Craggy Range must have a very strong and loyal client base, because if you have purchased wine reasonably regularly, you’re probably a member of the ‘Deep Purple Wine Club’ and you’ll get a complimentary invitation to a club day out at the ‘Giants‘ winery on the road to Waimarama near Havelock North. This year, Craggy Range conducted their third ‘Deep Purple Club’ day, and they expected 700 guests to arrive. My purchase of a selection of Craggy Range ‘Prestige’ wines clearly qualified me and my partner Sue to a treat. Places were limited, and it was a ‘first-in’ basis to come along and enjoy the extensive programme.
It’s a Craggy Range showcase and extravaganza, where a selection of new, current, library and yet-unreleased wines are offered for tasting, at food stations, where match food morsels are served. (I have notes on each station following.) And then there’s the workshops and tastings, which this year included ’10 Years of Te Muna Pinot Noir’, the ‘Bordeaux Battleground’ which I attended, a tasting and en primeur offer of the 2011 ‘Prestige’ wines, a ‘Celebration of Te Muna Road’ with a selection of the different varieties from there, and masterclasses involving oysters and ‘Firstlight’ meats. All of the staff were present working and enjoying themselves. You could meet up with and talk to owners Terry or Mary-Jeanne Peabody, winemakers Steve Smith MW or Matt Stafford, sales and marketing personnel based in Europe and Australia and the talented team at the ‘Terroir’ restaurant.
I asked communications manager Natalie Corkery “How can Craggy Range be so generous putting on such an extravagant event at no cost to the attendees?” Her answer was that this was the major marketing exercise planned annually, and that the response and return from it compensated extremely well, so less is allocated to traditional forms of promotion. As an attendee, I can believe it. The queues to place their orders for wine at the end of the day were very long indeed, and many cases of wine were sold! www.craggyrange.com
Steve Smith MW
Craggy Range Director of Wine & Viticulture
The Wine and Food Stations
The ‘Avery’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012 was refined, tight, near-austere, with an amalgam of gooseberry fruit and plenty of mouthwatering minerally flavours, presented with great linearity. In comparison, the ‘Te Muna Road’ Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012 possessed more weight, texture and presence, with layers of richer detail, showing the influence of oak fermentation. Broader by degrees and with structure.
I was very impressed with the ‘Gimblett Gravels’ Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2011, ultra smooth and even, with sumptuous and succulent black plum and berry fruits and nuances of spice and cedar. This has a completeness to it. I preferred it over the ‘Te Kahu’ ‘Gimblett Gravels’ Hawke’s Bay 2011, which was more firm and driven by the blackcurranty Cabernet Sauvignon component. This is grainier and bigger, but needs a little more time. It’s a bit of a turnaround, as with the 2010s, I liked the ‘Te Kahu’ over the Merlot.
The older ‘Rapaura Road’ Marlborough Riesling 2008 was served first. Very tight and slender, this had elevated acidity and cut, and a combination of lime-like fruit, minerals and the beginnings of secondary toasty complexities. Though also dry, the ‘Te Muna Road’ Martinborough Riesling 2012 seemed positively sumptuous, being warmer in expression with yellow citrus fruits and fuller mouthfeel with appropriate weight. The poise between sweetness and acidity was a real delight.
The red on offer was the ‘Gimblett Gravels’ Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2010, showing lovely elegance for this cooler vintage in the region. Rather than showing green, it has always been aromatic, and here it had developed more interest with Asian spices, black pepper, bacony and smoke building. The integration and smooth texture was excellent.
Older vintages of Riesling and Syrah were served; I missed their initial opening but I came back later to taste two that were remaining. The ‘Rapaura Road’ Marlborough Riesling 2008 had softened, but was still clearly and definitely dry. Gentle honied overtones and the kero-toasty secondary were very prominent, but a baseline of lime fruit was still present. A ‘Gimblett Gravels’ Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2008 was served from a 5.0 Litre format. Luscious and very attractively appealing with supple and lively mouthfeel, this showed distinct secondary earth and game notes to the pepper and spices.
I saw the saline character in the ‘Kidnappers’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2011 that the Craggy Range team always talk about. Tight and linear, purportedly Chablis-like, but without the flintiness for me. But very cutting and refined nevertheless. My choice was the ‘Gimblett Gravels’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2011, more up-front with citrusy fruit and positive oaking, resulting in succulence and nuttiness. Far more traditional, and delicious for it.
The two Pinot Noirs were a contrast. The ‘Te Muna Road’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2011 was all about fragrance and prettiness, light and sweet, with a line of acid zing. There’s more to it than meets the eye. But what you smell is what you get with the ‘Calvert’ Bannockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2010. Dark ripe berry and cherry fruits, lavender and thyme, indulgent plum notes and juicy, but with tannin drive.
There were previews of the ‘Prestige’ ‘LBC’ and ‘Aroha’ wines opened, but it was good seeing these with the other wines in this tier.
Matt Stafford – Craggy Range Winemaker
The ‘Les Beaux Cailloux’ ‘Gimblett Gravels’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2011 will be the last from the Chardonnay vines on the vineyard, as the plants have been pulled out due to leaf roll virus diminishing the yield to uneconomic performance. This was tighter, denser and more intense than the ‘Gimblett Gravels’ Chardonnay 2011, but only by shades. The fruit richness and finesse of structure allied to taut youth will see it go that bit further and display more nuance over time.
I’ve seen the ‘Aroha’ ‘Te Muna Road’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2011 at an earlier tasting, and here it looked just that much richer and riper, definitely into the dark plum and savoury complexity spectrum, but with amazing balanced sweetness and extraction. At the earlier tasting, Steve Smith MW attributed it to the Abel clone predominance. This day, Matt Stafford felt there was a strong influence of 40% whole cluster. Either way, the depth of character showed, but all very seamlessly so.
The star wine and Craggy Range flagship in most people’s eyes, and thus the must-try was the ‘Le Sol’ ‘Gimblett Gravels’ Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2011. Much more refined and elegant than anticipated, with piercing and penetrating aromas and flavours of black and white pepper, Asian spices, black and violet florals and fruits. Seamless through the palate with bright and energetic acidity and tannin finesse. This isn’t in the blockbuster style of the first half of its life, but it’s no shy wallflower either. A most striking wine.
Merlot is the major variety in the company’s ‘Gimblett Gravels’ vineyard and the ‘Sophia’ ‘Gimblett Gravels’ Hawke’s Bay 2011 is the ultimate expression of that grape. Combining incredible spicy intensity and depth, this remains an elegantly proportioned wine with considerable power and drive. Plush and exotic ripe fruit exuding black plums and liquorice, the oaking is opulent, and seductive. This carries an excitement through the palate.
Increasingly, Cabernet Sauvignon seems to be performing ever so more successfully in the Gimblett Gravels. So too is ‘The Quarry’ ‘Gimblett Gravels’ Hawke’s Bay 2011, reflecting this trend, this being somewhat shy initially, but this is a wine that just grows in weight, presence and layers of ripe blackcurrant, cassis and cedar. There is a completeness, balance and harmony that is present, and the feeling is that it could overtake the ‘Sophia’ in the long run.
I can’t wait to see these wines in a more controlled environment, and over a special meal to see if they show and develop as what I see in my impressions.
The tasters were asked by Steve Smith MW to pick their top three wines, and if possible, identify the country of origin. As can be seen, my top three were two of the Napa Valley wines, with a claret in third. For the group as a whole, a Bordeaux wine, Ch. Pichon Baron 2008 was adjudged the clear leader, with the three Napa Valley and the Craggy Range ‘Sophia’ 2010 coming in at the next level of preference. On this occasion, the sweetness of ripe fruit and the higher alcohols of the Napa Valley wines won the day! Was I taken in by the strength, linearity and oaking of the straight Napa Valley Cabernets which may have overshadowed the softer Merlot-based wines? The overall standard and range of quality of all the wines, however, was very compact and at a very high level. I certainly found the exercise a difficult one, and many people fared better than I did. Here are my brief comments on the nine wines served blind:
Bordeaux Battleground – N.Z. vs Napa Valley vs Bordeaux