Kiwi Wines to Check Out

| February 21, 2005 | 0 Comments
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One thing I love about the wine industry is how the work follows the seasons. Springtime finds me in the vineyard checking the new buds and shoots; in the summer I sample ripening fruit and prepare to pick; fall is a mad around-the-clock rush as the year’s crop is fermented and new wine is put to barrel; and winter is…well, winter is the slow time. Sure, there are things to do, like tend young wines in barrel, bottle what’s ready, and prune dormant vines, but this is as slow as it gets.

I’m always afraid too much down time will turn me into a leisure-loving layabout, so I decided to capitalize on this year’s lull in the action and arrange a harvest job in a New Zealand winery. I’ll tell you about where I’m going next week, but, first let me tell you about the Kiwi wines that got me dreaming of heading south.

Last Wednesday the 16th, I attended a fundraising event for the Doug Wisor Memorial Scholarship at St. Francis Winery in Sonoma. Doug Wisor, the charismatic and talented winemaker of New Zealand’s Craggy Range, died suddenly last year, and his friends and family have created a scholarship to help young winemakers travel to New Zealand to work a vintage and promote the development and interchange of winemaking concepts. By all accounts, the evening was a great success, and enough money was raised to provide the scholarship fund with a solid start. Congratulations and thanks to Steve Smith and the Craggy Range crew, St. Francis Winery for hosting, Kobrand Corporation for their support, Mark Blake for his generosity, and all those who came to honor Doug.

I had the opportunity to try some of the wines Doug made at Craggy Range that night,
and here are my favorites:

Le Sol 2001 and 2002: Both vintages of this 100% Syrah bottling were by far the best wines I’ve tasted in a great while (which believe me, is saying something!) Dense and concentrated, without the over-ripe character often found in California bottles, these multi-layered wines lured me in with wonderfully complex aromas of bramble, black tea, pepper, and blueberry, then exceeded expectations on the palate with mouth-filling richness, taut acid, plenty of fruit, wonderfully soft tannins. Amazing balance.

Sophia 2002: This blend of mainly Cabernet Franc and Merlot put me dangerously close to falling in love with Bordeaux varieties again. A brooding, smoldering giant, with everything from cassis and black licorice to violets and tobacco all wrapped in a framework of solid tannins. Could last for decades, but how could you wait that long when it’s this good now? Sophistication and power.

Doug Wisor Special Selection Pinot Noir 2002: This bottle achieved what is so difficult for California Pinot producers to wrest from their grapes: delicacy without the sacrifice of strength. Earthy in the Burgundian style, the complex and constantly evolving nose kept me coming back again and again. Lively fruit and good acid on the palate.

I also enjoyed the Craggy Range Riesling, which was aromatically seductive, and the Sauvignon blanc, which has all of the mouth-watering acidity and herbaceousness one would hope for in a Kiwi offering of this variety.

Check these wines out for yourself — Chuck down at the Jug Shop on Polk and Pacific in San Francisco is carrying them — and let me know what you think.

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