Man O' War, Dreadnought Syrah, Waiheke Island

Man O War Syrah vineyard

Richard picks a favourite Kiwi example of the variety he is determined to champion.

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From NZ$49.99, AU$46.99, £29.70, €34.99, 11,760 Hungarian forints, HK$345, $49, 180 UAE dirhams, SG$106

I am starting the roaring '20s as I mean to go on: with Syrah.

After a recent trip to New Zealand (as well as regular visits to the northern Rhône), I am increasingly convinced that Syrah is a variety that could topple Pinot Noir from its current throne of trendiness. A full explanation will follow in a separate article (including more than 50 tasting notes on NZ's best Syrahs), but suffice to say that I came back with multiple candidates for this wine of the week slot, including examples from Te Mata, Trinity Hill, Dry River, Villa Maria and others.

I selected Man O' War's Dreadnought Syrah for three reasons. Firstly, it is a wine I have followed for over a decade, and the mini-vertical I tasted at the winery reassured me of both its consistency and its ageability. Secondly, and more prosaically (but no less importantly), a decent range of vintages is widely distributed around the world.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Dreadnought is an ideal wine to exemplify Syrah's greatness.

For me, great Syrah generally has several distinct qualities: powerful black fruit that is ripe but not jammy (the latter being more characteristic of Shiraz – an important distinction); fragrant black-pepper spiciness; plus meaty, leathery, smoky complexity that develops with maturity. There are many variations on these core themes (including herbal flavours from fermentation on stems, and varying degrees of oak influence) but when they are combined, Syrah is unique among grapes – and Dreadnought Syrah from Man O' War captures these characteristics with beautiful fidelity.

Man O War Dreadnought Syrah bottle shot

The grapes are grown on Waiheke Island, a ferry ride away from Auckland on New Zealand's North Island. Man O' War have 10 ha (25 acres) of the variety planted across ten different sites, using vineyard names such as 'madman' and 'asylum' to indicate the challenges of the steep-slope viticulture they practise (as pictured). They first planted the variety in 1998, and employ a variety of clones and sites to bring complexity to their blends.

Man O' War is the name given to the bay you can see at the bottom of these vineyards, originally conferred by Captain James Cook, who 'upon sighting the ancient stands of magnificent kauri trees ashore, noted in his journals that they would make ideal masts for the Man O’ War warships of the Royal Navy', according to the winery's website.

Steep vineyard at Man O War

Dreadnought is their mid-tier blend, above the estate-level Syrah, newly packaged with a white label, but below the gold-labelled Kulta range, which represents their very best barrels. Since the 2012 vintage, Dreadnought has generally been fermented with around 15% whole clusters, and is increasingly aged in untoasted barrels, including some acacia as well as oak, which they find reduces harsh wood tannins while still contributing flavour.

The results, in every vintage that I have tasted, is archetypal Syrah. What I especially appreciate is the equality between ripe primary fruit, peppery spice and those leathery, meaty secondary flavours. Even the newly bottled 2018 is bursting with layers of immediate complexity. Across all vintages, only once have I scored it below 17 out of 20 (I gave 16.5 to the 2016), but have gone above that score three times.

For such consistent excellence, the £30/$35 price tag seems entirely justified, and is far better value than most Côte Rôties at the price. For those already enamoured of Syrah, Dreadnought will satisfy your cravings. For the unconverted, Dreadnought is the perfect way to discover why the roaring '20s will be Syrah's decade.

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