Hugh Crichton, winemaker at Vidal in Hawke’s Bay must be buzzing. The recent releases of his ‘grand cru’ styled ‘Legacy’ wines have earned exceptional praise with critics and judges both overseas and in New Zealand. I’ve had the fortune of tasting a number of the ‘Legacy’ wines recently, and can categorically state they are among the country’s finest wines. The quality of these wines is backed up by the excellence of the ‘Reserve’ or ‘premier cru’ tiered wines as well as the ‘village-style’ ‘Estate’ wines. Hugh uses the Burgundian hierarchy model as a simple way of explaining the Vidal tiers, but in many ways, the quality of the Vidal wines could fit easily into that if Vidal were an estate in Burgundy. www.vidal.co.nz
It is a trap to fall into to think of Vidal only as a part of Sir George Fistonich’s Villa Maria Estates group. Hugh points out that each of the labels under the Villa Maria umbrella has its own vineyards, a separate winery and a winemaking team that is pretty much autonomous in all facets of their operation. Each winery team makes its own picking decisions and takes its own winemaking options, right down to the temperature of the fermentations and the purchase of barrels for winemaking and aging. That’s why Hugh’s wines have a different style to Gordon Russell’s at Esk Valley, Richard Painter’s at Te Awa, and Nick Picone and Dave Roper’s at Villa Maria, and not forgetting Simon Fell’s Thornbury wines. Where Vidal has gone is largely due to the direction Hugh and his team have taken the wines, both stylistically and qualitatively.
There are enormous benefits in belonging to a group of wineries under the same ownership. Hugh can’t express how positive the collaboration and sharing of experiences and techniques with the other winemakers has had on his own winemaking. One only needs to look at the success of the Villa Maria family of labels to realise that quality breeds more quality. Hugh also stresses the importance of the ‘back office support’, this being the shared administration, marketing and sales support that the Villa Maria group offers to all involved.
Hugh Crichton – Winemaker, Vidal of Hawke’s Bay
Vidal on the Road
All this being said, it has been Hugh that has taken the initiative to reach out to the market to promote what he is doing, and showcase his wines. Sir George Fistonich encourages each of the wineries and their personnel to tell their story, for each story is unique. Hugh has over the last couple of years taken the Vidal wines on a roadshow, tasting them with consumers at retail shops, clubs and from their own database. The theme of the events, is of course, the flagship ‘Legacy’ wines which ae newly or currently released (with the odd special put in too).
I attended the Vidal ‘Legacy’ launch in Wellington at Prefab Hall in Jessie Street. There, Hugh gave a background to the company, his role and an overview of the wines and how they are made. Such events are also an opportunity to ask some of the more difficult or involved questions, and on this night, the subject of complex sulphide reduction in Chardonnay came up. The ‘Legacy’ wines feature the ‘gunflint’ or ‘struck match’ complexities to varying degrees, and it’s a character which can polarise consumers, though it is seen very positively by serious enthusiasts and many wine judges and critics. I really like the character, as long as there is the fruit to back it up. Hugh went on to explain the causes and their degree, attributable to factors such as vintage, natural fermentation and the level of nutrients, as well as vineyard site and winemaking techniques including fermentation with solids. This was riveting stuff (for me, anyway).
Tasting the Wines
Attendees were poured a glass of ‘Legacy’ Chardonnay 2015 (last year’s release) on arrival. Then a more formal sit-down tasting ensued, where the new 2016 ‘Legacy’ Chardonnay was poured. This was to be followed by the ‘Legacy’ Syrah and ‘Cabernet/Merlot 2013 wines, these older wines tasted as there will be no 2015 ‘Legacy’ reds. Hugh and the Vidal team thought the wines from 2015 not up to ‘Legacy’ standard, and the wines were assigned to the ‘Reserve’ range, making them worthy of seeking out as particular bargains. To add extra interest, the 2014 ‘Legacy’ Syrah was included. It was a tasting of stars. Here are my notes on the wines:
Vidal ‘Legacy’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2015
Bright straw-yellow colour. The bouquet is very full and powerful, with deep and densely packed aromas of white stonefruits and a strong layering of gunflint reduction, unfolding nutty oak and creamy barrel-ferment detail. This has concentration plus, with considerable complexity. Full-bodied, the palate exudes sheer power with vibrant flavours of white stonefruits with prominent gunflint reductive notes. The gunflint is backed by nutty and creamy oak elements which add a roundness to the mouthfeel, but the palate retains fresh acid cut. There is soft grip and texture which adds to the presence. This has great drive and linearity, the concentration carrying with great length, revealing some toastiness. A bit of a monster, with strong reductive flavours, but matched by the fruit richness. This is wonderfully balanced. Hugh Crichton calls this a ‘funk bomb’. This will keep another 6 years. Clone 15 Chardonnay from the ‘Lyons’ and ‘Kokako’ vineyards, hand-picked, WBP, and indigenous yeast fermented to 13.5% alc., the wine aged 12 months in 45% new French oak barriques, undergoing batonnage and partial MLF. 525 dozen made. 19.5/20 Aug 2017 RRP $N/A
Vidal ‘Legacy’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2016
Bright, pale straw-yellow colour. The nose is very fine and fragrant, showing white florals and stonefruit aromas, along with delicate nutty notes, and nuances of gunflinty and minerally reduction. The nose is very poised and balanced, showing refinement and finesse. Medium-full bodied, the palate is elegant in proportion, but possesses lovely intensity and penetration. The flavours of stomefruits, florals, nuts, flint and minerals balanced and interwoven, showing subtle sweetness and richness. The fruit, barrel-ferment and minerality are balanced with very fine acidity and the wine flows along a very fine-textured line. The wine carries to a very ling and sustained finish. The finesse and balance lends surprising accessibility, but this will age 4-5 years easily. Clone 15 Chardonnay from the ‘Lyons’, ‘Keltern’ and ‘Kokako’ vineyards, hand-picked, WBP and indigenous yeast barrel-fermented to 13.5% alc., the wine aged 12 months on lees 43% new French barriques and partial MLF. 28 barriques made. 19.5-/20 Aug 2017 RRP $54.99
Vidal ‘Legacy’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2013
Very dark, deep ruby-red with black hues. The bouquet is very fine and elegant in expression, showing finesse and style. This has beautifully ripened blackberry and dark raspberry fruit, along with subtle notes of black pepper, Asian spices and violet florals. With aeration the concentration grows, and unfolds black bruits melded with earth and black minerals. This is pure and complete with great clarity. Medium-full bodied, the palate is firmly packed with an amalgam of ripe black fruits, Asian spices, violet florals and iron-earth nuances. The tannin extraction is very fine-grained and flowery, and there is an underlying freshness and line of acidity adding to the vibrancy and stylishness. Liquorice and black pepper flavours emerge, and the wine flows seamlessly with excellent energy and tension to a very long finish. This is a wine of refinement finesse and wonderful purity and clarity. This will keep 8-10 years. 100% Syrah from the ‘Omahu Gravels’ and ‘Twyford Gravels’ vineyards, fermented to 13.5% alc., the wine spending 28 days on skins and aged 20 months in 40% new French oak. 10 barriques made. 19.5/20 Aug 2017 RRP $N/A
Vidal ‘Legacy’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2014
Very dark, deep, black-hued purple-red colour, youthful in appearance. The nose is full and voluminous with firmly concentrated and deep aromas of ripe blackberry fruit melded with iron-earth and black mineral notes. Black and violet florals unfold, with spice and liquorice elements, black plums and a suggestion of funky reductive mineral complexity. Full-bodied and powerfully presented on the palate, this is solidly concentrated, near-sturdy, but retaining style. The fruit is particularly dense and concentrated, lending remarkable body, weight and presence. The flavours of well-ripened black berried fruits, iron-earth, plums and liquorice are complexed by spice nuances, and show with richness, succulence and lusciousness. The fruit sweetness is balanced by very fine-grained, powdery tannins with considerable extract. The palate caries to a very long, lingering finish. This is a wine for the next 12-15 years. 100% Syrah, 67% from the ‘Omahu Gravels’ and 33% from the ‘Twyford Gravels’ vineyards, fully destemmed and fermented to 13.5% alc., the wine spending 32 days on skins and aged 18 months in 38% new French oak barriques. 500 cases made. 19.5+/20 Aug 2017 RRP $74.99
Vidal ‘Legacy’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2013
Full, even, dark ruby-red colour with youthful purple hues. The bouquet is beautifully elegant and proportioned with deeply intense and finely concentrated aromas of ripe blackcurrants and cassis liqueur with black plums, along with fragrant dark herbs and floral elements. Medium-full bodied, the palate I one of power, drive intensity and linearity allied to taut elegance, finesse and stylishness. The flavours of ripe blackcurrants, blackberries, plums and cassis show with vibrancy and vitality. The fruit is underlined by fine-gained, powdery tannin extraction, and the mouthfeel enlivened by fresh, lacy acidity, which enhances the sweetness and carries the wine to a sustained finish. This has great balance, elegance and vitality, and will age 10-15 years. A blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot from the ‘Anthony Vidal’ and ‘Omahu Gravels’ vineyards in the Gimblett Gravels, fermented to 13.5% alc., the wine spending 27 days on skins and aged 19 months in 50% new French oak barriques. 525 cases made. 19.5/20 Aug 2017 RRP $64.99