October 24, 2014

Craggy Range and the rock star vintage

craggy range

Last month, I was privileged to get a sneak peak at New Zealand’s Craggy Range 2013 vintage wines, including two from the exciting Gimblett Gravels region near Hawkes Bay. According to Steve Smith MW, Craggy Range’s Wine and Viticulture Director, ‘it was the vintage of a generation.’

Just looking at the ripeness alone only tells part of the story. To better understand why ’13 was such pinnacle

vintage, you also need to look at the combination of elements that aligned for this occasion. Firstly, Craggy Range’s vineyards are now well established and this maturity is sitting well with vines that produced the inaugural vintage in 1999. It is particularly apparent in way the difficult 2012 vintage set up the vines for peak performance the following year.

Secondly, 2013 was in Steve’s words ‘a rock star’ vintage, one with no frost and was the warmest on record with low rain. The result was small berries that remained in good health for the entire vintage and ripened fully. Matt Stafford, Chief Winemaker, says that he has never experienced a New Zealand vintage like 2013.

Of course, as Matt reminds us, the human element is very important for the producer. The patriarch of the Peabody family and owner has adopted a unique one thousand year outlook for Craggy Range so gathering the best team for this guardianship is vital. And with American born Terry Peabody’s track record establishing successful companies across not only national borders but in diverse industries from waste management to restaurants, and the family’s passion the future looks very bright indeed.

While the evening’s focus was on the Bordeaux-esque Sophia blend, the white wines from not only Hawke’s Bay but also Martinborough were looking very poised as well.

The Craggy Range Te Muna Road Sauvignon Blanc ($29.95) from Martinborough is one that will encourage diehard Marlborough drinkers to try something new. Having a portion fermented in seasoned French oak has given this wine a savouriness that compliments the passionfruit, thyme, floral and citrus character.

There are two Hawkes Bay Chardonnays from different vineyards, made in different styles. Both offer plenty of pleasure whether you choose the Chablisienne styled version from Kidnapper’s Vineyard ($29.95) with its bacon fat and salt finish or the fuller, more fragrant and creamy version from Gimblett Gravels ($39.95) that proudly cries, ‘I am here, look at me!’

The stars of the 2013 vintage were Craggy Range’s red wines from their Gimblett Gravels vineyard, old clone Le Sol Syrah and the Sophia.   The Gimblett Gravels area is currently one of the most exciting wine regions in New Zealand, especially for Syrah and Bordeaux red wines. Craggy Range has around 100 hectares of vineyard in this small area once denigrated as only being useful as a quarry after the 1876 flooding of the Ngaruroro River changed the course of the river and the farmability of the land by leaving a screed of gravel.

The blend consists of some soft caramel chocolate and plum fruit Merlot with its dried sage, coffee and olive finish that is as intriguing as it is supple. It is one of the best Merlot wines that I have tasted lately. Added to this blend is a warm cedary Cabernet Sauvignon.

The more angular partner, Cabernet Franc, is rich with roses, hessian, dates and plums. The final component is very small but no less pretty graphite, olive, liquorice and plum Petit Verdot that has powdery mouthcoating tannins (also known as Gimblett Dust) and a perfumed finish.

It became clear on this night, that each of the component wines that have been blended for the Sophia 2013 could have been released on its own merits. A shame that you will have to wait until June 2015 to taste it.

This article was first published on www.enobytes.com 

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