New Zealand has its own wine guru with the name of Parker. That's Mike Parker of Masterton in the Wairarapa. A man with a keen interest in, and palate for, fine wines from throughout the world, Mike is also a most generous man, willing to share his vinous treasures that he has amassed over more than three decades of wine collecting. As part of his new house-warming celebrations, Mike conducted a tasting of the 1997 Guigal Cote-Rotie ‘La Las', along with a selection of other Syrah wines from France, Australia and New Zealand. One dozen wines were served ‘blind', to one dozen tasters with the instructions of assessing the wines for their origin, quality and enjoyment. Among the tasters were long-time wine aficionados, wine trade personnel, a winemaker and a wine-writer, and keen foodies. It was an eclectic mix of high quality wines for an eclectic mix of highly interested people. Before revealing the identity of the wines, Mike asked his guests to rate their first, second and least favourite wine, and guess the country of origin. Here are my notes on the wines in the order of presentation, with a comment on the rating and guess of origin by the group:
Wine 1: Guy et Frederic Bernard Cote-Rotie 1997
Dark, deep hearted red with garnet and orange hues, lighter on edge. This has a soft, full, moderately rich and intense nose with reasonably solid brown and red fruit aromas complexed by spices and earth. Medium-weighted, this has soft, gentle, low intensity brown and red fruit flavours intermixed with cedar, dried herb and earth elements. The tannins are soft, and the wine is well-integrated and very much mature. A more modest example, to drink now. 17.0/20 My 11th wine which I believed was French.
Some tasters saw a little brettanomyces and some greenness. Rated 10th, and generally seen as a French wine.
Wine 2: Trinity Hill ‘Gimblett Road' Hawke's Bay Syrah 1997
Very dark black-red colour, this has a fine, tight nose with intensity and concentration. Notes of mint, eucalypt and spicy oak, with savoury earth and complex animal, brettanomyces aromas. On palate quite elegantly structured, still with acidity showing, but dominated by flavours of gamey brettanomyces. Some oak resin notes along with some textural grip show. Still with sweetness in the mouth, this has not dried out, and will be drinkable for those who can tolerate the brett. Scoring positively and generously: 17.0-/20 Rated 9th=. I thought it was a New World wine, either New Zealand or Australian!
Most tasters found the level of brettanomyces unacceptable, while some enjoyed it. But rated 12th (last) for the group, and seen as an Australian wine by the group.
Wine 3: Tardieu-Laurent Cote-Rotie 1997
Dark, deep blackish red with garnet and mahogany hues. This has a herbaceous nose with cool, stalky fruit along with some oak spice adding moderate interest. Light-weight on palate, the fruit is moderate in sweetness with the herbaceous flavours to the fore. The tannin structure is light and the palate has the acidity obvious. Somewhat dilute in character, there is vinosity and good length of presence on the palate. 16.5+/20 Rated 12th (last), and thought of as a N.Z. wine.
Described as "weedy and stewed” by some tasters, and identified as a Croze-Hermitage by one, this was rated 7th by the group and generally identified as a N.Z. wine.
Wine 4: Dry River Martinborough Syrah 1997
Dark, deep, mahogany-garnet red colour, this has a complex, aromatic nose of cigar-box, cedar and tea, with red floral fragrances, along with notes of liquorice and oak spice. An elegant wine on palate, this has full, fruit expression, showing pepper and violetty florals and oak cedar, along with fresh, lively acidity. The fruit is showing complex nuances of development, and is supported by fine-grained tannins. The wine is an attractively perfumed one that should keep well for another 3-5 years. 18.5-/20 In 5th= place for me, I saw the wine have French and Australian characteristics.
A difficult wine to agree on, some seeing floral attractiveness, other baked and oxidised flavours. Rated 8th= by the group and undetermined as to origin.
Wine 5: Penfolds ‘Grange' 1997
Very full, impenetrable black-red in colour, this has a huge, massive, fully-ripened, rich and lusciously expressed nose of spicy black fruits' liquorice and chocolate lifted by volumes of sweet American oak touched with some acceptable volatility. A little hint of TCA detectable. A powerful wine on palate with strong, sweetly ripe black fruits, eucalypt, liquorice, spices and sweet, lifted coconutty American oak flavours, this was framed by a massively robust and dry, tannic structure that makes this a powerful statement wine with a very long and sustained finish. A slight drying of the fruit and the spectre of cork-taint detracts a little making it a somewhat rustic in the final analysis. 18.5/20 Rated 4th for me, and picked as Penfolds ‘Grange'.
Easily described as in the ‘Grange' style. Some tasters were put off by the cork taint, and one taster strongly against the monumental style, much preferring an elegant approach to the variety that resulted in florality. Rated 8th= by the group who saw it as clearly Australian.
Wine 6: Guigal ‘Chateau d'Ampuis' Cote-Rotie 1997
Dark, deep, black-hearted red, still reasonably youthful in appearance. This has a lighter bouquet of milk chocolate, soft, savoury red fruits and cedary, spicy oak, totally mellow, integrated and harmonious. Fully-integrated on palate, this has soft, milk chocolate, cedary oak and gentle savoury red fruits all in balance. There is just enough acidity for freshness to enliven the palate. While genuinely vinous, there seems to be a lack of real expression, and the delicacy bordering on attenuation. Has this matured too far? 17.0-/20 Ranked 9th=, and deemed to be from N.Z. for me.
This polarised tasters in the group too, some seeing delicacy and beautiful maturity, others disappointed by the non-descript nature. For the group, this was ranked 6th and thought to be French in origin.
Wine 7: Jaboulet ‘La Chapelle' Hermitage 1997
Dark hearted garnet colour with a amber-browning edge, this has a soft, mature and integrated nose with depth and volume of brown fruits, spices, cedar and a little inkiness. Still tightly bound and concentrated on palate, this is packed with dense flavours of black fruits, chocolate and ink, showing full ripeness of flavour. Fine tannins provide a soft, fine texture, but there is excellent depth and fresh acidity still. The flavour profile is showing a plateau, but this will keep well. 18.0-/20 My ranking 8th, and guessed to be Australian.
The ripeness level of this wine suggested it was an Australian to many of the tasters. Nearly over-ripe with black plum and raspberry jam were comments made. Rated 4th by the group and identified (incorrectly) as an Australian wine.
Wine 8: Guigal ‘La Landonne' Cote-Rotie 1997
Very dark, black-red, near impenetrable in colour, some youth to the appearance. This has a very fine, tight and intensely deep bouquet of ripe black fruits, earth and cedar, with an almost ethereal expression of floral perfumes behind the fruit. Full-bodied, this has concentrated, lusciously sweet, ripe black fruits beginning to open out and broaden. Black pepper, spices and hints of dark dried herbs intermingle with spicy, cedary oak. The structure is definite and makes this aserious wine that is showing complexity and still has the potential to develop further. 19.0-/20 Ranked 2nd and correctly guessed as ‘La Landonne'.
The tasters in the group saw similar aspects of ripe dark fruits, cassis and pepper, as well as new oak. There was
agreement on the powerful structure of the wine. Rated 5th by the group and seen as French.
Wine 9: Te Mata ‘Bullnose' Hawke's Bay Syrah 1997
Deep, dark hearted black-red with a pale edge to the colour, this has a fresh, elegant nose with bright dark berry fruits, spices, minerals and a little oak showing. Elegantly proportioned on palate, this is a wine of great beauty and aromatic character, luscious with exotic black and red fruits and florals as well as riper, liquorice nuances. The tannins are in the background and fresh acidity provides excellent tension. This is just starting to drink well now. 18.5+/20 Rated 3rd and thought to be French.
This was seen as very elegant too by the group of tasters, the wine appearing youthful, showing primary fruitiness and a ‘peacock's tail'. Some agreed they could detect a little cork taint. Rated 11th by the group and generally identified as a French wine.
Wine 10: Guigal ‘La Turque' Cote-Rotie 1997
Very dark, deep, black-hearted red, youthful in appearance. This had a fullish nose of ripe, lush sweet red and dark berry fruits along with cedary, spicy oak aromas, finely expressed and with excellent depth. On palate, the richness and luscious nature of the ripe red berry fruit flavours are the feature. Notes of chocolate and exotic spices fill the palate, and are framed within a well-structured, but fine-grained grip. Sweetly fruited and very finely textured resulting in elegance. 18.5-/20 Ranked 5th=, and thought to be Australian by me.
This was seen to show distinctive orange peel characters as well as eucalypt, spicy oak and cedar. All agreed on its elegance and beauty. Ranked 2nd by the group and identified as French.
Wine 11: Torbreck ‘RunRig' Barossa Valley 1997
Impenetrable, fully saturated black-red in colour, this has a beautifully fine, but incredibly intense nose of ripe and sweet black fruits and liquorice, enveloped by a mass of sweet oak vanilla aromatics. On palate this has very concentrated flavours of ultra-ripe spicy black berry fruits with notes of chocolate, liquorice and pepper alongside sweet oak. The textures are very refined and satiny smooth, but with real depth to underline the richness of the fruit. This will be able to be kept another 15-20 years. An incredibly refined, sweetly ripe, succulent wine with great structure. 19.5+/20 Ranked 1st and identified as Australian.
The extreme quality of the wine was generally accepted, though one taster found it excessive in ripeness and oak, taking the variety well-beyond its natural beauty. The style however was accepted by the others, and Penfolds ‘RWT' was suggested as the identity. Rated 1st by the group.
Wine 12: Guigal ‘La Mouline' Cote-Rotie 1997
Dark, deep hearted black-red in colour, this has a very soft, refined and elegant nose of fragrant red berry fruits with spices, cedar, milk chocolate, and a little volatile lift, acceptable in style. Beautifully gentle, refined and integrated, this has come together extremely well and is now at its plateau. Delicate red fruits, subtle pepper, milk chocolate and cedary nuances are all presented with a tender nature. The tannins and acidity are all in harmony, and the wine is one of ethereal expression. 18.0+/20 Rated 7th and guessed as French, but possibly N.Z.
Seen by the tasting group as very elegant and with great beauty. Some tasters felt is was classical northern Rhone in expression. Volatile acidity was noted. Rated 3rd by the group and seen as French.
This was a most interesting tasting. Mike Parker explained how the vintage was very highly rated on release of the wines, but with time, this assessment has been downgraded, the wines being good to very good rather than excellent. Most tasters felt the wine were forward in maturity, the flavours heading into the secondary spectrum. While some of the wines were fully mature or even past their best, a number were still relatively youthful with the potential to keep.
The identification of the origin of the wines was much more difficult than anticipated. The French and New Zealand wines were readily mixed and confused, though the New Zealand wines, based on only three examples, were lighter in weight and generally a little more aromatic. The two Australian wines were very easy to identify by way of their extreme ripeness and powerful oaking. Not being told how many wines from each country were in the tasting, a number of tasters would have been searching for cooler-climate examples from Australia, hence any of the French wines with strong oaking may have been perceived as Australian-like in character. This was certainly the case with the two lighter Guigal ‘La La' wines which received 42 months maturation in new French oak casks. These wines displayed strong cedar and vanilla overtones along with milk chocolate notes, which border on and run into the eucalypt spectrum, thus making separation more difficult.
In identifying individual wines, the most powerful were the easiest to pick. For Australia, no other wine has the sheer muscular size, thus it was clear. As with the Guigal ‘La Las', ‘La Landonne' is the darkest in fruit character, and along with the signature oak, was relatively easy to identify. In a similar vein, the riper, sweeter black fruits could have enable identification of the Jaboulet ‘La Chapelle' as being from a different appellation? The New Zealand wines were examples of some of the earlier quality expressions of Syrah, and their lighter nature and signature styles had not yet been developed. This could be a good reason for not coming up with these wines identities. However, the Guigal ‘La Las' performed exactly as they should have. ‘La Mouline' was the lightest and most ‘feminine, ‘La Turque' the most exotic, and ‘La Landonne' the most powerful and darkest fruited of the three. Interestingly, Viognier was not mentioned openly even though a number of the wines – including the Torbreck ‘RunRig' had the variety in the blend. It could be argued that with maturity, the Viognier component has harmonised and integrated with the wine. Is this by way of co-fermentation?
This was a most interesting tasting, looking at Syrah and Shiraz with nearly 15 years of age on them. The variability between such diverse wines as presented could be expected, but the remarkable consistency of behaviour of the best wines can be applauded. Thank you Mike!