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Monday, March 03, 2008

An Emerging Leader Expands

Vineyard acquisitions are music to my ears when the purchasing producer is one that I enjoy and admire. In this case, Craggy Range is producer that’s stockpiling some extra vines, and I couldn’t be happier to learn that the next few vintages will be blessed w/ more of this fine Kiwi producer’s juice on retail shelves. Although they are mostly known for their Sauvignon Blanc, Craggy Range Syrah and Pinot Noir (the later variety coming from the same 86 acre Te Muna Road vineyard that put their Sauvignon Blanc on the map) are both outstanding, singular expressions New Zealand fruit. While this producer has plenty of new projects in store for the future, their newly acquired parcels of Pinot Noir have peeked my interest the most. 2006 will be the inaugural vintage for the Calvert Vineyard Pinot Noir, a plot that is now ten years old and located in the Bannockburn region of Central Otago (the same region that producers Felton Road & Mt. Difficulty call home). The ’07 vintage will springboard two new Craggy Range vineyard designated Pinot Noirs as well, from the 67 acre Zebra Vineyard and 14 acre Sluicings Vineyard, located in Bendigo (where producer Quartz Reef is located) and Bannockburn, respectively. Bendigo is generally a bit more arid than that of Bannockburn and tends to have a greater diurnal temperature swing.

In 2008 Craggy Range is due to harvest from yet another new vineyard, Otago Station (located in Waitaki w/in the North Otago valley), which has an even cooler climate than Central Otago and is rich in limestone (eh-hem, Burgundy) soils. With their current tally of over 45,000 cases of vineyard designated wines (from 10 grape varieties) on the rise, their breadth of quality should be available in large enough quantities to satiate even the thirstiest of Kiwi advocates. Looking for a change of pace in the realm of cool climate varieties? Now is the time to get out there and explore, New Zealand style, from a producer that always seems to hit the bull’s eye.
* source materials are thanks to the Wine Spectator

Craggy Range, Te Muna Road Vineyard, Pinot Noir 2005
My first taste of Craggy Range Pinot came in a complex, beautifully approachable package from the low yielding 2005 vintage. A scintillating, exuberant nose, full of cracked pepper, hard spices, cardamom, dark cherries and black raspberries engulf the taster w/ the sweet and the spicy. The palate is full of fat pinot flavors, underpinned by peppered minerality and a satin coated texture that evokes each metaphor that put this temptress of a finicky grape on the map. While broad, it is quite grounded in pleasing restraint. Enjoy this silky goddess over the next 7 years, 94 points. With efforts like this (clocking in around 35 dollars, fairly priced around 80 smackers on the restaurant list) from New Zealand, can more outstanding pinot be far behind?

Craggy Range, Te Muna Road Vineyard, Pinot Noir 2006
Just a hair short of the level reached by their otherworldly ’05, the ’06 vintage from Craggy Range offers up yet another finely constructed effort that speckles through the senses in subtle waves of Pinot-goodness. Colors of transparent ruby shades swirl about, revealing some hefty legs and provocative scents of hearty plum, forest floor, dark cherries, anise, incense and sage. In the mouth, the wine is super-sappy and cuts a broad swath across the palate w/ gushing layers of fruit that are juicy and succulent to the finish. Immediately satisfying & exceptionally supple, but I imagine this youngster will stretch her legs a bit more in the cellar, 93+ points.

Craggy Range 2004, Le Sol Gimblett Gravels
I’ve been very impressed w/ this producer’s efforts, nearly across the varietal board, as they continue to push the envelope for quality driven New Zealand wines. Their 2004 pure Syrah is no different, exhibiting an intense perfume of violet, boysenberry, black pepper, toast, grilled meats and a mélange of other purple fruits. Plush and generous in the mouth, reminiscent of some of the finer Washington state Syrahs. Top notch juice, showing yet another glimpse of the endless possibilities that the New Zealand viticultural landscape offers quality oriented producers, 92 points.

Their Sauvignon Blanc is a year in, year out winner. Full of crushed stone, chive and electric citrus flavors that provide all the intensity you'd hope for in a Kiwi Sauvignon, underpinned by a fine mineral backbone. Although there's some fierce competition in this category, Craggy Range managed to separate themselves from the sea of grass and gooseberry and has now channeled quite a bit of their focus on fashioning the best Pinot Noir in New Zealand. I imagine the hand-picked plots will only augment the success for this master from Central Otago and I can't wait to wrap my palate around those new gems coming down the pipeline.


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