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Extended tasting note
Craggy Range Single Vineyard Syrah Block 14 2004 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

This is a wine Iíve had a bit of experience with, and the reason Iím drinking it tonight is because itís a wine I like. So this is not a neutral tasting note. Itís a bit of vinous cheerleading, if you will.

Now Iím a big fan of Northern RhŰne Syrah. Shiraz, the name this wine goes by in the new world, also works for me, but perhaps less often. In too-warm climates, Syrah loses a bit of the freshness, meatiness and pepperiness that I admire in this grape variety. The fact that a new world wine is labelled Syrah rather than Shiraz suggests to me that the winemaker realizes there is a bit of a stylistic division, and so Iím much more inclined to try the wine, given my stylistic bias.

I first came across Craggy Rangeís Syrah at a tasting with Steve Smith MW, the dude behind Craggyís remarkable wines (described accurately by Jay McInerney as Ďa polar bear of a maní), earlier this year. I then retasted the wine at a retailer tasting (winedirect.co.uk), once more when I did some wine tasting videos with this retailer, and then again when I visited Craggy in November. Each time I have been really impressed.

So today, when I visited a branch of Waitrose (UK supermarket), I decided to treat myself to a bottle. At £14.99 it isnít cheap, but for the quality, this is very good value. I think itís important to actually put your hand in your pocket and buy wines on a regular basis if you want to be a critic that actually understands how your readers feel about buying wine.

So, in this domestic setting, how does the wine stack up? First, I must describe the context. Iíve been drinking the wine for a couple of hours as I write. Iíve been eating a bit of cave-aged Gruyere, too, which I know I shouldnít, because red wine and cheese arenít supposed to be a good match. Itís now 11 pm, and Iím feeling relaxed but a little tired. Still, Iím an evening sort of person, and function well late at night, usually dipping off in terms of concentration just after midnight, when I stop working.

But for me, work is like leisure. I enjoy it. I wouldnít want to work all the time, and I recognize that balance is one of the keys to a healthy existence. I donít really like a 9Ė5 routine, so I donít have a problem with working late and then doing other stuff when most people are working, if you see what I mean.

The Gimblett Gravels, where this wine comes from, represent a special terroir within the Hawkes Bay wine region. They are free draining, as youíd expect from gravel, and the vineyards here are well set up to ripen red varieties that struggle to ripen elsewhere in New Zealand. This Syrah comes from the gravels, and it is a deep coloured wine. I should add that it is sealed with a cork Ė fortunately, in this case, a good quality one that lacks taint.

The nose has a lovely aromatic quality. It has a delicious peppery freshness, along with ripe, dark, slightly meaty fruits. Thereís a nice combination of fresher red fruits with sweeter, richer black fruits, and Iím also getting a little of that floral, violet character thatís often attributed to Syrah. The palate shows great balance, with the fruit sweetness countered nicely by good acidity, some grippy tannins and a nice spiciness. This is definitely leaning more in the direction of the northern RhŰne than it is of the Barossa Valley, although there is some new world-style sweet, pure fruit evident. Itís a tremendously enjoyable wine with more than a hint of seriousness to it. Wines like this will certainly make the world realize that there is much, much more to New Zealand than just Sauvignon Blanc and aromatic whites. If I were to score this, it would probably rate 92/100, although my scores shouldnít be seen as any more than a shorthand for how much I liked the wine on the occasion when I tried it.

What about ageing? I think this wine will age, but I reckon itís pretty good now, and I donít see what it would really gain from further time. It has got something to lose, though Ė all that vibrant, fresh fruit. For this reason Iíd say drink it now, or over the next two years.

Other ETNs:

De Bortoli Shiraz; GrŁnhaus; Roc des Anges; Gaillard; Veratina; Arturo; Wynns; Drystone; Foundry and Columella; Meruge; Foillard Morgon; Clonakilla; Latour 1934; Thevenet Bongran

tasted 12/07

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