Top 5 drops… best wines of the week and a 50 year old German ‘white’

The cork from a 1971 German Riesling tasting at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington on 30 November 2017… 12 wines were all drawn from Geoff Kelly’s cellar; he is holding the shrivelled bit of tree bark that kept one of these wines ‘alive’ (relatively) over the past 46 years.

Here are my 5 top drops of the last 7 days – the wines that I can say, hand on heart, are the absolute best that I have tasted from my work as a wine writer and wine programme director at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington. Not that it’s been easy to pick just 5.

The week has been full of wine from sales reps who highlighted local (Martinborough), national (Marlborough, North Canterbury and Hawke’s Bay) and international wines (where do I begin?). And then there was the 1971 German Riesling tasting I paid to attend last night at which 12 wines surprised us all. Not a single bottle was tainted by cork’s worst trait – TCA (trichloranisole), also known as cork taint. Then again, not a single bottle was unaffected by cork because all had, to one degree or another, a level of oxidation due to being sealed with cork. One of the corks is pictured above and it’s not a pretty sight. You get that it’s a bit of wood and it doesn’t do wine any favours after a year in the neck of a bottle, let alone nearly 50.

Speaking of which, last week seems like a while ago now, so without further ado, here are my top 5 drops from this week.

I hope you enjoy the four that you can buy – and the fifth one is purely voyeuristic. How could I not share an incredible wine from my birth year (ouch, 50, guilty as charged).


Great white

2015 Pegasus Bay Riesling $32 to $37

Rating: 19/20

A hot night and an old friend’s birthday party last week called for all sorts of interesting wines but as I scoured the wine list for something refreshing, this wine stood out in neon to me – and its succulent, refreshing flavours made it my wine of the night. Pegasus Bay Riesling is North Canterbury’s best known wine and is, in my view, the rock star white of the region, thanks to the Donaldson family, who are among the earliest pioneers of high quality wine in that region. This wine consistently reaches high quality peaks with its rich concentration of flavour and juicy high acidity, which is balanced by lemon honey flavours and a long finish.

Where to buy: Specialist wine stores, Victoria Park New World in Auckland, Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington or


Gem Riesling

2017 Giesen Gemstone Marlborough Riesling $19.99, 10% ABV

Rating: 18.5/20

Speaking of Riesling, we were, weren’t we? Gemstone from Giesen is more than about alliteration; it’s a seductively tasty new wine made entirely from one vineyard in Marlborough – called Eden Valley Vineyard, in the Lower Waihopai Valley. Winemaker Nikolai St George fermented this wine in an interesting combo of granite tanks (made from a giant slab of volcanic rock), French oak barrels and stainless steel tanks. That’s no mean feat for a wine that costs $20. The granite retains its core temperature, allowing for a slower fermentation while the other two vessels contribute diverse flavours (softer fruit, warmer ferment from the oak; fresher crisper brightness from the stainless portion). This wine is 10% and noticeably rich in flavour with a medium dry style, balanced by crisp acidity, which provides a long, flavoursome finish.

Where to buy: widely available in supermarkets.


Fresh as a daisy Chardonnay

2016 Fromm La Strada Marlborough Chardonnay $31

Rating: 18.5/20

La Strada means the way in Italian and refers to the way that Chardonnay responds to the Marlborough region; which is another way of saying that this wine is all about freshness, powerful ripe citrus flavours and purity of fruit rather than oaky bells and buttery whistles. That said, all those intense citrusy flavours are nicely balanced by 10% new oak, which adds body, weight and a creamy soft appeal.

Where to buy: specialist stores or Fromm Wines.


2015 Sacred Hill Brokenstone Hawke’s Bay $64

Rating: 19/20

Merlot, Malbec and Syrah rub shoulders with two Cabernets in this staunch but smooth Hawke’s Bay red – Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc add backbone to the dark spice in this seductive full bodied wine, which was one of my top three wines of the dozen ‘best’ box of 2015 Gimblett Gravels reds sent to me this year. The top 12 selection are chosen blind by Master of Wine Andrew Caillard, and it’s a great privilege to then be allowed the privilege of tasting the entire 12 wines for myself (the wineries send them out to wine writers).

More to come on this top 12 selection in future weeks. Watch this space. In the meantime, grab a bottle of Brokenstone; it’s not cheap but it is outstanding.

Sealed with a cork.

Where to buy: specialist stores or Sacred Hill Wines.


German aged Riesling

1971 Reichsgraf von Kesselstaff Josephshofer Trockenbeerenauslese QmP Mosel 


This was my top wine of one of the most outstanding tastings held in New Zealand this year – Wellington wine writer and collector, Geoff Kelly (who has an amazing cellared collection of wines), proposed calling this tasting Does Riesling Age?
It sold out in two hours and was held last night with 10 wines from the 1971 vintage, one Cru Classé Sauternes thrown in for good measure and one 1967 beerenauslese, which was my third favourite wine of the night, but more on that next week.

All wines were tasted blind – Geoff had previously decanted them into numbered bottles so that the actual bottles were empty and lined up in age order in front.

This wine was one of the freshest in the lineup, despite its medium amber colour, which suggested it may have faded, but talk about incredible concentration of flavour – rich dried apricot flavours reminded me of the intensity of Central Otago dried apricots; the wine’s high acidity was still present and counted, and balancing the flavours of liquid honey, leaving this wine with a long finish and juicy drinkability which was remarkable to taste in a wine that is now 46 years old.

Where to buy: you can’t, but it’s inspiration to collect and keep Riesling because there is no question that it can age exceptionally well.

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

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.