Happy Christmas 2009

Christmas is with us and I thought that I would take this opportunity to thank you all for reading my wine pages and supporting me.

I have really enjoyed starting this project and found it interesting and rewarding to write up some of the great trips I have been on, wines I have tried and places that I have seen – as well as inflicting my thoughts on you.

I am delighted that so many of you seem to have enjoyed it and have taken the trouble to read my thoughts – thank you. Can I especially thank those of you who have left comments – let’s have more of those in 2010!

I will be quiet for a few days over Christmas, actually drinking some wine, but will be back with some more pieces soon. I look forward to reading your comments on them.

Thank you again.

Happy Christmas to you all and here’s hoping for a great 2010.

Best wishes to you all,

Sad news from Napa

I was saddened to hear of the recent death of Aldo Biale. In partnership with his son Robert, Dave Pramuk, and winemaker Al Perry he was part owner and guiding force behind the wonderful Robert Biale Vineyards.

I would like to send my best wishes to the family and everyone involved in that great winery.

Aldo & Clementina Biale

I have a huge amount of respect for what Robert Biale Vineyards does and the people who do it. I had a fantastic couple of days there not so long ago and the night I arrived Aldo had just been taken into hospital, but I was able to meet Clementina his wife of over 50 years, who was a gracious and kindly lady.  You can read about my visit here.


Craggy Range – elegant & poised wines

I love elegant wines I really do, power, concentration and richness can all be attractive in a wine. Those attributes can all help attract the drinker to the liquid, but for me in the end it is elegance that sustains interest and desire.

Well, the other week I was in the enviable position of being able to try a big chunk of the Craggy Range lineup (I can’t really call them the Craggy Range range can I?) from New Zealand.

We all know that New Zealand is capable of producing some beautiful wines, thrilling wines, elegant wines, tasty wines and lots of very well made and clean wines. Some of the most reliable and enjoyable producers that I can think of are in New Zealand, Villa Maria, Vidal, Esk Valley, Jackson Estate, Dog Point, Mount Difficulty, St Clair and Isabel Estate to name but a few. Well, I hugely enjoyed renewing my acquaintance with another great New Zealand producer recently; Craggy Range – the wines were subtle, elegant and fine.

Steve Smith M.W.

Craggy is the brainchild, in partnership with Terry Peabody, of renowned Kiwi viticulturist Steve Smith M.W. Together in the late 1990s they sought out the vineyards, in Hawke’s Bay Gimblett Gravels region and Martinborough, that form the basis for their wine estate.

Their aim is to produce a range of fine single vineyard wines from these vineyards as well as fruit from selected growers elsewhere.

The wines:

Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard
Sauvignon Blanc 2008


The nose is quite beguiling, zesty and creamy all at the same time with an underlying mineral note and some pithy citrus too.

The palate is quite textured and succulent with a very attractive weight, unusually the fruit characters are peach and tangerine-like. Lovely freshness follows all the succulence, leaving a long, clean, pure and zingy finish. 12% was fermented in French barriques and the wine spends 3 months on the lees, all of which show in the texture of the wine rather than the flavour.

A lovely start, complex and delicious – 89 points.

Craggy Range Avery Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008

Less intensity on the aroma, more stoney with fresh peas and green fruit.

The palate is more restrained and savoury than the Te Muna with a lighter weight in the mouth too, less texture. The flavours are richly citrus with lime and passion-fruit notes leading to a crisp, long finish.

A very good, more direct style of Sauvignon, very well made indeed, but perhaps lacking that touch of complexity and brilliance of the Te Muna – 87 points.

Craggy Range Kidnappers Vineyard Chardonnay 2007
Hawkes Bay

The nose offers lovely fresh stone fruit and subtle smoky oak. The palate is supple and creamy with a rich texture and flavours of ripe peach and mandarin and complexity from lees ageing – all balanced by cleansing fresh acidity that balances the subtle, integrated oak. The finish is elegant, balanced and long.

A very good Chardonnay – 89 points.

Craggy Range Les Beaux Cailloux Vineyard Chardonnay 2007
Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay

The enticing and elegant nose delivers delicate peach and nectarine together with lighter  apple and lemon notes. The palate is beautifully balanced giving rich, ripe stone fruit, a mouth-filling creamy texture and a touch of spicy, nutty, toasty oak – well integrated, long and supremely elegant.

A very fine and complex Chardonnay with great depth – 93 points.

Craggy Range Sophia 2005
Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay
Merlot 62%, Cabernet Franc 34% & Cabernet Sauvignon 4%

The colour is stunning and immediately arresting, with a vibrant, opaque crimson purple.

The nose is also enticing and fragrant with ripe plums, black fruit, dry spice and delicate smoky oak.The palate is immediately fresh and elegant with the ripe fruit really showing itself in the rounded and supple mouth-feel. Backing up the fruit are firm, drying tannins and some lovely oak spice nuances. The fresh, vibrant fruit returns on the finish giving a lovely finale to this delicious wine.

A very fine red, the touch of tight tannin structure makes it precise, poised and elegant. It could age for quite a few years still to soften those tannins, but I like it now – 95 points.

Craggy Range Sophia 2006
Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay
Merlot 85%, Cabernet Franc 10%, Cabernet Sauvignon 4% & Malbec 1%

Another lovely wine from this younger vintage. The nose has not really opened up yet, but the palate shows luxuriant, rich primary fruit, silky tannins and some lovely oak spice. The structure is still quite tight while it finishes with an exuberant burst of fresh black, juicy fruit.

A really lovely wine that will be at least as good as the 2005 in time – 94 points right now.

Craggy Range Block 14 Syrah 2007
Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay

The nose delivers ripe, succulent blackberry with a dusting of spice and pepper.

The palate is very supple with smooth tannins, ripe black fruit, toasty oak and spice all integrated and balanced. The finish is dry, elegant and fresh.

A terrific Syrah, very northern Rhône in style, but with more obvious fruit – 90 points.

Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah 2007
Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay

Amazingly and excitingly this wine includes some from parcels of Syrah vines planted by James Busby, the father of New Zealand wine, in the 1830s!

Right from the off the intensity shows in the deep, opaque purple black colour. The nose lifts straight out of the glass giving ripe black fruit and spice aromas.

The palate is supple, smooth and medium-bodied with lovely ripe fruit, fine grain tannins, dry spices and smoky oak. The finish is long, elegant and enjoyable.

A very fine Syrah with great complexity and intensity of flavour – 93 points.

I really enjoyed tasting all these wines, red and white. The reds were all superb medium-bodied wines that would partner food perfectly. Rather than being soupy over alcoholic monsters their power came from the intensity of their flavours and the force of their personality – in short from the vineyard rather than the winery, just as good wine should.

If your experience of New Zealand to date has been of well made and reliable wines, try some of the wines from Craggy Range to see what really fine, elegant wine is all about.

More information is available from www.craggyrange.com.

Craggy Range’s UK agent is Louis Latour.

Etiquette or the Experience?

I need some input please. I really need to know if I am alone in this, or if my view is widely held. If it is then we should instigate a wine service revolution.

On at least three occassions this year I have attended dinners where I had been asked to choose the wines to go with the food.

Each time I really need not have bothered for the following reasons: first the waiters brought the food round to the entire table, then when everyone had their food they poured the wines – painfully slowly.

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A Taste of Washington and Oregon

I seem to be a bit obsessed by North America lately – here here and here, well recently I was able to have a quick taste of some wines from America’s Pacific North West – Washington State and Oregon.

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Robert Biale – great wine on a human scale

I really enjoyed visiting the Napa Valley recently, I saw much and learnt a lot. I saw many wonderful wineries, but one of the absolute highlights was visiting a small family owned winery called Robert Biale Vineyards.

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