Hawke’s Bay Syrah ‘made like Pinot Noir’

Hawke’s Bay Syrah has more in common with the delicacy of Pinot Noir than the power of Shiraz, according to one key winemaker in the New Zealand region.

Hawke’s Bay is home to 90% of New Zealand’s Syrah plantings

Speaking to db during a recent visit to New Zealand, Warren Gibson, the winemaker at leading Hawke’s Bay Syrah producer Trinity Hill, said:

“Hawke’s Bay Syrah has a distinctive varietal character. We’re thinking more of Pinot Noir when we make Syrah as you get a lot of variation depending on where it’s planted. A lot of people talk about Pinosity with regards to Hawke’s Bay Syrah.

“We go for gentle winemaking in order to get the light and shade from the grape. We’re looking for beauty and fragrance rather than bringing out its dark side.

Warren Gibson of Trinity Hill in Hawke’s Bay

“Syrah is exciting for us as it’s a grape that really says ‘I come from Hawke’s Bay’. You get lovely notes of cracked pepper, violets, spice and liquorice in the Syrahs, which is unique to this region.

“We’re trying to tell the story that we’re a Pinot Noir-style Syrah with a lot of nuance. With Hawke’s Bay Syrah we have an opportunity to bring something new to the table as the wines really show off their sub-regional character.”

According to Gibson, cooler vintages in Hawke’s Bay produce Syrahs with greater ageing potential.

“You get a black olive tapenade character and more lifted aromatics in cooler vintages. Hawke’s Bay Syrah can easily age for 10-15 years – our 2002 is still a baby.

“There is a lot of elegance in Hawke’s Bay Syrah as they have soft tannins and notes of fennel and liquorice that aren’t obscured by alcohol.

“We’re at the edge of what’s possible in terms of ripening here. Hanging grapes out for too long is not what we should be doing. The riper you pick the less personality you get.

“There is a lot of red wine in the world, so we need to be making remarkable wines with a lot of personality,” Gibson told db.

He believes Hawke’s Bay Syrah has gained such a revered reputation that it is influencing the cool climate Australian Shirazes from the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula that are coming onto the market, many of which are being labelled as Syrah rather than Shiraz.

Syrah was first planted in Hawke’s Bay in 1984. There are now around 350 hectares in the region – 90% of New Zealand’s Syrah plantings.

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