Classy syrah pays homage

WARREN BARTON
Last updated 11:33 23/11/2012

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Thank God when we produce a syrah we do not call it a Rhone red, because a Rhone red it most certainly is not - not when it has been grown and produced on the Gimblett Gravels in Hawke's Bay, which is about as far away as you can possibly get from France.

The same goes for the blended reds we produce off the same piece of real estate from grape varieties famously grown in Bordeaux.

They are not Bordeaux blends, but Bordeaux-style blends, which are more sensibly described by the varieties used in the mix - merlot, malbec, cabernet franc or any of the other varieties which are permitted in such blends.

Anyway, who gives a rat's rear end, unless, of course, they are one of those people who measure the wines they drink against those from the place which made them famous?

Which adds up to only a fraction of all those who actually buy and drink wines in this country, and in others, a fraction of whom will also quite happily carry on about good wines reflecting the "terroir" or the place from which they came.

This brings us back to this Rhone Red or Bordeaux blend from Hawke's Bay nonsense and a wine that happily gets it right - that pays homage to its roots but reflects and celebrates its adopted home.

That wine is, by coincidence, one called Homage, and it is made for those who can afford good wine (to the tune of $120 a bottle), as well as respect and understand it.

It is a syrah and it is pays homage to the late Gerard Jaboulet, of Paul Jaboulet Aine, who helped put wines from the northern Rhone region of France on the map and greatly influenced John Hancock, of Trinity Hill, who did a vintage there back in the early 1990s before the variety found a permanent home in Hawke's Bay.

Gerard was also a good friend of Robert and Robyn Wilson, the owners of Trinity Hill, who some years earlier had discussed with John the possibility of growing top-quality reds on the gravels and shared his love of syrah.

John and his sidekick, Warren Gibson, now chief winemaker at Trinity, produced the first of what has become a succession of Homages in 2002 and has since produced six more, including a 2012 which is still in the works.

Why only seven in 10 years? Because it is made only when it meets the standard desired by the makers and the standard expected by those who buy what is regarded as one of the country's finest red wines, which includes some of the world's smartest restaurants.

And why, for that matter, syrah and not shiraz, as the variety is called in Australia?

Because it more closely resembles syrahs from the Rhone than those made from the same, but super-cooked fruit across the Tasman .

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The syrah grown on the Gimblett Gravels (warm by New Zealand standards, cooler in terms of syrah sites generally ) is not jammy but black-fruited, often with a whiff of violet and a distinct liquorice and sometimes anise characters.

Sometimes, or certainly in the case of Homage and other syrahs made by Trinity Hill, small quantities of viognier, a white, are also added to give more colour (yes, colour) to the wine and to help it texturally.

What of those already made, bearing in mind that all are still developing in the bottle and will continue to do so for many years?

In short, the better they get, the more they taste like Hawke's Bay.

My pick of those so far produced are the much-awarded 2006, which is still just a baby, the elegant 2009 and the powerful but silky smooth 2010 with its distinctive spicy, black-olive characters.

- The Southland Times

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