Tag Archives: Single Vineyard

“Hanging Out” with Craggy Range and Tindal Wines on Google

Last night I completed Tindal Wine Merchants‘ second ever “Google Hangout” which on this occasion involved New Zealand wine producer Craggy Range.

Tindal must be commended for this very innovative use of Google+, which up to now I’ve seen as a poor attempt to muscle in on the social media scene, though I now see that it offers a really interesting medium for a disparate group of people located around the globe to come together audio-visually but without the need to download separate software, e.g. Skype or similar. The rest of Google+ is still pretty shite though.

As per instructions from Tindal I picked up a couple of bottles of Craggy Range from Searson’s Wine Merchants in Monkstown, which of late have become one and the same. So with that I chilled the white, popped the red (or unscrewed it to be exact), and logged on to Google+ at precisely 8pm on Tuesday  21st to undertake a very 21st Century wine tasting…


Craggy Range: The Winery

I didn’t know Craggy Range at all before this tasting, beyond a vague recognition of the label, but a hasty look at their website made me fall in love with the story of how they started. You can read it in full here, but here’s a snippet:

When Terry Peabody arrived home from a four-week business trip in the fall of 1993 his wife Mary, and daughter Mary-Jeanne, cooked him dinner. The meal was long and leisurely, but not without purpose. Terry wasn’t allowed to leave until he had agreed to go into the wine business. The specification was that the business must never be sold. It was to be a family business, an enduring heritage legacy.

So Craggy Range was borne of love, and if I make that sound soppy and limp-wristed then I don’t apologise one jot. The best wines, as far as my experience is concerned, come from those wineries that are family-owned and prioritise pride in their work above profit margins and shareholder returns.

Don’t get me wrong, many commercial wineries can make some really good wine at great prices, but you can’t replicate the almost intangible energy in wine instilled by the weight of having your family name attached to the product, whether that be directly (e.g. AntinoriHugel, etc.) or indirectly (e.g. Masi, Craggy Range, etc.).

Quite simply put, pride and honour trumps finance in every aspect of winemaking, in my view. I’m delighted to add Craggy Range to my list of those producers who go above and beyond making nice-tasting alcoholic grape juice to offer us something special.

But beyond this, what of the practices in the vineyard? I was delighted to hear Steve take a dichotomous approach to his wine philosophy: he regards with great admiration the Old World’s approach to terroir and the texture etc. but feel that they miss out somewhat on the New World ‘fruit forward’ characteristic which makes these types of wines a hedonistic delight.

So by combining these two somewhat disparate approaches – i.e. a food-friendly wine that’s enjoyable by itself – Craggy Range take a “bilingual” approach to winemaking that could be considered too ‘catch-all’ but which I think should be lauded; why not enjoy wines that can be enjoyed literally throughout a meal, from apéritif to digestif?

The Craggy Range family
The Google Hangout

We were joined by Steve Smith MW, founding director and current Director of Wine & Viticulture (or “arch viticulturist and Craggy Range boss” according to Decanter) and also chief winemaker Matt Stafford. Being the bossman, Steve spoke most with Matt chipping in at various points to add a more precise and technical spin to Steve’s garrulousness.

Despite being a bit blurry and unfortunately back-lit (don’t sit with your backs to a window, guys!), it was an incredible experience to be chatting live to two winemakers in New Zealand with an audience of Irish wine lovers based in kitchens and living rooms across the country.

An unfortunate IT mix-up meant that I was able to spectate but not participate until five minutes from the end, but the whole experience was very enjoyable and worthwhile. Keep an eye out for the next Tindal Google Hangout on their site – you won’t regret it.

Craggy Range Google Hangout
The Google Hangout with Steve Smith MW and Matt Stafford


 Craggy Range: The Wines

So, how did they taste on the night?


Craggy Range ‘Te Muna Road’ Single Vineyard Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012
€19.99 from Tindals and Wines on the Green

This was a really classy Sauv Blanc which began with all the hallmarks of the Kiwi take on the grape which has made it world famous, namely some pungent pea and asparagus notes that leap out of the glass.

But the Old World mentality kicks in and this brash New World aspect is replaced by a more floral character and herbal, grassy notes underlaid by a subtle, flinty, smokey character that gives it a sort of grilled vegetable nuance when combined with the pea and asparagus mentioned previously.

I loved Steve’s simile of this wine being like a “walk through a meadow,” in other words a plethora of fragrances that come and go:  floral, grassiness, clover, earth, lime tree, nectarine… Definitely the “Old World” care and attention is evident here.

This approach is re-affirmed on the palate, which is uncharacteristically smooth, at least based on the highly acidic experiences with most of the plethora of NZ Sauv Blancs on the Irish market today (and which we seem to go in for in a big way for some unknown reason).

Supple and soft but still with a bit of a kick to keep it refreshing, at two and a half years old (for the Southern Hemisphere harvest is at the start of the year) I found this to be caught somewhere between youthful freshness and mellow maturity. The length, surprisingly, was average, but that’s not to detract from it’s overall quality. Definitely recommended.


Craggy Range ‘Te Kahu’ Gimblett Gravels Single Vineyard Hawkes Bay Blend 2010
€24.25 from Tindalls

When we speak nowadays about the “Bordeaux Blend” this usually means some blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the two icons of the region and a combination that has been mimicked the world over, not least by New World producers hoping to replicate this classic iconic pairing in greener pastures.

However Craggy Range have taken this one step further and seem to me to have incorporated every possible viable Bordeaux grape into one bottle, so for Te Kahu 2010 they’ve included 80% Merlot,  8% Cabernet Franc, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Malbec, a veritable what’s what of Boredaux grapes. These proportions vary year-on-year, with some vintages even receiving a dollop of Petit Verdot.

The nose offers a typical red and black fruit mélange which I found hard to pull apart, but for me it was the palate where this really shone. Given the presence of some big players here – Cab Sauv and Malbec I’m looking at you – the palate is amazing light, supple, delicate and balanced .. in fact disarmingly so. My notes mention “amazingly light” in some form or another a number of times, so much so it’s almost similar to a ripe, quality Chilean Pinot from the likes of Cono Sur. It has the light acidity and gentle tannin to keep it fresh and interesting too. A beaut.


A Chilean Visión

I’m often asked, with a head raised in wry interrogation, what my favourite wine is. This often comes right after my revealing that I’m in the wine trade and is often less for the want of some insight and more for the want of a tip or recommendation. I’m sure that all my colleagues go through on a regular basis and of course I/we don’t mind it at all; if I met, say, someone involved in banking then I’m sure one of the first things I’d ask them was where the best savings account is to be found, or some other such question given that I have little to no experience in the sector and can reasonably assume that my new acquaintance will enlighten my ignorance. That’s what intelligent conversation is all about, isn’t it? The exchange of knowledge and ideas and all that?

The problem is that this doesn’t really translate into the wine world, and for illustration I think there are very strong parallels between people infatuated with wine and those similarly taken with music. If you were to ask a wine lover and a music lover what their ‘favourite’ was of their respective disciplines then I’m sure you’d be faced with very similar replies: that it depends on your mood, the occasion, who you’re with, what the aim of the wine/song is, the weather, your location, etc. etc. etc.

Combine this with the fact that everyone’s taste is, of course, so subjective and varied then what you have unfortunately is an intractable question. There simply is no way, when put on the spot, to choose a favourite when the variables are so diverse.

That said, however, I introduce to you now my fail-safe bottle of wine. This is by no means my favourite because I can’t possibly have one (see above and, please, pay attention). The wine in question is Cono Sur Visión Pinot Noir, which I had the pleasure of reacquainting myself with a few days ago.

Cono Sur are the masters of Pinot Noir in Chile, choosing to take much of their lead from Burgundy in France, Pinot’s historical and spiritual home. And no the name is not a play on the word connoisseur, like so many (understandably) believe, but it in fact means ‘southern cone’ or the shape of the continent on which Chile is based.

The ‘Visión’ range, meanwhile, will soon be re-named ‘Single Vineyard’ to make it easier for the foreign market, and as the name suggests they vinify the wines from specific sites rather than just Chile in general. This tends to give more character, definition and a sense of place to the end product – in other words what the French call terroir (for starters at least – don’t get them started!).

So for this Pinot Noir they get the grapes solely from ‘Block 68 Old Vine’, a plot of land with Chile’s first planting of Pinot Noir in 1968. It’s such a lovely wine because, to my mind at least, it has a bit of everything: it’s mineral and austere yet juicy and approachable; precise yet easy-going; fresh yet wears a little age with grace. And the taste of it?

The over-riding note that I got from it was, wait for it, tomato stalks. Yes, really. You often hear of these random wine terms and never expect, nay believe, that they exist. In fact I’ve often found myself wanting to snort in laughter in a kind of reverse-snobbery smugness when I read some off-the-wall tasting notes. Until the day, that is, when you finally, accidentally, discover them for yourself. So for the Cono Sur Visión Pinot Noir 2010, tomato stalks it is.

But that’s not all of course. There’s redcurrant – that sharp, well, red scent you get on the nose and palate, then strawberry as it softens in the glass. It has a lovely lively acidity, and, I think, is best drank slightly chilled. When it does warm up however the fruits darken and take on a more ‘baked’ characteristic, but only relative to what has come before.

But anyway, I could go on, but it’s a contemplative wine and those types of wine can cause wine-lovers’ fingers to fall off in a frenzy of typing. But let me say that it’s a ‘good friend’ of a wine: always great company, amenable to your mood, good in any situation. One of my favourites.

Cono Sur Visión Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010
€19.99 at O’Brien’s
Block 68, Santa Elisa Estate, Colchagua Valley
100% Pinot Noir