It is interesting how people and wines develop similarly in the ways they express themselves. In youth, people make noise to be heard and noticed. Eventually, as they find their place, they are happy to speak at a civil level to interact well. As one matures, a person can be beautifully poetic and even musical in how they come across. One well known Rhone wine-man said that whe he started, he made noise, but now he makes music. And sure enough, what were ‘statement’ wines are now subtle and complex, and even better.
Many, many winemakers throughout the world go through this path. At dinner with The Prince, he pulled out two wines from his cellar, served them blind, and just asked us to say what we thought they were and what we thought of them. No easy task, really!
I will name the wines as I describe my thought processes. The 2005 Peregrine ‘Pinnacle’ Central Otago Pinot Noir was black as black and nearly impenetrable. There was no purple as such, so it had some age. Taut and tightly bound, but with great intensity of black cherry fruit, with considerable earthiness. This had density, substance and presence of fruit. Black herbs, black earth and minerals. Yet the tannins showed some resolution, without giving up structure and body. Just no real grip and furriness of texture. Then the savouries emerged. They were black and concentrated, and all enlivened by crisp acidity. I said Pinot Noir, the wine from New Zealand, the black fruit and freshness saying North Island. But what? It was a monster in the past.
On revealing, the identity, it all made sense. This was Peregrine’s first edition of their super-cuvee to retail over $100.00. It was a low yield year too. The berries were small and the skins relatively thick. My experience of such wines is that with age, they show a cooler herbal and stalky note, especially if not fully ripened. This had none of that. It was bold and glorious wine on release and promised with its potential. It was a loud wine. It was still loud, but now in an unsophisticated way.
Then came the 2002 Craggy Range ‘Le Sol’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Syrah. (Apparently this was a bottle given by me to The Prince, which had to be opened in my presence. It was in remembrance of the late Doug Wisor, young winemaker at Craggy Range, tragically killed.) Another wine that was black as black, but this time with a touch of garnet/brick age on the rim. Tight and quite compressed on bouquet, with ripe black fruits, hints of spice, black-earth, game and savouriness on the nose. Certainly secondary, and dare I think Old World – France? No, I was wrong. I had Rhone Valley on my mind, but couldn’t decide between Syrah (north) or Grenache (south). This was clearly a ‘super-cuvee’ of sorts, and such things as variety can get blurred. A range of flavours emerge, but all the while, that tight heart was there, the residual of what was great concentration. And amazingly resolved tannins, without giving up shape or structure. A softer acidity, too.
On finding out what this was, my Rhone area of thinking was endorsed. The similarity with the previous wine was striking. Both were made as ‘statement’ wines with ripe, but not over-ripe black fruit, plenty of extraction, quite fine-grained of course, and a decent whack of oak. This 2002 eas the second ‘Le Sol’ made. Both were still very fine in quality and strong and concentrated. The black fruits quite monolithic. There was no beauty as in wines made now, to music.