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edited by Sue Courtney

Dry River Wines and Stonecroft Wines release tastings
© Sue Courtney
24 February 2003

Dry River R elease Tasting 16 Feb 2003
The last tasting that Neil McCallum held while he still owned Dry River, the winery he built from nothing to 'cult' status. It was announced just two days later that Dry River will transfer to American ownership on 1 April 2003 - no, this is not a joke. Julian Robertson, an investor from New York, and Reg Oliver, the owner/winermaker of El Molino winery in the Napa Valley, will be the new owners. Dr Neil McCallum will stay on as Chief Winemaker.

With the new buyers having also recently purchased Te Awa Farm Winery in Hawkes Bay and Stonyridge in Auckland, this can only lead to speculation as to the future of the brand and the availability of the wines to loyal mail order customers who may suffer when the wines are sent to the more lucrative US market.

But right now, the wines on offer in the late summer release tasting are the focus. There were four wines in this release and the notes are in the order tasted.

Dry River Arapoff Syrah 2001
Deep carmine red. Attractive scents - floral, berries, lots of peppery spice. It's very appealing with elegant but meaty oak. Quite youthful in the palate, still very wound up and tight with marmite, yeasty, spicy, creamy, slightly furry tannin - like stroking a cat. The oak is quite dark and dense, not too toasty, just quite delicious. Superbly balanced, this is a v.v. good Syrah and one to watch. Lingers with slightly musky, floral, spicy yet not overstated flavours and lots and lots of white and red pepper spice. $52 on mail order.

Dry River Craighall Riesling 2002
At first it smells dry and citrussy with nutty, yeasty, lemon pip, lemon juice, freshly squeezed aromas and in the mouth the strong earthy lemon flavours are joined by limes. It is very tight and perhaps a little austere right now but honey emerges and the citrus is sweet and powerful on the finish. With its dry acidity, this is a very fresh, steely wine that has all the hallmarks of turning from an ugly duckling into a swan with careful cellaring and its long term future looks excellent. A must for Riesling aficionados. $32 on mail order.

Dry River Pinot Gris 2002
Straw lemon in colour, this has lovely, ripe, pear drop and flowery aromas. There's terrific texture in the palate, its rich, a little unctuous, very full-bodied and powerful almost to the point of being overpowering. Seems quite hot and alcoholic in the mouth, bready and leesy with a touch of spice. Quite sweet with lilac flowers and melon jam, it does not show too much acidity at first but the acidity is there, it just lags and emerges like lemon bread on the finish, which is gently sweet. Another wine to let develop as I think this needs more integration. $39 on mail order.

Dry River Arapoff Gewürztraminer Selection 2002
Smells like Gewürztraminer should with terrific aromatics of musk, spice, flowers and honey. In the palate the sweetness hits straight up. It reminds me of apples that have been baked with a date in the middle. This flavour fills out to be joined by raisiny spices , honey, lemon honey and hints of plumped-up dried apricots. The finish is sweet and full, lifted and clean and lasts for ages. It is so well balanced it gives the impression at one stage that perhaps it could be dry, though of course it is not. It is decadently lush, sweet and syrupy, full and persistent - a GW for sipping whereas the earlier release from 2002, the Dry River Estate Gewurztraminer which was one of my 'Wines of the Year' in 2002, is the one I want a big glass of to drink.
Try the Gewürztraminer Selection ($36 on mail order) with fresh peach poached in gewürztraminer syrup, grilled with sugar and served with marscapone and rose petals - see my foodfile for the recipe.

The Syrah was my favourite wine from this release tasting.

Stonecroft Release Tasting, 17 Feb 2003
Held in the lobby of the Auckland's Hyatt Hotel, which unfortunately was undergoing renovations at the time. The smell of fresh paint was overpowering.

Alan lamented about the lack of fruit on his vines as the season heads towards the 2003 harvest. "It is simply uneconomic to pick it", he said. "It's even worse than the meagre crop we harvested in 2001", another frost affected vintage. "I reckon the whole region will be down to about 30% of last year's crop", he said.

We were tasting the white wines from 2002 and the red wines from 2001. 2002 was an excellent vintage. The weather in 2002 was good and crops were large. Hawkes Bay had a record harvest. However there will be a divergence in quality in the red wines from 2001. "It was one of the worst vintages for pressure and critical decision making that I have ever experienced", said Alan. "While the vintage was extremely pressured there was some very good fruit to be had, if you could hop scotch thru the weather patterns. The heat for full ripening was available if you could hold your nerve and not have to bring the grapes in early", he said.

Stonecroft Gewürztraminer 2002
Smells of lychees and spiced raisin bread, this a really rich, full-bodied, spicy Gewürztraminer, quite concentrated in its flavour of rose Turkish delight. It is reasonably dry but the balance and texture is superb, so I could be delusioned. No I am not - it has only 5 grams of residual sugar. The finish is fry and spicy with a lift of lemon and an oily nuance with a herbal twist to the finish, reminding me of crushed summer herbs such as coriander. I like this wine very much. $30 on mail order.

Stonecroft Chardonnay 2002
Very subtle on the nose, dominated by the paint fumes in the tasting room at the Hyatt. Oak, melon perhaps. But there is no let down in the mouth. This is a rich, full-bodied, powerful wine with spicy oak and nectarine, pear and orange melon fruits. It has a lovely polished and creamy texture with good fruit, good weight and good concentration. The finish is long and spicy and delicate honey emerges to longer as well. Still tight, it should unfold well. Tasted with a piece of rockmelon wrapped up in Parma Ham, the match went well. I have always like the Stonecroft Chardonnays and this one is one of the best yet. Perhaps the 20-year-old vines have something to do with it. $35 on mail order.

Stonecroft Crofters V
A blend of 40% 2001 Syrah from Alan Limmer's 'home block', with 38% merlot and 22% Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2000 vintage.
Bright youthful purple red colour of medium density. Even with the paint fumes, the attractive spicy berry and mellow spicy oak aromas are good. There's a good hit of spicy, peppery Syrah upfront in the mouth then loads of red berry flavours. It is very fruity with notes of redcurrant and blackberry while leather and chocolate emerge and linger on the creamy finish. This is a lovely wine and at $19 a bottle (on mail order) it is great value also.

Stonecroft Ruhanui 2001 A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
Deep dark oaky wine, smells very tight but in the mouth the ripe berry flavours explode. A big meaty tarry wine, I can taste the flavours of roasted grapes and can imagine this with a roast leg of lamb. The fruit is ripe and spicy and the Syrah kicks in at the end. It's really smooth, the tannins are there but they are totally integrated. But the paint is distracting. A good wine that I think this will be one of the star reds of the Hawkes Bay 2001 vintage, which in many respects was variable with quality depending on when the grapes were picked. Alan said he was able to pick the ripe, low cropping vines exactly when he wanted. $30 on mail order.

Stonecroft Syrah 2001
A creamy Syrah, but I thought that perhaps it lacked a little in concentration compared to previous efforts. Alan disagreed but said he did have to pick some of the Syrah early - this went into the Crofters V, however. The wine unfolds to reveal an immense robust flavour of plums and spice, so I put my disinterest down to the smell of the venue and the fact the wine followed the powerfully flavoured Ruhanui. Alan gave me the remainder of the bottle to take home.
Now without the distraction of paint, I can smell lots and lots of spice in the wine. It's hot and spicy and floral with cherry scents, warm cuddly oak, violets and herbs, the oak is quite polished and as the wine lingers in the palate the flavour becomes quite meaty and intense, with plums and leather joining the fray. It's definitely a good Syrah, northern Rhonish in style but with the ripe fruit flavours of New Zealand. Try with salami but not with olive or sundried tomatoes. $45 on mail order.

All the Stonecroft wines show terrific balance and are getting that seamless quality about them.

If you are a follower of Stonecroft, then buy now as there may be none from the 2003 vintage. Alan's crop is down to about 1/3 tonne an acre and it is just not economic to pick the grapes, he said. There will be the fabulous reds from 2002 at next year's release tasting however, but at this stage perhaps no whites from 2003.

© Sue Courtney
24th February 2003.

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