Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Full House

The high profile Craggy Range winery in Hawke’s Bay has its ‘Prestige Collection’ as its flagship.  The wines were first launched with the 2001 vintage at the winery opening, and they were sensational at the time.  The range consisted of the ‘Les Beaux Cailloux’ Chardonnay, ‘Le Sol’ Syrah, ‘Sophia’ Merlot-based blend and ‘The Quarry’ Cabernet Sauvignon predominant wine – all from their Gimblett Gravels vineyards.  If you needed to make a statement of your arrival on the scene, this was the way to do it.  Then later came the ‘Aroha’ Pinot Noir from the company’s vineyards in Te Muna Road in Martinborough, the first being the 2006 vintage.

For several years, this diverse selection of wines was released as a group, and they were looked forward to every year by keen enthusiasts.  But viticulture and vintages being what they are, there’s always a fly in the ointment.  The Chardonnay vines were virussed, necessitating them being pulled up.  So no ’Les Beaux Cailloux’ from 2011.  Also, the growing seasons weren’t hot enough for a number of years, so no The Quarry since 2011.  There was no ‘Aroha’ in 2010.  The ‘Prestige Collection’ looked a bit skimpy’ from then, but true wine lovers knew it was to protect the brand, as well as the consumer.
Come this year, and the 2016 vintages of the ‘Prestige Collection’, and we have a full house!  And the wines are delicious.  The overall style is of greater elegance, something that Craggy Range have wanted to achieve after the blockbusters of the past.  Vintage 2016 had a hand to play too, especially with the Gimblett Gravels wines.  A very cool and wet start to the growing season worried growers – would the fruit get ripe?  Then a super hot autumn meant the ripeness caught up.  I can’t help that think the cooler start have given these wines elegance.  The 2016 ‘Les Beaux Cailloux’ Chardonnay Gimblett Gravels is a concentrated wine, more in thenutty stonefruit spectrum, rather than sweet or gunflinty.  The 2016 ‘Le Sol’ Syrah Gimblett Gravels is a beauty with exotic spices and freshness.  The 2016 ‘Sophia’ Gimblett Gravels is dense and rich plums, classical Merlot, showing oak inputs.  And the 2016 ‘The Quarry’ Gimblett Gravels has clarity of Cabernet Sauvignon fruit with wonderful intensity.

2016 was an outstanding, even growing season in Martinborough, and the 2016 ‘Aroha’ Te Muna Road Martinborough Pinot Noir reflects this with its ripeness, and more importantly its completeness in the way it is constructed and how it flows across the palate. Overall, this is a great release and worthy of the excitement around it.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Going Wild

One of most trusted commercial brands on the shelves is ‘Stoneleigh’ from Marlborough.  Life started out around three decades ago when it was a premium brand for Corbans Wines, Stoneleigh being a special iteration of the Rapaura district, which yielded Sauvignon Blanc with the classic punchy passionfruity thiol character.  The Stoneleigh range grew to incorporate other varieties, of which Riesling was my favourite.  A big change came with the purchase of Corbans by its major competitor Montana in 2000, but the Stoneleigh label was retained due to its strength.  That continues today, with Stoneleigh as a special Marlborough brand, still showcasing the Rapaura style.

Over time, the variations of Stoneleigh wine have grown to fill the niches in the market, with the introduction of Pinot Gris and Rosé, and even Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc.  There is a low-alcohol tier, then the more up-market ‘Latitude’ and ‘Rapaura Series’ levels, the latter being the flagship.  One thing that long-time winemaker Jamie Marfell, heading the team since 2002 has done is ensure that the wines are of very high quality and style to guarantee commercial viability.  There is nothing out of place.  Until he introduced Stoneleigh ‘Wild Valley’ – wines made with indigenous yeast fermentation.  In commercial terms, this is risk taking.  In quality and character, one is getting closer to the soil and thus terroir.  This was in 2015 with a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir, followed by a Chardonnay in 2016, the vintage being 2015.  These wines were noted by the critics, but not ‘wildly’ taken up by the consumer.
That should change with the release this year of the 2018 Stoneleigh ‘Wild Valley’ Marlborough Rosé and 2018 Stoneleigh ‘Wild Valley’ Marlborough Pinot Gris.  I think Jamie Marfell decided to step it up a big bit by increasing the depth and richness of fruit character and the weight of the wines.  The Rosé bursts with aromatic fruit but remains mouthwatering.  The Pinot Gris has lovely weight and presence of exotic flavours.  However both have that thread of funkiness and hint of smoke that wild yeasts give.  There’s no corruption, but real detail and interest.  And this from a ‘commercial’ wine!  Here’s a case of risky winemaking coming mainstream!   

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Dark Forces

Where does the best Pinot Noir come from?  The wine world would agree that it is the Cote d’Or, or Burgundy in France.  Of course the French don’t talk about the variety.  It’s the place or terroir.  But with a wider interpretation, you could say that Oregon, New Zealand, California and Australia are also contenders.  There is a dark force, recognised by a few that know there is somewhere else, with great potential – Germany.

Spatbugunder, has only been taken seriously as capable of making fine German wine in a few specific locations, notably the Ahr, or Baden, with the Pfalz  or Rheinhessen as the best areas.  But there are around 12,000 ha of Pinot Noir planted in Germany, the third most in the world.  But how things change.  Climate change, and adventurous and serious growers who see the quality of top Burgundy have made for a number of wonderful bottlings that would surprise the most hardened Burgundy-phile.  There can be complex, barrel-aged, Spatburgunders that have the potential to age and show their terroir.  Sounds familiar?
The Good Doctor visited us one night for dinner.  He brought with him a 2012 Chat Sauvage Lorcher Schlossberg Spatburgunder.  He had visited this specialist domaine based in the Rheingau, and came back filled with awe.  The contents of the bottle showed SWMBO and I why.  Some bottle age complexity meant this was not a youthful showcase, and that it had settled into itself.  The range of fruit and savoury flavours was wonderfully broad and complex.  There was mouthfeel, texture and vinosity.  There was a harmony and complete feel to the wine.  We knew it had provenance, but one that we didn’t see the context of yet.  This opened up a totally new dimension to explore.  Who would know what dark forces might reside there?