I came home from walking my ageing German shepherd the other day to find our three chickens had figured out how to use the cat door and had free-ranged themselves through the house.
Before I could stop her, the dog burst in and left muddy tracks all over the carpet as she tried to "help" me herd the chickens outside. So as I shuffled from one room to another armed with a roll of paper towels to deal with any donations the chooks had left behind. I discovered (thanks to a trail of blood and fur down the hallway) two-thirds of a baby rabbit in the bath, courtesy of the cat. Rural life is excellent.
National Roast Day last week was great, wasn't it? We had friends around. My husband roasted his first duck - not the one living in our swimming pool but one from the Asian supermarket down the road.
It took three hours. It was delicious, but there was stuff-all meat on it, so next time he'll do two.
We also cooked two chooks - not our ones, although I was very tempted now that they were officially trespassers - and a leg of lamb.
We drank chardonnay, pinot noir and merlot and it was all very lovely. But this week I've had a hankering for high-quality syrah.
I wanted to see what was on offer if you had a little bit of cash on hand and I've found a selection spanning both islands that will put spice in your step and hairs on your chest - which reminds me, Father's Day is just around the corner.
Syrah, in case you were wondering, is exactly the same grape as shiraz and it's one of the top-10 most-planted grapes in the world. In New Zealand, Hawke's Bay and Waiheke Island are seen as the places to be to grow the good stuff.
Any syrah purveyor worth their pepper would agree that you'd have to have been living under a rock for the past decade not to know about the incredible success Craggy Range and Bilancia have had with their flagship wines Le Sol and La Collina.
CRAGGY RANGE LE SOL SYRAH 2010, $99
Big dollars are at play but this will go down as one of the great vintages. Grown in the Gimblett Gravels, it smells like venison fillet dusted with cocoa nibs then sizzled on a chargrill and served with spiced cherry jus.
Elegant, yet built on a muscular frame of acid and tannin bound together with concentrated black fruit and warm, silky alcohol. This is a serious wine with decades of potential.
BILANCIA LA COLLINA SYRAH 2009, $95
This should be dubbed a national treasure. So dark and glossy that it could be, I imagine, the blood of a vampire queen if you were into that sort of thing.
It boasts exotic, seductive clove and allspice aromas with a seam of stonefruit from a splash of viognier, violet, rosemary, pepper, anise - it's hard to know where to stop really because this wine is incredibly generous in the glass, a gift that keeps on giving, a mille-feuille of dark fruits, savoury spices, sweet oak and fine-grained tannins. Outstanding.
THE HAY PADDOCK SYRAH 2008, $75
From Waiheke Island, this has a gamey, earthy, cocoa-driven nose and toasted coconut, dark, concentrated berry and plum flavours, followed by a deliciously silky texture, smoky spices and a lovely, meaty character on the finish.
Another year or three in the cellar would reveal some more layers, I expect.
The Hay Paddock Silk Syrah 2010 (their second-tier label) was awarded a gold medal in the shiraz category at the Boutique Wine Awards announced last week by the Association of Australian Boutique Winemakers - a huge achievement.
MILLTON VINEYARD THE CRUCIBLE SYRAH 2009, $58
A world-class syrah sourced from the tiny Clos de Ste Anne vineyard in Gisborne.
This organic, biodynamically produced pearl has intriguing aromas of soy, peppercorns, nori and roasted game meats. In the mouth there's juicy dark plum and layers of exotic spices followed by sexy, chewy tannins and stunning length of flavour. Syrah is a tricky variety to grow well and requires solid heat during the day and even temperatures at night. If your vineyard is too cool then the syrah can sometimes turn out a tad vegetal or begin to show a distinct tamarillo taste.
That hasn't stopped the southern men from having a crack and I've found (providing the site is right) that there are some stunning syrahs hailing from the mainland.
WAIMEA ESTATE NELSON SYRAH 2011, $25
If you like chocolate-covered liquorice, you'll love this. You'll also like the ripe plum-and-spice flavours and soft, silky texture - a great everyday syrah.
FROM LA STRADA SYRAH 2009, $36
For something more serious, try this syrah from Marlborough.
An inky wine showing subtle white pepper, red fruits and sweet smoke on the nose and a burst of warm spices, soused currants and liquorice in the mouth. Generous tannins and solid length of flavour make this a very good example indeed.
GEORGES ROAD BLOCK ONE SYRAH 2011, $26
Brand new and packed with potential is this syrah from Waipara, North Canterbury.
With a fantastic lift of freshly cracked pepper, black cherry and violets on the nose, concentrated fruit, fresh acidity and nicely integrated, stretchy tannins and a long, smoky finish.
"I think the key to good syrah in Canterbury is not about ripening the fruit,but managing the crop level," says owner/winemaker Kirk Bray. "Syrah is a vigorous vine which left unchecked produces large, open bunches and lots of them. I get around one bunch a shoot and I look to limit the white pepper and herbal notes found in many cool-climate syrahs.
"I try to aim for a more elegant style of syrah, more like a fine burgundy if you like, alcohol not too high and with restrained oak in the background rather than dominating. This suits Waipara, I reckon".
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