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Craggy Range ‘Prestige Release’ 2013 ‘Aroha’, ‘Le Sol’ and ‘Sophia’

By May 19, 2015No Comments

Matt Stafford, chief winemaker and Mary-Jeanne Hutchinson, director

When a wine producer such as Craggy Range, who can pull rabbits out of a hat with outstanding wines made in the most challenging vintages, says that 2013 is the “vintage of a generation”, then discriminating wine drinkers can expect some sensational releases. The portents have been particularly good for the 2013 ‘Prestige Collection’ from Craggy Range.

Last year, I participated in a tasting of barrel samples of varietal components of the flagship ‘Sophia’ Merlot-based wine. I rated the Merlot component and proposed final ‘Sophia’ blend with provisional 20.0/20 scores (click here to see my report). Being barrel samples, this was really an academic exercise, but still, an indication of the potential of these wines. In April this year, I reviewed the 2013 ‘Gimblett Gravels Vineyard’ releases of ‘Te Kahu’, Merlot and Syrah (click here to see my reviews), and again, the superlative quality of these wines indicated what was in store with the ‘Prestige Collection’.

For Craggy Range’s owners, the Peabody family, director Steve Smith MW and chief winemaker Matt Stafford, the 2013 ‘Prestige Collection’ is the culmination of the work since Craggy Range first released their wines 12 years ago. The 2013 ‘Prestige Collection’ reflects the perfect growing season and harvesting conditions for that year, the growing vine age, and the accumulated viticultural and winemaking experience of the staff. www.craggyrange.com

A Preview of the 2013 ‘Prestige Collection’ Wines
I was privileged to participate in a media preview tasting of the 2013 Craggy Range ‘Prestige Collection’ wines presented by family director Mary-Jeanne Hutchinson and chief winemaker Matt Stafford at the ‘Giants’ winery. Mary-Jeanne discussed the journey her family had taken to establish Craggy Range and the aims to make world class wines. Matt emphasised the determination to keep true to the Craggy Range style, avoiding the temptation to make over-ripe styles by picking in cool conditions and earlier, the fruit fully-ripened by all criteria. Both Mary-Jeanne and Matt were proud to have made wines that might be seen once in every 25 years, and wines that could be regarded as pinnacles. The wines are due for release on 1 June. I will have the opportunity of tasting these for ‘Feature Reviews’, for publishing near the end of June. Here, I offer my notes from the preview tasting.

Craggy Range ‘Aroha’ ‘Te Muna Road Vineyard’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2013 
Very dark, moderately deep ruby-red colour with youthful purple hues, lighter on rim. The nose is tightly concentrated with rich, deep and ripe fruit aromas of dark red and black cherry fruit, with lifted primary notes, but showing savoury stalk and dried herb aromas from whole cluster and Abel clone. The fruit is complexed by soft violet perfumes and dark herbal elements, and shows a rawness of youth. Medium-full bodied, concentrated, ripe, dark red berry and cherry fruit flavours are entwined with dark herbs and savoury stalk nuances and a hint of pepper. The fruit is vibrantly sweet and luscious, full if vitality, with soft, ripe acidity lending a satiny line. Fine-grained, flowery tannins support the fruit and provide a soft, supple fleshiness. The extraction builds to a deep core and line, carrying the sweet fruit to very long cherryish finish. This expresses Martinborough, Abel and whole cluster signature with wonderfully vibrant fruit, along with balanced structure and soft acidity. Match with poultry and pork dishes and Asian fare over the next 8-10 years. Approx. 40% each clones 114 and Abel, and 20% 667 from 5 ha of the top terrace of the ‘Te Muna Road’ vineyard, given a cold soak and indigenous yeast fermented with 40% whole clusters to 13.4% alc, the wine spending a total of 15-21 days on skins and aged 11 months in 32% new French oak barriques. 1,000 dozen made. 19.0+/20 May 2015 RRP $99.95

Craggy Range ‘Le Sol’ ‘Gimblett Gravels Vineyard’ Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2013
Very dark, black-purple red colour, near impenetrable, very youthful in appearance. The nose is very elegant and refined, but tightly concentrated with intense aromas of black berried fruits, with hints of blue fruits intermixed with black pepper, iron-earth minerals and Asian spices. Black and violet florals lift the aromatics. This has finesse and restraint, and stylish intensity to the aromatics. Medium-full bodied, the palate is immediately elegant in proportion with a sense of slender lines. The flavours of black berried fruit is, black plums and liquorice show complexing mineral and tar detail, along florals, spices and pepper. Savoury game nuances emerge with aeration. The depth and penetration is a feature. The wine follows a very flowery tannin line, the extraction significant, but refined. The acidity is perfectly integrated, and the palate has tension and drive that carries the flavours to a very long, rich and elegant finish. This is the most beautifully refined ‘Le Sol’ to date. It has elegance and finesse, with intense black fruits, minerals, florals, earth and spices. Match with slow cooked game meat over 10-15 years. 100% MS clone Syrah from ‘Block 14’ of the ‘Gimblett Gravels’ vineyard, fully destemmed and partially indigenous yeast fermented to 13.1% alc., the wine aged 18 months in 32% new French oak barriques. 19.5+/20 May 2015 RRP $99.95

Craggy Range ‘Sophia’ ‘Gimblett Gravels Vineyard’ Hawke’s Bay Merlot/Cabernet 2013 
Dark, deep, near inpenetrable black red colour with youthful purple hues. The nose is sensationally vibrant with powerful and packed aromas of very ripe black berry and black plum fruits along with a subtle cassis layer. The aromatics feature dark red, violet and black florals melded with iron-earth, minerals and tar. This has essence aromas, and the nose is extremely primary in expression, but the varietal detail is already apparent. Medium-full bodied the palate is extremely rich and lusciously succulent with bright, ripe black berried and plum fruits with currants and iron-earth, with lifted florals. Beautiful acidity lends vibrancy and vitality and the mouthfeel is alive with energy and tension. The acidity shows clarity and the palate has drive and linearity. The tannins are powdery and refined, building to provide structure in proportion, balance and harmony. This has underlying power with great elegance. This ‘Sophia’ has remarkable vitality and life, with vibrant primary fruit, great richness and structure. It will age 15+ years. A blend of 62% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot from the ‘Gimblett Gravels vineyard, fermented to 13.8% alc., the wine aged 19 months in 42% new French oak barriques. 20.0/20 May 2015 RRP $72.95

Lunchtime reds at Terroir Restaurant, Craggy Range

Aroha, Le Sol and Sophia at Terroir Restaurant
Following the formal tasting, the attendees had the opportunity of tasting the 2013 ‘Prestige Collection’ wines along with older vintages, matched to a menu designed by Leyton Ashley, head chef of Craggy Range’s ‘Terroir’ restaurant. We were joined by key Craggy Range staff including Steve Smith MW. The lunch enabled diners to see the evolution of the ‘Aroha’, ‘Le Sol’ and ‘Sophia’ wines, putting the latest 2013 releases into perspective, while demonstrating their ability to accompany fine cuisine. I’ve had the pleasure of eating Leyton’s food on a number of occasions, and he always impresses with the thought and detailing, as well as his ability to match his dishes with the wines being served. The matching was indeed excellent, harmonious and intricate. Here is the menu, and a list of the wines served, with brief notes on them.

Amuse Bouche: Oyster, Craggy Range verjus, horseradish ginger
Champagne Barons de Rothschild NV
  • Soft, with weight, lovely range of fruit and positive autolysis and complexity.

Scallop, leek, Jerusalem artichoke, mushroom consomme
Craggy Range ‘Aroha’ ‘Te Muna Road’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2006, 2009 and 2013
  • 2006: now showing some garnet, with a full and dense nose of savoury game, and same on palate with undergrowth and meaty elements. Lovely sweetness to the fruit, integrated tannins and with fine acidity and line still. 18.5+/20
  • 2009: Ruby red colour, and deeply concentrated on bouquet, with bright, ripe red fruits and lifted florals. Lovely sweetness and juiciness of fruit, quite plush, some savoury nutty oak. This has depth and boldness, the palate generous and fleshy. There’s plenty of fruit to burn here, and the structure is present, in support. 19.0+/20
  • 2013: Purple hues to the colour. Fresh and primary, tightly bound, bright fruits with a savoury and herbal edge. Speaks of whole cluster. Youthfully fresh, elegant, raspberry and herbs, supple tannins, hinting sinewy, but essentially smooth and refined. Some slippery, lacy acidity. 19.0+/20
  • The increasing sophistication of the wine can be seen with the inclusion of whole cluster fermentation, greater elegance and structure.
Boudin noir, pine nut, beetroot granite
Craggy Range ‘Le Sol’ ‘Gimblett Gravels’ Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2005, 2009 and 2013
  • 2005: Dark, deep, black-red, the bouquet still firm and tightly concentrated with excellent intensity of black fruits and black pepper, and savoury secondary complexity. Soft textured, but densely packed, lovely smooth integration and flow, but with flavour maturity emerging. 18.5+/20
  • 2009: Still very youthful, black and purple colour. Rich ripe sweet and spicy black fruit aromas, still fresh, lively and lifted aromatically. A fulsome wine with rich sweet fruit and matching structure. Still with a long way ahead. The sweetness of the fruit is the feature and carries through the length of the palate. 19.5/20
  • 2013: Youthfully purple, impenetrable colour. The floral are the highlight, with black red and violet perfumes lifting the black fruit, pepper and spices. Sheer elegance, noticeable lighter and less bold than the 2009, exuding finesse with luscious fruit sweetness. Mineral complexities. Extremely fine-textured. This has great beauty and class. 19.5+/20
  • More a show of age and vintage, the 2005 showing bottle development, the 2009 being riper, sweeter and bigger. The 2013 already has the elegance and more subtle complexing detail.

Lamb loin, celeriac, date, red wine shallot
Craggy Range ‘Sophia’ ‘Gimblett Gravels’ Hawke’s Bay Merlot/Cabernet 2007, 2009 and 2013
  • 2007: Very dark and still youthful in appearance. Tightly bound and elegant with aromatics, perfumes and secondary earth and iron notes to the bouquet. Rich black fruits and considerable power. Proper textures, grip and structure in support. The secondary savoury meat and game emerges and meld with the earthiness. 19.0-/20
  • 2009: Very dark purple-red, still youthful. This has very ripe fruit aromas, sweet dark plums, a little blue fruit with suggestion of raisin? Power and size here. Sweet, bold and plush on palate, the richness the highlight. Fulsome and rounded with balanced structure and extraction. The fruit and tannin are in excellent proportion and at one with each other. Ages to go. 19.0+/20
  • 2013: Very youthful purple, The tightness and primary expression is clear and the aromatics show vibrancy, focus and clarity. Gorgeous aromatics of youth. Tightly bound on palate, black plums, blackcurrants and sweet florals. Very fine-grained tannins and fresh acidity and lift resulting in great finesse. The sheer vitality moves one. 20.0/20
  • The clarity and beautiful liveliness is the standout feature of the 2013. It’s not about ripeness or size, and is very individual and elegant, thus different to the earlier vintages.

Matt Stafford, chief winemaker and Steve Smith MW, director

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