Another of our Top 10 Tastings that became postponed in this crazy up and down levels computer game of Auckland life that we’re currently in. But. We got there and last night settled down to a superb collection of Syrahs from across New Zealand. All wines were opened a couple of hours before tasting and kept just below room temperature before serving blind.

An interesting note is that we had about one in five bottles under cork, and of those, one bottle – a 2019 vintage no less – was corked, sadly. Three of the Top 10 tasting placings were sealed with a cork.

I’ve spent a bit of time looking into New Zealand Syrah, and I love the aromatic lift of the best examples – lower extraction and a more supple approach to the balance and finesse on show. We’re not making Shiraz here and an alignment more to the Rhone Valley – even to the northern styles there, where elegance and delicacy are prized over inky depth and blackness of fruit. In some cases it was very Pinot Noir-like as the wines show savoury elements like truffle, herbs and iodine earthiness. A bit of whole bunch complexity can add real personality if it works, but overall, the winners here were wines that balanced big fruit without getting too heavy, and kept tannins and acidity in line.

A little chill was used in the serving – wines put into a not-too-cold fridge for a 45-minute spell before pouring. I thought this worked well and can recommend it. Also, as I write this, it’s the day after, and a couple of wines have been decanted to enjoy across the weekend. These wines have bloomed. It’s not possible to decant wines for tasting in a big event like this one, but at home you should definitely consider it. Old fashioned, maybe. Improves the wines, definitely.

Here’s the WineFolio Top 10…

1. The Landing Syrah 2017.

Aromatic and sweet-fruited with black cherry and boysenberry aromas. Elegant with a rich, plush palate of plum, liquorice and dark, peppery spices. Concentrated, with soft rounded tannins and integrated vanilla-infused oak. Quartz mineral, and a tobacco leaf smokiness towards the voluptuous lengthy finish.

The Landing Syrah 17

2. Radburnd Cellars Syrah 2018.

Deep, dark and purple-hued, and with bright varietal aromas of plum, blackcurrant, mocha and warm spices, Approachable, with a tautness and tension. Balanced weight, acidity and concentration across the mid palate. A spine of supple tannins, and a nuance of well-integrated oak. A silken texture, building to a lengthy, drying, spicy finish. The phrase “serious” cropped up in a couple of notes.

3. Church Road TOM Syrah 2015.

Deep, brooding, inky burgundy. Plenty of fleshy, ripe fruit on the nose, with wood smoke and savoury notes of olive tapenade and fennel. The palate is medium-bodied, not overly weighty and has great balance and easy-going swagger for a structured wine with such deep complexity. Oak is big but nicely judged – oozes a little old-world, Rhone-like finesse and power.

TOM Syrah 15

4. Terrace Edge Waipara Syrah 2015.

This wine gave us “cause to pause” as one judge said. Dark and nicely weighted, with classic perfume of lilac, raspberry and plum. Smooth and well integrated, showing a little oak warmth. Shows savoury, meaty, almost ‘marmite’ notes alongside the deep, rich sweeter fruits. Tannins are svelte and the whole thing is just ready and primed to go.

5. Ka Tahi Rangatira Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2019.

Under cork, a fragrant expression, with violets, white pepper, herbal mint, damson and red cherry. Enticing, medium-bodied and with a youthful freshness and a fine tannin profile. Spiced with a chorizo, gamey, leather savouriness, a slightly tar and resinous earthen note; and finishes drier and concentrated.

Ka Tahi Rangatira 19

6. Church Road ‘1’ Syrah 2018.

One of our panel wrote “yum” as their first word in their notes for this elegant, vivid, single vineyard wine. A little boisterous and jazzy now, but built with structure and intensity to last. Good, forward, line of acidity and ‘easy to love’ also featured in our report. Floral and bursting with cherry, bramble and spiced red plum.

7. Mills Reef Elspeth Syrah 2016.

Thyme, bayleaf, mulberry and violet floral lift on the nose. Touch of barnyard earthiness adds personality and it’s quick to open up and embrace you with a spicy, rounded texture and smooth, fine tannins. Long, sweetening finish.

Mills Reef Elspeth Syrah

8. Man O War Dreadnought Syrah 2018.

A bold, deeply flushed burgundy colour, and vibrant cherry, berry and herbal notes on the nose. Savoury, mineral and also with a green sap and moss line that balances nicely with the ripe, succulent fruit. Tannins with a little grip, and the oak is toasty, vanilla and warming. Good length with a smooth finish.

ManOwar Dreadnought Syrah

9. Church Road Grand Reserve Syrah 2018.

Spicy on the nose, with clove, cigar box, dark fruits and rosehip. Balanced structure – supple tannins and medium, acidity. Rich, deep with focus and precision. Staying power in the glossy, peppery finish.

Church Road Grand Res 18

10th place was shared by five wines on the same points:

• Elephant Hill Airavata Syrah 2017
Paritua Syrah 2018
Leveret Estate Reserve Syrah 2015
Trinity Hill ‘Homage’ 2018
Elephant Hill Reserve Syrah 2017

WineFolio Top 10 Tasting of NZ Syrah

Elephant Hill Airavata 17
Paritua Syrah 18
Trinity Hill Homage 18
Elephant Hill Syrah

Congratulations to all the Top 10 winners. The standard of entries was generally high – 19 of the wines received were at Silver Medal standard.

We’ll return later in the year with another Winefolio Top 10 Tasting – probably our postponed Pinot Noir Tasting that we had planned for winter last year.