested in reading as you are in tasting, stay with me.

Homage is Trinity Hill’s flagship wine and was first made in 2002 to highlight the potential of the Syrah grape and Hawke’s Bay. Back in 2002, Syrah and Hawke’s Bay were like a newly wed couple. Untested, unproven and, in most wine drinkers’ minds, a partnership that had yet to be properly consummated. So, a flash wine with a $105 (give or take) price tag could have been seen as a risky proposition, if it wasn’t for the fact that it was so impressively made from day one.

The wine has since gone on to gather a following of Syrah devotees, not only in New Zealand, but around the world. Which is no mean feat for a wine that is made in relatively small quantities – about 600 bottles are produced in years when Homage is made, so there’s not a lot to go around. About a third of the production is sold directly into bars and restaurants before it has even left the winery.   

Last month I was lucky enough to try every vintage of Trinity Hill Homage ever made, and the best vintages, were, in my view, – 2015, 2014, 2013. The very best of the bunch is the newest from 2015.

Like all vintages of Homage, the 2015 is a statement wine. Big, bold and powerful but it is also more approachable than many Syrahs are when they’re first launched onto the market. This is because the wine has evolved significantly since it was first made.

To begin with, the use of oak has changed. Initially,100% new French oak was used during the wine’s maturation process and Homage has always been bottled in a weighty bottle to suggest a big wine. The bottle remains, but today the wine has taken a turn in an elegant new direction – and it’s all the better for it.

Whole bunches were introduced to the fermentation in 2013, which was when the amount of new oak began to decline too, thankfully. And – perhaps not so thankfully but understandably, given the extra care in the winemaking – the price has risen – to about $135 a bottle, give or take a dollar or two at different retailers.

The burning question is: Is Homage a better wine as a result of these changes?

As Meg Ryan said in When Harry met Sally, yes, yes, yes.

The 2015 Trinity Hill Homage is fresh off the bottling line and is undoubtedly the best vintage of Homage ever, in my view.

New Zealand wine writers were invited to Hawke’s Bay last month (September 2017) to taste every vintage of Homage: 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

The style of the wine has changed noticeably and while age comes into the stylistic diversity of a vertical tasting like this, the better wines are from 2013, 2014 and 2015 – a string of exceptionally good vintages in Hawke’s Bay. Each of these years had temperatures which were drier, sunnier and warmer than usual.

Winemakers Warren Gibson and Damian Fischer considered the amount and type of oak they used and decided to reduce it because they wanted to change the texture of the tannins and how dense they feel in the mouth. The wine will no doubt continue to evolve and I’m looking forward to tracking its journey in the future.

In the meantime, next month we are tasting an impressive line up from Trinity Hill Winery, including the three most recent vintages of Homage.

If you can’t join us in the flesh, join us in spirit and head down to Regional Wines to pick up a bottle of the outstanding 2014 Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels The Gimblett or push the boat out and buy the latest Homage. As many famous people have supposedly said – and it is true – we only regret the things we don’t do.

 The Trinity Hill tasting

Taste Trinity Hill at Regional Wines on Thursday 16 November, 6pm to 8pm, $45 per person. This tasting is now booked out but you can join our waiting list. Email John Shearlock, tastings coordinator at:

 Here are the wines we will taste:

2016 Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Marsanne Viognier

2016 Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay

2016 Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Tempranillo

2015 Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Syrah

2014 Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels The Gimblett

2015 Trinity Hill Homage

2014 Trinity Hill Homage

5 top drops… wines I never thought I would love

A dead French novelist once wrote that real discoveries are not about seeing new people, places or things, but seeing the same people, places and things with new eyes.

Apparently, he was quoting someone else but I’ve always liked the idea. And it’s been top of mind in the last three weeks of travel, tasting and writing; here are the 5 most surprising wines that I gave high wine scores to in tastings.

La Marca was first made in 1968  and is now available   in New Zealand.



La Marca Prosecco $26 to $28

Joelle’s rating: 17.5/20

Meet La Marca, which is new to New Zealand this month and is a cooperative wine made from grapes grown by over 5000 growers who sell their grapes to 9 cooperative wineries to produce this bubbly. It was first made in 1968 and was awarded a ‘Top 100 wines of the year’ by Wine Spectator magazine in 2007, which is pretty surprising given the light citrus flavours, frizzante style fizziness (i.e., not fully sparkling as a champagne is) and the lack of sweetness (1.7 grams per litre of grape sugar makes this wine bone dry – a big contrast to many Proseccos). Perhaps this is exactly what I like about La Marca – it’s dry, it’s fresh, it’s too easy to drink. Forget cider. I’ll opt for a Prosecco like this one any day.


Pinot Gris

2016 Mahana Estates Pinot Gris $25 to $29

Joelle’s rating: 18.5/20

Pinot Gris pales into significance when positioned next to its terpene fuelled kin, such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer, says winemaker Michael Glover, who decided to change his methods in making wine from Pinot Gris by seeing it as a copper coloured grape rather than a white one.

Blood Moon Pinot Gris is the result. He gave the wine four days of pre fermentation skin contact, which has unlocked doors of flavour that might have been closed to Pinot Gris if made along traditional lines, with no skin contact. This is the best Pinot Gris I have ever tried (and there have been dinner parties devoted to Pinot Gris in my honour; to try and turn my head and heart onto the best Gris from around the world). This wine is fresh, dry, medium bodied, smooth and flavoursome with savoury tastes of spice, nuts and ripe orange, with refreshing acidity to carry it to a lingering conclusion. I had to check it out over three days to see if it really was that good – it is. Best Pinot Gris ever.

Buy it here:


Sauvignon blend

2016 Brancott Estate Reflection Sauvignon $60

Joelle’s rating: 18.5/20

Brancott Estate is a big company pumping out vast volumes of white wine, mostly from Marlborough, so it’s hard to see what could be done differently with yet another Sauvignon Blanc from the region that is drowning in the stuff. This wine is deliciously different, thanks to winemaker Patrick Materman’s innovative blend of 52% Sauvignon Blanc and 48% Sauvignon Gris (a natural mutation of Sauvignon Blanc). It was officially released in late October 2017 to coincide with the launch of a new eight metre high iron sculpture, designed by New York based designer Dror Benshetrit, who also designed the label on this bottle. Like the sculpture, the wine makes a big statement; it’s dry, smoky and intense with flavours of lemon grass, grapefruit and oak – only 150 cases were made and it’s also available in a magnum; both bottle sizes are sealed with screw caps. I had to eat my silent words when tasting this wine because I wondered what could work well about blending Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris from Marlborough but this blend works beautifully with the succulence of Sauvignon Blanc being balanced by Gris’ fresh green flavours. Oak fermentation adds weight and depth but the fruit flavours taste stunning in this wine.

Buy it here:


New look for an old classic

2015 La Vieille Ferme Cote du Ventoux $20 to $25

Joelle’s rating: 17.5/20

It’s one of those cheapies you buy for the first time when budget rules all your buying decisions, but La Vieille Ferme (‘the old farm’) has come along in fruity leaps and savoury bounds since I last tried it about five years back, which was why  importer Mark Young of Vintners New Zealand suggested I take a new look at this old classic.

Today the old farm tastes brand new with a touch of savouriness balanced by fresh red fruit flavours and a smooth, light body. It’s a long way from the dusty austerity that held this wine back in the past and I can’t help but think the screw cap plays a large part in delivering this lovely French red in a fresh-is-best style.


Sauvignon from tricky vintage

2017 Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc $27

Joelle’s rating: 18.5/20

The 2017 harvest will be remembered as short, sharp and shocking in many parts of New Zealand. It only lasted 21 days in Marlborough, but challenging times call for innovative solutions and the Dog Point winemaking team chose theirs by spending more time in the vineyard than usual, where they indulged their Sauvignon Blanc vines to early shoot removal and crop thinning so that 2017 was, for them, “a very low harvest” with impressive fruit flavours.

The proof is in the bottle. It’s bone dry, intensely citrusy and fleshy with green fruit and herb flavours underpinned by refreshing but balanced high acidity, finishing with complex nutty flavours.

5 of the best… New Pinot Noirs

Wines of the week

Pinot Noir is the most planted red grape in New Zealand so there’s no shortage of wine made from it, but here are five top drops – these wines stand out from the crowd and they all came my way directly from the producers, who were looking for independent analysis of quality, style and price.

These wines rock… they taste great and deliver consistent quality. And, no, they are not cheap, but you get what you pay for.

Prices quoted are approximate retail and drawn from Wine-Searcher.

Top Central drop 

2014 Chard Farm Mata-au Pinot Noir $39

A tasty top drop from an iconic historic Otago winery, Chard Farm, which is based in the dramatic Kawarau Gorge and accessed via a precipice sliver of a road, but which leads to the winery’s HQ. The grapes are another matter. While many grow around the winery itself, the vast majority come from the warmer, more settled weather of Lowburn and Parkburn – about 30 minutes’ drive away through in the Cromwell Basin. These vineyards are planted on terraces of alluvial schist from the Mata-Au (Clutha) River, and the hot summer days and cool nights enable the development of powerful ripe fruit flavours, while preserving Pinot’s hallmark of fresh acidic drive, which cuts through this wine’s fruity core, adding nerve and lingering freshness to every sip.

North Canterbury great

2014 Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir $49 

North Canterbury is often eclipsed by its southern cousin, Central Otago, but the best wines reach peaks that are at least as high, particularly Pegasus Bay, whose Pinots continue to grow in deliciousness, bringing a different take on the Pinot theme with their full body, earthy flavours, juicy succulence that provides the wines with length, finesse and elegance. The wine spent 18 months in French oak, 30% of which was new and adds some spicy bells and smooth whistles while.

Wellington wine 

2015 Te Kairanga Run Holder Pinot Noir $40

Fruit is the hero in this concentrated, richly flavoursome Pinot Noir from one of the Wairarapa’s oldest wineries, Te Kairanga – also known as TK on both the label and in the trade. Winemaker John Kavanagh… and the winery is now owned by Foley Family Vineyards, who employed winemaker John Kavanagh to turn things around, which he has done with  noticeable aplomb. He was previously the winemaker at Neudorf Vineyards in Nelson… speaking of which…

Nelson niceness

2015 Neudorf Tom’s Block Pinot Noir, $33

Nelson is known for its sunshine, its art and its lifestyles, two of which have forged the region’s most quality driven wines at their home in the Upper Moutere Valley at Neudorf – Tim and Judy Finn remain committed to their vineyard there, but also use grapes from other vineyards in the Upper Moutere in this full bodied Pinot, which spent nearly a year in French oak – 22% new – and went through 100% wild yeast fermentation, both of which have given this wine its wild earthy flavours and flatter its dark fruit appeal. It drinks well now and can age for 9 to 10 years.

Marvel newcomer from Marlborough

2015 Brancott Reflections Dror Pinot Noir $80

This is a powerful statement of a wine with bold, powerful aromas of cloves, orange peel and dried cherries; it’s 14.5% ABV, so it’s not shy on the alcohol front but this is nicely balanced by intense red cherry, plum and smoky flavours. It’s a blend of the best components of Pinot Noir from hand selected barrels, says Materman.

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