No sooner had I shut the taxi door than the driver started a conversation. Discovering I wrote about wine, he complained that all critics recommend wines with big price tags, which puts them out of the reach of most consumers.
I countered that whilst we try to write about all sorts, isn’t it more fun to read about interesting wines and these often carry bigger price tags? Newspapers carry reviews of other types of luxury items and whilst I may never be rich enough to buy an Aston Martin One-77, I’d definitely prefer to read about it than yet another review of a budget friendly hatchback. Why should wine be different? He lapsed into silence.
So what would the driver have made of the annual Craggy Range tasting where the Hawke’s Bay winery showcased ten vintages of its flagship merlot blend, Sophia? The most recent vintage 2010 retails for $75 and though to him maybe one bottle of wine looks much like another, I’d liked to have explained how the winemaker kept yields very low to aid concentration, picked the grapes by hand, not machine, and left the wine to mature in expensive oak barrels for over 18 months. Labour intensive, handcrafted wines aren’t cheap to produce but the tasting proved that great wine continues to develop and mature in bottle, something that less expensive wines rarely do.
Bilancia’s La Collina is a 100% syrah, grown on a very steep hillside vineyard in Hawke’s Bay and, like Sophia, it is a handcrafted wine made in very limited quantities. Warren Gibson and Lorraine Leheny are perfectionists who devote time to tending their tiny vineyard, doing all the work by hand. To the naked eye, the only clue that this is a special wine is the distinctive heavy bottle and its small, stylish label.
There is always a place for less expensive wines but there are also times when a special bottle, one that appeals to the senses, is in order. NZ can produce world class, premium red wines and we should continue to recognise those winemakers that do so.
2009 Bilancia La Collina
A supremely elegant, restrained wine, full of cracked pepper, dark plum and violet flavours, supple, finely grained tannins and a lingering finish. Outstanding and a strong contender for NZ’s finest syrah.
2010 Craggy Range Sophia
A cooler vintage has meant there is a real freshness to the ’10 Sophia. Subtle yet powerful, cabernet sauvignon gives a wonderful cassis lift and contributes a lovely line in tannin. A terrific wine that will easily cellar 10+ years.