Top drops under $20 (and over) and wine news from Joelle Thomson

Category: Syrah (page 1 of 3)

Top drop at $120… reach for the stars Syrah

Meet the best yet… 2015 Trinity Hill Homage 19/20

Best Homage yet because it’s all about fruit elegance, silkyness and the notion that less is more. This is a Hawke’s Bay Syrah of real beauty. 


The story of Homage

Trinity Hill winery has a big name and its wines have a reputation for living up to the moniker that bigger is better, so I was impressed this month to try a new wine that is bigger on balance than it is on bells and whistles. The wine is called Homage and it is better than every other Homage I have tried (it was first made in 2004), thanks to relying more on the beauty of fruit flavour than on the architecture that oak can provide to wines. It’s incredibly refreshing to taste a wine that stands on elegance and restraint rather than acquiring flavour from other sources.

For this reason I am giving the new 2015 Trinity Hill Homage a massive score of 19/20; I don’t award 19 out of 20 often so this is a high score that I take incredibly seriously.

Homage was first made in 2004 by John Hancock, founder of Trinity Hill Wines, who was inspired by Jaboulet in Tain l’Hermitage in the northern Rhone Valley, which he visited in 1981. He met Gerard Jaboulet and his father, Louis, and was strongly drawn to the Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle – one of the world’s great Syrahs. It’s a wine that can age for decades, changing over time to evolve away from its impressive deep purple colour, massively body and structure into an elegant wine of spice, dark fruit, clove-like flavours with notes of black pepper and white pepper (chemical compounds in the Syrah grape that are natural identical to those we know of in pepper).

Syrah is one of the world’s greatest and most under rated grapes. Many people do rate it highly but it has not traditionally held as great a sway as Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, despite which it has frequently offered – and still does – far better value for money and greater consistency in its traditional Rhone Valley homeland.

And wines such as the latest Homage are shining a new light on the potential of Syrah in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. Bravo, Trinity Hill.


Vineyard tales with Lauren Swift

Lauren Swift is the winemaker at Ash Ridge in the Bridge Pa Triangle, Hawke’s Bay, and she’s in Wellington today to taste her new wines with writers here.

The winery she works for is owned by Chris Wilcox (who runs the vineyard in a hands-on fashion) and Sonia, his wife. He is an ex banker who dreamt about having his own winery and bought 9 hectares of land in 2000, which was planted in grapes in four stages from 2005 onwards. In 2007, he retired from corporate life, moved his family to the Bay and made his first wine, a Syrah, in 2007. Initially, the contract winemaker was Trinity Hill.

Winemaker Lauren Swift began at the end of 2012 and has since grown production by about eight fold from 1500 cases to 8000-9000 cases. The estate vineyard is planted in Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah and a little Viognier – used to co-ferment with the Syrah.

The Ash Ridge wines

There are three tiers of wine made at Ash Ridge. The estate range  includes a barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Rose, Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah, all priced at $20; the premium range (which often includes one off wines that Swift likes to experiment with) and includes Malbec, Viognier, Chardonnay and Syrah, all priced at $30, and the reserve wines, which include Chardonnay at $40 and a Syrah at $50.

The closures… everything is sealed with a screw cap

Cork was used to seal the reserve wines in the past (Diam) and Swift does not think it added anything to the wines but she prefers the screw caps – “much prefer them”.

The wine tasting…

Body to burn Chardonnay

2016 Ash Ridge Reserve Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay $40, 12.5% ABV

Chardonnay clones 15 and 95 were used to make this wine from grapes grown on the Ash Ridge estate at Bridge Pa, Hawke’s Bay. This is a succulent wine with high acid, balanced by a full body, soft mid palate lactic tones and ripe grapefruit, peach and nectarine fruit flavours with a  long finish. Lots of lees stirring, 25% new oak, no fining but the wine has been filtered.

Fruit is the hero Syrah

2015 Ash Ridge Reserve Hawke’s Bay Syrah, $50, % ABV

Two clones of Syrah are grown at Ash Ridge estate vineyard and this wine is a near 50/50 blend of both – the Chave clone and MS (mass selection).  It was bottled unfined and unfiltered.

The wine included 25% whole bunches in the fermentation. It’s ruby in colour and overtly peppery in aroma with juicy, bright, intense deep black fruit flavours; 30 per cent new oak was used but the fruit is the hero on the long finish.

Fortifed Syrah…

The 2016 Ash Ridge Ruby Syrah is 20% alcohol and is fermented on skins with 90 grams residual sugar in the wine when it’s fortified. It’s barrel aged for 12 months and sells for $25 at the cellar door.

Hot new Syrahs – Doppio, $150 for two-pack

Doppio is a new wine range from Ash Ridge in Hawke’s Bay was to conceived by winemaker Lauren Swift pin point differences in two Syrah clones – MS and Chave.

“It’s not so we can say one is better, although we all have our preferences,” says Swift.

The two new wines were made from the same vineyard site from which Swift had noticed big differences in the taste of the wines made from each clone. “The Chave clone behaves extremely differently and is always balanced with very little done to it. We spur prune it and have a very open canopy and hardly fruit thin at all whereas with the MS you need to fruit thin a lot – the bunches are huge, it grows a lot of leaf that you’ve got to remove and we trim it two to three times a season whereas the Chave we only trim once when it gets to the top of the posts.”

MS is the clone that is most widely used in Hawke’s Bay.

The wines were aged in barrel for nearly two years and bottled a year prior to release. They are available only in two-packs directly from the winery and were bottled straight from barrel with a smidgeon of SO2. Just 280 two-packs were produced. See website below for further details.

2014 Doppio MS 13% ABV

Bigger bunches of grapes provide big red and black fruit flavours in this full bodied, fleshy and succulent Syrah, which has been the crowd favourite, to date.

2014 Doppio Chave 13% ABV

Thicker skins and smaller bunches are characteristic of the Chave clone, which results in a wine with darker fruit flavours, more mocha and chocolate notes, a fuller body and longer finish. The brix are typically 21 at harvest.

Find out more at:

Hawke’s Bay Syrahs growing… and worth cellaring

One minute you’re standing on a cool, inland vineyard looking at Pinot Noir. The next, you’re seeing robust Syrah vines on warmer, stony soils closer to the coast. That’s Hawke’s Bay for you. And this week two top Syrahs that appeared in our  staff tasting at Regional Wines supported the assertion that the Bay is the most diverse wine region in this country.

It stretches from cool coastal areas to chilly inland vineyards, with the majority of the vineyards being on significantly warmer, stonier soils in between.

  • I now lead weekly staff tastings at Regional Wines & Spirits, which is Wellington city’s largest, oldest and best known independent wine retailer. I am an independent wine writer. It’s a win-win. As were these two top Syrahs.

The two Syrahs that were our top staff wine picks this week are:

2014 Sileni The Peak Syrah $32.99

Winner of Platinum at the 2017 Decanter World Wine Awards in London, this Syrah was made with grapes grown in the Bridge Pa Triangle in Hawke’s Bay where river gravels absorb, retain and reflect the sun’s warmth onto red grape varieties such as Syrah.

Big, bold, juicy and smooth; don’t let the medium ruby colour of this winning wine deceive you into thinking it’s just a big softie. This spicy little number drinks very nicely right now but will age for a further five to six years+ too.

Sileni Estates has 75 hectares of vineyard in the Bridge Pa Triangle, over half of which is planted in the reds – Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc.

Fewer than 1% of the 17,200 wines entered won platinum awards at the 2017 Decanter World Wine Awards.

The other wine is the new Le Sol Syrah from Craggy Range. Here’s the gist of it.

New Le Sol Syrah

2015 Craggy Range Le Sol $135

A cool spring provided plenty of nervous anticipation to the Craggy Range wine team but a warm dry spell in mid to late January saw temperatures rise over 30 degrees Celcius and the result is this lovely wine that’s intense in every way from its deep purple colour to its full body, high but balanced tannins and acidity and its long, smooth finish.

The 2015 Le Sol was aged for 17 months in French oak (30% new oak).

It drinks… well right now and has strong aging potential for 9 to 10 years +.

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