I’ve always loved New Zealand wines, especially their crisp, refreshing sauvignons and pinot gris but their reds have been a bit of a gamble unless you were a massive fan of pinot noir which I aint! Don’t get me wrong, it’s OK but even the top end Burgundies at ridiculous prices have always left me wanting more, and too many of the New Zealand ones were just a bit too thin. There’s always been a smattering of Bordeaux styles such as merlot and cabernet coming out of the land Down Under but other than in exceptional years, they’ve tended to be a bit leafy and tannic for me. Recently, however, the North Island has started to gain a deserved reputation for fairly classy syrahs, many of which show the same spicy, peppery characteristics of a top end hermitage and that’s about as good a compliment as you can pay any wine region.

I last took a serious look at New Zealand syrah about six years ago and to be honest, most of them were brutal.

They tasted like green salads with an overdose of black pepper and brutal tannins that left my tongue feeling like it had been sanded down. Wow, have they changed though, most noticeably in that they have fruit these days, the tannins have softened and careful use of oak to mature the wines has added creamy vanilla to take the edge off the spices. In short, they have come of age and the Rhone Valley needs to watch its back or it will be in danger of losing its place on the podium.

Elephant Hill Reserve Syrah, New Zealand

Rich Blackberry and ripe cherry aromas leading into a smooth but full bodied palate with pepper, violets and soft vanilla. There’s a lovely toasty oak finish. All in all, this is a classy wine indeed.

Corney & Barrow £30.95

Tin Pot Hut Syrah, New Zealand

A kitchen cupboard full of flavours with black pepper, cinnamon, chocolate and plums with silky tannins. Quite exceptional for the price.

Villeneuve Wines £20