New Zealand syrah

New Zealand syrah: A February masterclass in my New Year review

Here I am then, continuing my reflections of 2021 as a New Year begins – and this exploration of New Zealand syrah wines is a lovely one for me to rediscover.

I’ve been invited to lots of virtual wine-shaped events in the last 18 months.

In 2021 the annual New Zealand Wine Week was tweaked into a virtual exploration because people couldn’t meet face to face.

As part of it, I joined a Syrah Masterclass led by Master of Wine Rebecca Gibb. 

Here’s a taster (well yes, quite apt I guess) from one of my columns which published in February 2021.

Syrah or shiraz. Is there a difference? 

They’re the same grape variety and syrah is the French spelling.

Shiraz is more in line with the English-speaking world and the Australian hot climate ripe wine vibe. 

New Zealand chooses to use the Old World, historical French name. 

It’s not known exactly when the first syrah grapes were planted in New Zealand.

There’s some “what ifs” and “maybes”. 

But around 1900 we know for sure that Italian Romeo Bragato brought syrah cuttings to New Zealand.

He believed half of New Zealand plantings should be that grape variety.

It didn’t exactly happen.

New Zealand syrah
Syrah grapes hang in the Craggy Range vineyard. Picture credit: New Zealand Winegrowers Inc, Craggy Range

Vines languished in a research station for decades and it wasn’t until 1984 when the first modern plantings finally began.

The grape is still only 1% of overall New Zealand production, with Hawkes Bay on the North Island responsible for 78%.

There are some challenges growing this black grape in what is mainly a cool climate region.

New Zealand is on the margin of being able to ripen syrah.

A combination of local factors – weather, soils, location – can make it happen.

Here’s some of the New Zealand syrah wines I tasted along with Rebecca, albeit through the conduit of a computer screen.

Te Mata Estate Syrah 2018, Hawke’s Bay
(£19.99, or £16.99 in a buy six deal at Majestic [February 2021]).

Te Mata is one of the oldest wineries in New Zealand. 

Rebecca describes the Te Mata as “a joyful wine, one it really makes me smile”.

“It’s a charming juicy-fruity wine, with gentle tannins and beautiful bright acidity.” 

The wine was in oak for five months allowing the natural red and black fruit flavours of the grapes to shine through. 

New Zealand syrah with Rebecca Gibb, MW
Rebecca Gibb, MW
Trinity Hill Syrah Gimblett Gravels 2018
(£25, online at Laithwaites [February 2021])

The warming effect of the gravel in the Gimblett Gravels wine district (Hawkes Bay) helps the syrah grapes to ripen.
[Main image, courtesy of Trinity Hill]

Says Rebecca: “What an aromatic wine this is! You can see that lifted, floral, fruit character.

“This is very much about preserving the fruit and allowing the aromatic to shine. 

“The tannins are quite gentle.

“There’s a slight textural note on the finish that tastes of Gimblett Gravels.”

The wine prompted Rebecca’s enthusiasm: “What I love about New Zealand syrah is that natural burst of acidity. 

“These wines always remain fresh and vibrant.”

Craggy Range Syrah Gimblett Gravels

(£23.50, online at for the 2018 vintage [February 2021]).

We tasted the 2019 vintage, which was fresh and young.

Rebecca explained that the 2019 is a vintage to look out for. 

Syrah from 2019, she says, is beginning to show succulence, perfume and vibrancy.

She says: “To me, those words encompass what New Zealand syrah is about.”

Man O’ War Dreadnought Syrah 2017
(£33.40, [February 2021])

This wine is from Waiheke Island, a ferry ride from Auckland. 

It has a warmer climate than other parts of New Zealand but some years the climate can be a wash-out, or other years there can be drought and the soils crack. 

The weather, as always, can be a challenge for wine producers! 

The warmer climate and richer soils has created a weightier wine with a savoury, peaty note.

There’s even a smoky bacon character, suggests Rebecca.

I enjoyed my dip into syrah wines from the other side of the world. 

A Lockdown treat.

This first published in several titles in the North West. Read the full piece online at the Lancashire Post  

LEARN MORE: If you want to discover some of the key grape varieties in the world, why not study for the WSET Level 2 Award in Wines with One Foot in the Grapes 

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