Hawke’s Bay promise, top drops make a comeback

Craggy Range’s new 2016 Prestige Collection


The latest 2016 collection is the first time since 2011 that all five Craggy Range Prestige Collection wines were made – I have tasted all five wines three times now and am impressed, even if the prices do make my eyes water.

Views on vintages vary as wildly as the weather in a maritime nation like New Zealand, which is blessed with a cool climate and challenged with all that goes with it  (great flavours, thanks to a high diurnal temperature range but there’s rain, humidity and fungal disease pressure too).

So it’s a roller coaster ride. It has been interesting to taste one of the country’s highest priced ranges of wines – Craggy Range’s new Prestige Collection.

Last week, they were open at a dinner I attended at Egmont Street Eatery, as part of this year’s Wellington On A Plate (WOAP) event.

White pick of the bunch

The first wine we tasted was the 2016 Craggy Range Les Beaux Cailloux Chardonnay – my pick of the bunch.

Les Beaux Cailloux (LBC) is named after the stones on the vineyard on which its grapes are grown – in the Gimblett Gravels. And it has been conspicuously absent since 2011 when all of the LBC grapes were pulled out due to disease pressures, which were threatening to spread to other nearby vines, owned by other winemakers. Now, it’s back, as is The Quarry, a wine heavily dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes up 88% of the blend. This late ripening red grape doesn’t make the cut every year; it has declined in New Zealand by approximately 50% over the past 11 years, due to the country’s cool maritime climate presenting challenges in getting Cabernet Sauvignon fully ripe. So without further ado, here are my notes on the latest collection.


The new 2016 Craggy Range Prestige Collection wines


2016 Craggy Range Les Beaux Cailloux $150

This is the first Le Beaux Cailloux (‘the beautiful stones’) Chardonnay since 2011 when the vines were ripped out due to leaf roll virus, which was threatening to infiltrate neighbouring vines. The only solution was to remove the vines so it’s been a long time between drinks… and it’s been worth the wait.

All of the grapes were hand harvested for this full bodied beauty, which has big  toasty flavours supported vibrant high acidity –  from the cool start to the 2016 ripening season It is balanced beautifully by fresh toasty flavours from oak barrels, 40% of which was new French oak. It’s dry, citrusy, creamy and smooth as well as incredibly youthful. It has a long life ahead – up to 10 years, often beyond.


2016 Craggy Range Te Muna Road Aroha Pinot Noir Martinborough $150


Aroha means love and there’s plenty of that in this powerful Pinot, made from a wide range of clones including Dijon clones 113, 114, 115, 667 and 777 to UCD5 and the notorious Abel (aka, the gumboot clone, due to its unconventional importation into New Zealand). This diverse mix of Pinot Noir clones all occupy 36% of the 94 hectares planted at Craggy Range’s Te Muna Road Vineyard where the vines grow at an elevation of 70 metres higher than the rest of Martinborough. This means harvest can be 10 days later and flavours a touch more savoury, at times.

All of the grapes for this wine were hand harvested, 50% destemmed and the other 50% were whole bunch fermented in a mix of stainless steel and open top French oak.

Like many New Zealand Pinots, this wine is a work in progress, made using a range of techniques (not to mention all those clones) and it is refreshing to taste the fruit and its fresh acidity providing the leading flavours in this lovely new wine.


2016 Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Sophia Hawke’s Bay $150


2016 Craggy Range Le Sol Gimblett Gravels $150
Big, dark, brooding and delicious, the full bodied dry Le Sol shows why Syrah has traded places over the past 11 years with Cabernet Sauvignon as New Zealand’s third most planted red grape. It is made from a heritage grape clone brought to New Zealand in the 1830s. All of the grapes for this wine were hand harvested, 80% destemmed and fermented in open top French oak barrels, which support the concentrated flavours of  black pepper, black plums and black cherries. It was aged for 17 months in oak, 35% new. This beautiful Syrah drinks well now and can age for at least a decade.


2016 Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Sophia Hawke’s Bay $150


Of all the reds in this year’s Prestige Collection line up, Sophia is the most  to drink now, thanks to b made mostly from Merlot (58%) supported by the tannic structure of Cabernet Franc (23%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (19%), which adds backbone and power.

Deep in colour and smoky in aroma, its flavours are all softness and approachability with a smooth long finish. It drinks well now and will age well for up to eight years – at least.


2016 Craggy Range The Quarry $150

The Quarry is named in homage to the people who saved the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowing District from becoming a gravel quarry in the late 1980s. This wine is only made in the warmest years because the late ripening grape Cabernet Sauvignon (88%) struggles in less warm vintages. It is supported here by Cabernet Franc (8%) and Merlot (4%). This wine was aged for 18 months in French oak, 50% new. It is full bodied, dry, dark and fruity – and, yes, it canage for up to a decade, potentially longer.


The Bay

The Bay has long been held in high regard as a wine region. At the start of the 20th Century, visiting Italian viticulturist Romeo Bragato praised the region above all others in New Zealand, describing it as “the most suitable for vine growing I have visited in New Zealand. It possesses thousands of acres which, by reason of the nature of the soil, natural drainage, and sufficiency of heat, will produce grapes of both table and wine making varieties in rich abundance.”

Fast forward 118 years and it turns out he was right.


Grapes in Hawke’s Bay

Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Chardonnay are the most planted grape varieties in the Bay and the region remains home to the country’s biggest and boldest red wines. These wines are made, increasingly, from Syrah and, decreasingly, from Cabernet Sauvignon, which has shrunk by almost the same exact proportion that Syrah has grown over the past decade. It’s almost an exact role reversal for these two big red grapes – Syrah was planted in 257 hectares of land in New Zealand (mostly in the Bay) in 2007 and today it has grown to 443 hectares while Cabernet Sauvignon occupied 254 hectares back then and has shrunk today to 283.


Snapshot of Gimblett Gravels

  • The Gimblett Gravels Winegrowing District is approximately 800 hectares of vines grown on stones.
  • Many different wine brands own vineyards on the Gravels and Villa Maria Wines has the largest area.
  • The Gravels area is widely regarded as one of the best places in New Zealand to ripen grapes for full bodied reds made from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Syrah.
  • The stones in this area come from the Ngaruroro River bed, which changed course in 1867.
  • The first Syrah was planted in 1982 by Alan Limmer of Stonecroft
  • Only 10% of the vines planted on the gravels are white grapes – Chardonnay and Viognier with small plantings of Arneis, Gewurztraminer and Riesling.
  • Greywacke stones are interspersed with silt and sand to 40 metres depth
  • The stony ground has a low water holding ability.

Author: Joelle Thomson

I am a wine writer, author and educator... first bitten by a big buttery Chardonnay on a dark and stormy night in the 1980s and there was no turning back... Follow my tastings and join some too on this new site.

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