Spotlight on New Zealand: Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah 2005

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I’ve been pretty excited about the New Zealand Syrahs I’ve tasted in this spotlight. This wine, however, has proven to be somewhat of an enigma.

A New Zealand Giant

Craggy Range is one of the bigger names in Hawke’s Bay – 200,000 cases – which is not huge by standards outside of New Zealand, but within New Zealand it is quite considerable. Founded in the late 1980’s, Craggy Range has helped bring considerable success to the Hawke’s Bay region and has since expanded all over New Zealand, with wines made from grapes grown in Marlborough to Central Otago.

The Le Sol, however, is from Craggy Range’s “prestige” range of wines that supposedly represent the absolute best of what they do and what the Hawke’s Bay can produce.

Gimblett Gravels, the Hawke’s Bay sub-region from which this Syrah sprouts, is also considered by many to be the best region for Syrah in New Zealand – an ancient river bed with sedimentary soils. It is certainly the warmest, which helps make wines made from these soils some of the densest and richest in the country.

A Confused Wine or a Confused Tasting

The Le Sol comes in two parts – pop and pour and decanted. Surprisingly, the impact of decanting on this wine proved to be in reverse to what is traditional: it became more one dimensional and monolithic and lost the aromatic complexity and fresh palate I experienced upon initial opening.

On the initial open, this offered plenty of game and pepper, pouring a very youthful deep red. I thought these aromatics were so much more interesting than any of the big boy Syrahs from the U.S. and Australia.This changed, however, with the decant as the oak took over the fruit.

The same occurred on the palate. Initially a wine with juicy blackberry, plum, pepper, a hint of game and great freshness. This had mouthwatering acidity and exceptional length, finishing with herbs, garrigue and fine tannins. Strangely, with the decant this became all oak, which dried out the fruit on the finish. I cannot understand how such an expressive, fresh and complex wine could become so simplistic and monolithic with only a couple hours of air, but this is what happened.

As such, I find this a difficult wine to rate, and I’m not sure what to make of it, though at the price I can’t recommend it over the Sacred Hill or Man O War. Nonetheless, here it is:

Very Good+ to Excellent upon Pop and Pour
Fair with a Decant
$100 at Kits Wine Cellar

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