Craggy Range, New Zealand Wine with a Twist
The Way Tolkein’s behemoth Lord of the Rings triology put New Zealand on the map of fantasy fanatics, the Craggy Range empire is keeping NZ on the wine map with its wealth of vineyard sites, charming winemaker, and juice that just doesn’t lie.
This summer, I had the pleasure of attending a tasting Craggy’s recent vintages and barrel samples led by Steve, and I’ve been meaning to share the surprises and smiles that went along with the vinous journey we took through NZ via NYC.
It started just a short hop across the water in Australia, with the dream of Terry Peabody, a successful Aussie businessman looking to enter the wine biz with his family.
Enter Steve Smith, prominent viticulturist/jovial funny man who led the way for Craggy Range since its inception first as an vineyard consultant, and eventually as their lead winemaker.
With a name like “Kidnapper’s Vineyard” it must be good.
Mountainous terrain and near-constant sea breezes (You’re never more than 70 miles from the beach) combined with prehistoric soils created an oenophile’s dream in Kiwi-ville: the possibility of making an array of delicious, wildly different wines within a small geographic area.
And that’s exactly what Craggy Range does, using single vineyards to craft its distinctive wines which go far beyond a simple, super fruity Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (although they do have one of those too).
Their 2011 Te Muna Road Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($21.99), was a refreshing diversion from traditional Marlborough Sauv Blanc, and was a great mate for the hamachi sashimi it was served with. Normally characterized by wow-in-your-mouth fruit, this SB was more restrained with concentrated citrus flavors and a clean finish–great with fresh seafood or sushi.
Steve twisted up the classic Kiwi red as well, with the brand’s Te Muna Road Pinot Noir. At roughly $50/bottle, it’s far from a weekday supper sipper, but the velvety texture combined with concentrated cherry flavors and black pepper make it a great special occasion wine where the cuisine demands a wine with character.
Wines with character, and vineyards with character was the overwhelming theme of our lunch, where Steve mentioned taking good care of the vineyards almost as much as he joked around. In my opinion, the NZ quest is far from its finish and has quality to spare.
Craggy Range Uncorked:
Laura Loves: That Steve invited me to New Zealand…and probably thinks I forgot. SURPRISE!
Craggy Range 2010 Le Sol! This is an OH-MY-GOD good wine. An absolutely gorgeous Syrah, this magical velvet juice teleported me from our lunch to lush vineyards on the first sip. Plummy, earthy, and soft, this wine had an unmistakable balance. Not sure when I’ll get my hands on it again, but if you see Le Sol, just put the $100 bottle on your credit card and enjoy it anytime over the next ten years. (I’ll be accepting cases for my upcoming birthday…)
Fun Facts: Wine has been being produced in NZ since the 1830s.
Most major kiwi wine labels–Kim Crawford, Craggy Range, Cloudy Bay to name a few–are owned by non-nationals.
photos courtesy of Gregory White PR.