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Auckland, North Island, New Zealand
Wine tour operator, wine writer and lapsed physiotherapist. "Nature abhors a vacuum. I personally hate dusting."


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Craggy Range’s Epic 2013 Vintage

In 1986 North American billionaire Terry Peabody was tasked by his wife Mary, and daughter Mary-Jeanne to start a winery, after he had made his money in Canada and Australia. With the aid of renowned Kiwi viticulturist Steve Smith, he went on to develop Craggy Range – one of Hawke’s Bay’s premium red producers. Winemaker Matt Stafford gained experience in Marlborough, Australia and California before joining in 2006. 

Last week I attended the launch of Hawkes Bay winery Craggy Range’s ‘Vintage of a Generation.’ There is a lot of excitement in the industry about the wines from the epic 2013 vintage twelve months ago. The combination of lower cropping (which increases fruit quality) combined with a dry and sunny extended ripening period right up to harvest time, allowed growers the rare option of picking when grapes were at optimal ripeness.

The launch was held at the Auckland Observatory, with an impressive introductory video projected onto the Planetarium’s 360 degree overhead hemispherical screen.

Now, to the wines. Interestingly, I had anticipated that the white wines would be big, bold and full of flavour, but they were surprisingly delicate and elegant (admittedly, the riesling and the sauvignon were from Martinborough – a cooler region).  The reds on the other hand were more expressive of a hot, dry Hawkes Bay summer. We had a guided wine tasting of the new white wines, plus barrel samples of the four red wines that are blended into what will be the flagship Craggy Range ‘Sophia’ Bordeaux-style. And finally – a sneak preview of the 2013 Sophia blend (still in barrel).

2013 Te Muna Martinborough Riesling
Floral aromas, with some tropical pineapple and crisp lime on the palate. A crisp mouth-watering finish with lengthy lemon squash flavours.

2013 Te Muna Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc
Sweet ripe apricot and gooseberry aromas, with similar flavours plus guava and blackcurrant. Medium acidity makes this a very approachable sauvignon blanc.

2013 Kidnappers Vineyard Chardonnay
Floral aromas with a palate of subtle citrus with hints of herbal and mineral flavours.

2013 Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay
Toasty aromas with a whiff of lemon blossom.  In the mouth – soft acids, stone fruit, quinine and a lengthy finish.

Barrel Samples:
2013 ‘Sophia’ Gimblett Gravels Merlot
Dusty aromas with pot pourri and spice.  On the palate, ripe black berry fruit and chocolate with a hint of smoke and soft tannins.

2013 ‘Sophia’ Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon
Again a hint of dust, plus black stone fruits, black currant and plum, with a dry finish.

2013 ‘Sophia’ Gimblett Gravels Petit Verdot
Petit Verdot is a Bordeaux red grape which only ripens in a very good year and normally is blended with other varieties.  Smoky aromas, with sweet fruit and high acidity.

And finally …tad-dah!
2013 Gimblett Gravels ‘Sophia’ blend
This will be a fabulous wine, even in its extreme youth it has the hallmarks of greatness. Aromas of spicy fruit cake and ripe black berry fruit.  Flavours of black fruit, almond, red plums and a hint of chocolate.  Lengthy dry finish with youthful tannins.
Phil Parker is a wine writer and operates Fine Wine & Food Tours in Auckland 

Martinborough New Zealand - Revisited

Around twenty years ago, word started spreading about some excellent wines north of Wellington, just over the winding, windy Rimutuka Ranges.  DSIR scientists had discovered a climate and soil type similar to the classic French region of Burgundy that was suitable for growing Pinot Noir and a few other grape varieties.  And now, the Wairarapa, and Martinborough in particular is one of our top boutique regions, producing not only internationally acclaimed Pinot Noir but also Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and even some big reds like Syrah. Famous wineries like Dry River, Ata Rangi, Kusuda, Martinborough Vineyard, Palliser and Te Kairanga all hail from this region. 

Great food and upmarket boutique accommodation has made this one of our main wine tourism regions for both locals and foreigners.  The broad, flat plains bake in summer months, but in winter it becomes a misty, dreamy adventure land of fine wines and excellent food.  Whatever the season – it is just right for a weekend away.

Seven years ago, I visited for the first time when I was researching my wine region guide – The Mad Keen Wine Buff’s Road Trip (Random House 2008).  And just recently I was lucky enough to spend two days there with a group of fellow wine writers.  We tasted many wines over the two days and visited a number of wineries.

Current Aromatic Releases – my picks:
Te Kairanga Estate Riesling 2013, Big Sky Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Hamden Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Poppies Pinot Gris 2013, Dry River Pinot Gris 2013, Dry River Gewürztraminer 2013, Brodie’s Angels Sigh Pinot Rose 2013

Current Chardonnay Releases – my picks:
Palliser Estate 2013, Julicher 2013, Nga Waka 2013

Current Pinot Noir Releases – my picks:
Te Kairanga Runholder 2013, Poppies 2012, Kusuda 2012, Schubert Marion’s Vineyard 2011, Te Hera Reserve 2011, Cabbage Tree 2009, Dry 2012

Barrel Samples (i.e. not botled yet but showing huge promise):
Ata Rangi, Big Sky, Margrain, Martinborough Vineyard, Te Hera

(I was hosted by Wine From Martinborough New Zealand

Phil Parker is a wine writer and operates Fine Wine & Food Tours in Auckland 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Stella Bella Wines - Perth

Being in the wine tourism business, I do get to meet some interesting characters.  And a recent tour to Waiheke Island with two Australian couples resulted in a box of nine bottles of very nice wine being delivered to my door (barking mad Maltese/Shitzu cross notwithstanding).  It turned out that the Aussies were investors in a Margaret River winery in Perth.  “How about we send you a few bottles and see what you think of them?” they suggested over lunch at Mudbrick.  “Jolly good,” I replied.

The winery goes by the name of Stella Bella – also the name of their premium range wines.  Sounds like a great name for a thoroughbred.
“And … it’s Stella Bella out of the bottle, into the glass and racing into the mouth. Swishing gently around the palate, down the neck and looking for a lengthy finish.” 
They had some fun with the other lower ranges, namely Skuttlebutt and Suckfizzle.

As you may know, Margaret River is a cooler climate boutique region near the Perth coast where the Western Australian climate is moderated by cool winds from the Indian Ocean. Consequently they can grow white grape varieties as well as the renowned reds.

Here we go.

Skuttlebutt Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2013
Surprisingly Marlborough-like, this is a soft but full flavoured blend with gooseberry and passion fruit flavours.

Suckfizzle Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2009
This one was oak aged and not quite to my palate with more vegetative flavours than the previous white blend.

Stella Bella Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Again, not unlike a Marlborough Sauv but with softer acidity and gooseberry flavours.

Stella Bella Chardonnay 2010
Very classy wine, with a creamy soft texture, upfront stone fruit and toasty nutty and lengthy aftertaste.

Skuttlebutt Rosé 2013
A typical fresh young thing – raspberry and strawberry palate with mild sweetness and moderate acids.

Skuttlebutt Cabernet Shiraz 2010
Slightly ‘dusty’ aromas, fairly typical of Cabernet, with some spicy Shiraz notes in there.  Big, juicy and voluptuous velvety red.

Stella Bella Shiraz 2009
Slightly feral aged Shiraz aromas but balanced with medium to firm tannins and liquorice/spice flavours.  Yum.

Stella Bella Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2009
Dusty nose again.  Sweet ripeness and black berry fruit flavours, with medium tannins.

Suckfizzle Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Showing nice mellowing from bottle age. Ripe and soft with black currant and cherry flavours.

My personal faves – the big reds and the Chardonnay

Phil runs personal food & wine tours - Auckland New Zealand

Sunday, December 22, 2013

New Zealand Rose Wines for Summer

Some years ago, Rosés were quite rare and largely undrinkable.  However, now that summer is kicking in, the shelves are steadily filling with a number of very respectable light reds vinted from grape varieties such as Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, and even Cabernet Sauvignon.  Plus the really good thing is, in warmer weather you can chill many of them with a clear conscience.

Rosés are made by crushing red grapes, then leaving the juice on the skins for a short period (as little as 12 hours) to extract a minimum of colour and maximum grape juice flavours before pressing and racking off into fermentation tanks.  The resulting wines are light, often blush pink and have red fruit flavours of strawberries, plums and raspberries.  These are crisp, refreshing drink-young wines, which will not benefit from cellaring.  They also come in a spectrum of sugar level from dry to medium sweet.  Buyer beware.  It may be lolly water or Pinot-Lite depending on the whim of the winemaker.
The sweeter Rosé styles can tolerate chilling before serving, but the more delicate dry, to off-dry Rosé, could be cooled in the fridge for no more 30 minutes.

Food matches – BBQ tuna, salmon, crayfish, prawns, chicken, crab, spiced rare lamb.  And here comes summer! Whoo Hoo!  Here’s a selection, from dryer to sweeter, and finishing with a fantastic bubbles.

Wooing Tree Central Otago Rosé 2013 $NZ 28
Dry and crisp. Flavours of red plum and strawberry.

Bélouvé Côtes De Provence Rosé (France) 2012 $NZ 24
Cabernet, Grenache and Syrah go into the blend for this French Rosé from Provence.  Clean ripe flavours and a lengthy palate.

Soho Waiheke Rosé 2013 $NZ 26
Hand-picked Waiheke Island fruit – Merlot and Malbec are blended to make this red fruit cocktail of flavours. Cherries, red berry fruit and plum flavours with crisp acidity.

Kate Radburnd Hawkes Bay Berry Blush Rosé 2013  $NZ 16
A Hawkes Bay Rosé from Pask winemaker Kate Radburnd.  This one is just off-dry, with red berry fruit ripeness and soft acid finish.
Marques de Carceres Rioja Rosado (Spain) 2012 $NZ 22
Two typical Rioja red grapes-  Tempranillo and Grenache are blended to create this wine.  Mild oaky flavours, and a rich just off-dry ripe palate of plums and strawberries.

Quartz Reef Rosé Methode Traditionelle  Central Otago $NZ 40
100% organic Pinot Noir, and aged for 24 months. Rich and rounded with a lingering finish.  A lovely elegant bubbly for the summer season.
These wines are stocked by Glengarry. 

Disclaimer: I work in part time retail at Glengarry Grey Lynn. 
Phil Parker is a wine writer and operates Fine Wine Tours in Auckland.