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Wine of the Week for week / year ending 31 December 2002
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Craggy Range Seven Poplars Merlot 2000
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

Saving one of the best 'til last. Well that's how it seems. Certainly this wine was startingly outstanding in a line up of wines tasted blind then consumed at a pre-Xmas barbecue. The guessing games started as they do in that company. These guys were smart. Most picked New Zealand, perhaps one picked Australia and another picked France. But once the country was known it was easy going from thence. Hawkes Bay was unanimous amongst the regional options and with vintage options of 2001, 2000 and 1997 they knew this wine, with its terrific ripeness, could only be vintage 2000. The label option had a couple floundering but none were surprised when the wine was revealed as the Craggy Range Seven Poplars Merlot 2000. It was a lovely follow-on wine from the debut vintage of 1999.

This richly coloured cerise red-black wine has quite an oaky influence on the nose. In fact there are creamy butterscotch-like aromas, as one would expect in a chardonnay. Try guessing the variety on the nose alone with a blindfold on.

It's a thick textured wine in the mouth, quite velvety in texture with slightly gripping tannins. The fruit is sweet and ripe almost tending towards raisin in flavour at first. But there are blackcurrants and juicy ripe plums there as well. In fact it is quite plummy indeed.

It's a sumptuous merlot that tends towards chocolate on the chocolate. A very good wine indeed and although immensely flavoursome and drinkable now I think it would benefit from further cellaring at this stage.

However, tasting the wine with food it was absolutely terrific with barbecued steaks from the leg of a lamb. I found the bottle before it was completely drained of its contents to save a drop to try the following day.

In the light of the late afternoon I can see that the colour is more bright red. The oak is still very creamy but now with vanilla overtones that hint there might be an American in there - but when I checked the back label it said only 'French'. In fact the wine had spent 12 months in new oak and another 9 months in two-year-old oak before bottling where it had been maturing for yet another 9 months before opening. The oak component is not over the top, however, and is immensely enjoyable if this is what you like. But the fruitiness of the wine is what totally wins me over. Juicy, ripe fleshy blackberry and lots of ripe and juicy black-fleshed plum.

This is a creamy velvety textured wine that is totally seductive and alluring. It's the rich ripe fruit, the vanillin oak, the touch of crisp with just a hint of licorice on the clean long and lingering finish that hooks me.

At $39.95 RRP, this is in the premium range price bracket of New Zealand wine. However all good wines shops should stock it. Find out more from the Craggy Range website.

And if you take my advice and taste the Craggy Range Seven Poplars Merlot 2000 and like it, wait 'til the Craggy Range 'Sophia', a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, is released in February 2003. This was probably the most outstanding wine I tasted at the Gimblett Gravels producers' tasting in Auckland last month. I look forward to its release and hope the price won't knock me for six.

© Sue Courtney
22 December 2002

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