The first ever tasting of Bordeaux Blends from the Gimblett Gravels region of New Zealand took place recently in Bordeaux. Hosted jointly by Henri Lurton, Proprietor of Château Brane-Cantenac, Steve Smith MW of Craggy Range Winery and CH’NG Poh Tiong, Publisher of Chinese Bordeaux Guide and The Wine Review, on 28 June 2010, the walk-around tasting followed by a buffet lunch in the cellar of this fine Margaux Second Growth château was a historic confluence of the fine wines of New Zealand in Bordeaux, writes Reva K. Singh. Pictured above: Steve Smith and Henri Lurton
Ch’ng Poh Tiong, who was one of the organizers said, “The idea for the tasting came during the judging in November 2009 of the Air New Zealand Wine Show.
“So impressed was I with the strides made by New Zealand Bordeaux blends over the years that I suggested to Steve Smith MW, Chairman of the Air New Zealand Show, that our friends in Bordeaux would be interested to discover how their famous varietals were doing in other places and, in this instance, a far-flung place on the other side of the world.” Above: CH’NG Poh Tiong, Jean Claude Berrouet from Pétrus and Steve Smith
Two years ago, Henri Lurton had opened the doors of Château Brane-Cantenac to the California Vintners Association and conducted a tasting of 12 California cabernets. This time, it was six wineries from the east of the Northern Island of New Zealand that presented their wines. Each winery featured three vintages of the same wine.
The wines, in alphabetical order, were:
Church Road ‘Tom’ – 2009, 2007 & 2005
Craggy Range ‘Sophia’ – 2009, 2007 & 2005
Craggy Range ‘The Quarry’ – 2009, 2007 & 2005
Sacred Hill ‘The Helmsman’ – 2009, 2007 & 2006
Trinity Hill ‘The Gimblett’ – 2009, 2007 & 2004
Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ – 2009, 2007 & 2005
The Gimblett Winegrowing District is a designation for winemakers and producers that own land in this district and make wine on its ancient riverbed. At least 95% of the grapes composing a wine must come from the gravelly alluvial soil left behind within the boundaries of the district, after the floods of 1967. The grape varietals constitute a typical Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Merlot. Pictured below: Philippe Blanc from Beychevelle and Nathalie Schyler from Kirwan
The many distinguished guests who gathered at Brane-Cantenac included some of the most influential château proprietors and oenologists of Bordeaux as well as a few wine writers. They tasted and rated the top three wines and their favourites were:
Craggy Range ‘Sophia’ 2009
60% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot. Yield: 40 hl/ha, 20 months in 45% new oak.
Sophia is the ‘grand vin’ of Craggy Range’s Gimblett Gravels Vineyard. It is always based on merlot with varying proportions of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. In some vintages, some malbec and petit verdot form an important part in the blend. The winemaking is traditional with fermentation and maceration in large vats, followed by ageing in small French oak for up to 20 months. Assemblage (blending) takes place after six months in oak and careful egg-fining before bottling. The price is around £35-40 a bottle.
Craggy Range ‘The Quarry’ 2007
83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc. Yield: 37 hl/ha.
20 months in 64% new oak.
The Quarry is sourced from the heart of the stoniest soils of Craggy Range’s Gimblett Gravels Vineyard. Its production is driven by a passion to make fine wines from cabernet sauvignon and a great love and respect for the wines of the Médoc. In most vintages, the cuvée is made up of at leat 85% cabernet sauvignon with a small portion of merlot. The vines that are used to make this wine grow very close to the gravelly soil. Since 2006 they are made up entirely of clonal planting material from Bordeaux. Winemaking is almost identical to that of Sophia.
Church Road, ‘Tom’, 2007 and Craggy Range ‘Sophia’ 2007 (Tie)
Church Road Tom 2007 81% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon. Yield: 58hl/ha, 13 months in 75% new oak.
Craggy Range Sophia 2007 81% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Malbec. Yield: 43hl/ha, 18 months in 50% new oak. (See notes above).
Church Road is one of the oldest working wineries in New Zealand with a history of winemaking on the current site dating back to 1897. For most of the 1900s the winery was owned and managed by Tom McDonald, a pioneer of the quality wine industry in New Zealand. A love for the great wines of Bordeaux saw Tom McDonald establish the first commercially made cabernet sauvignon in New Zealand, a wine that went on to receive multiple accolades from both local and international wine writers of the day. Today their flagship red wine, a blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon is named in honour of Tom and is produced only in the most favourable vintages.
“For those of us on the other side of the world much of our fine wine inspiration comes from the great wines of France and their producers,” said Steve Smith, at the start of the tasting. “Two weeks spent in Bordeaux in the summer of 1991, as a young man with no money, set me on a path that has become my life’s ambition. Here I tasted the young wines of 1990 from barrel, a seminal moment for me not just because of the wines but because of the place that is Bordeaux.
“So I am deeply honoured to be in Bordeaux today at Château Brane-Cantenac with our wines and those of some fine friends and colleagues from my region. These wines, all of them crafted by the inspiration of Bordeaux, are from a young fledgling part of New Zealand, the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowing District. They represent some of the very best of the wine styles that are produced in our country. And they make no aspiration to be ‘Bordeaux like’ as these wines are ours. They make no statement of a comparison. They simply speak for our place and our people and we invite you to that experience.”