Joelle Thomson

Writer, author, journalist

f
TAGS
H

Best yet? You be the judge of 2020 Le Sol Syrah - wine of the week

How much would you pay to taste New Zealand's best Syrah? 

Questions of best and worst are fraught propositions at the best of times, if you'll excuse the pun and this month's release of the 2020 Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection reds definitely raises the bar on locally grown Syrah and blended reds based on Bordeaux varieties.

This is the 13th Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection and it follows in the footsteps of the previous 12, which includes a dozen wines chosen each year from a blind tasting conducted by Master of Wine Andrew Caillard. This year's includes eight blended reds based on traditional Bordeaux grape varieties and four Syrahs. Caillard is commissioned each year to reduce a much bigger bunch into a case of the top wines. It's a tough job and all that jazz but someone's got to do it and Caillard has followed the good, the bad and the extremely challenging vintages of red wines produced from grapes grown solely on the 800 hectares of Gimblett Gravels over the past 13 years. It's been a fascinating journey to stand on the sidelines and be sent the 12 wines each to form my own views and the 2020 reds are the best I've tasted yet. Especially the wine of the week, featured below. 

Why was 2020 such a good year? It was warm, it was dry and it had significantly lower rainfall than average (387mm compared to the long term average of 437mm) as well as a higher number of growing degree days (1362 compared to the long term average of 1303). Statistics aside, the taste is in the pudding, so to speak, and the wines in this year's top 12 from the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowers Association are an extraordinary bunch of balanced beautiful reds. There are five Syrahs and seven reds modelled on traditional Bordeaux grape varieties; one 100% Merlot from Babich with the balance being blends. 

The list below has my ratings from my own blind tasting of this bunch of beauties, including the top wine - my wine of the week. Sadly Le Sol has sold out but magnums have yet to be released and, yes, as you'd expect, there's a waiting list.

Wine of the week

19/20

2020 Craggy Range Le Sol RRP $150

Since when did a young Syrah taste as silky, smooth and approachable as this one does? Its warm, ripe, dark fruit flavours are beautifully balanced by subtle spice with black pepper, cloves and layers of deep flavours. The wine was made by Julian Grounds who gave it 17 months in French oak, 38% new; not that you'd know it thanks to its impeccable balance.

The 2020 Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection

17.5/20

2020 Babich Winemakers Reserve Hawke's Bay Merlot RRP $34.95

Big deeply coloured Merlot with super soft medium body and power packed ripe plum flavours. This is a blend of 87% Merlot with 13% Malbec, which is under the 14.9% threshold for labelling requirements but which definitely adds a dose of colour and weight to this lovely accessibly smooth wine. 

To be released in July 2023

18.5/20

2020 Church Road 1 Cabernet Sauvignon RRP $120

Dark, ripe, juicy and intense with blackcurrant, blackberry and cedar aromas kept in check with an impressive structured style. A great Cabernet Sauvignon from Church Road winemaker Chris Scott, who has harnessed the best from this bold and powerful grape variety and a great year.

Released now

17.5/20

2020 Church Road 1 Malbec RRP $120

From its purple colour to its spicy aromas, this is a dark bold red wine of substance, silkiness and power. This is 100% Malbec, an unusual varietal in New Zealand since there is precious little Malbec grown nationwide, but here it works with power and 14 months in French oak (41% new) and Hungarian oak for smoothness and added depth, complexity and flavour interest.

Released now

18.5/20

2020 Elephant Hill Hieronymus RRP $120

Dense, dark and needs time; a blend of 38.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38.5% Merlot and 23% Cabernet Franc, all of which jostle for attention in a powerful full bodied red modelled on the best of Bordeaux and, like those wines, begging for bottle time to mellow. A keeper. 

To be released in 2023

17.5/20

2020 Elephant Hill Stone Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc RRP $59

Softer, smoother and still has time up its sleeve; a lovely big blend of 53% Merlot (plush), 24% Cabernet Sauvignon (structure) and 23% Cabernet Franc (aromatic delicious dark berry flavours). One for now and will keep beautifully for another four to five years' time. 

To be released in 2023

18.5/20

2020 Esk Valley Artisanal Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot RRP $24.99

Incredible wine for flavour, structure and value for money. This over delivers big time and highlights an interesting choice of grape varieties with 55% Malbec surprisingly in lead position (since there is very little Malbec in this country) with the support of 28% Cabernet Sauvignon adding structure and 17% Merlot for a little soft plush hedonistic value. Delicious.

Released now

17.5/20

2020 Mission Estate Jewelstone Antoine RRP $50

Complex Cabernet Sauvignon leads with 65% of the blend supported by 20% Cabernet Franc and 15% Merlot; a beautiful blend of depth and great layers of flavour. Needs time to reveal its full potential but also has the ripeness and smooth mouth feel to drink well now. 

To be released in 2024

18.5/20

2020 Trinity Hill The Gimblett RRP $40

Best vintage of The Gimblett, hands down. A great wine every year but 2020 is a whole new level and a beautiful blend of 50% Cabernet Franc, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Merlot with the finished wine spending 18 months in French oak, 53% new. Sounds like a lot but it fits more than little nicely here. 

Released now

19/20

2020 Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah RRP $150

Since when did a young Syrah taste as silky, smooth and approachable as this one does? Its warm, ripe, dark fruit flavours are beautifully balanced by subtle spice with black pepper, cloves and layers of deep flavours. The wine was made by Julian Grounds who gave it 17 months in French oak, 38% new; not that you'd know it thanks to its impeccable balance.

Released now

17.5/20

2020 Squawking Magpie Stoned Crow Syrah RRP $49.95

Jenny Dobson made this stunning Syrah which has great spicy depths of flavour and lovely smooth structure from 15 months in French oak, 18% new. A wine of beauty from a great year.

Released now

17.5/20

2020 Stonecroft Gimblett Gravels Reserve Syrah RRP $60

Powerful spicy flavours lead the layered flavour profile in this beautiful ripe Syrah from 2020; the wine spend 18 months in French oak, 60% new. 

Released now

18.5/20

2020 Trinity Hill Homage RRP $150

The 2020 Homage is the best yet with its incredibly attractive red fruity aromas and gorgeous depths of flavour. It was aged for 19.5 months in French oak, 68% new. 


To be released in 2023