Anthony Rose: 'Sauvignon blanc remains the haka with which New Zealand goes into battle'

 

It was a happy coincidence that New Zealand staged two important wine events in the lead up to tomorrow's Rugby World Cup final. The first was the annual new release tasting that gives the press a sneak peek at the new vintage while the harvest in Europe is barely under way. The second was a review of Craggy Range with the big (for New Zealand) cheese, Steve Smith MW. If you don't know Craggy Range, get acquainted, because I can't think of another wine company that's managed to roll Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire and Rhône styles into one harmonious group of wines so successfully.

Winston Churchill said of champagne, "In victory you deserve it, in defeat you need it" and doubtless if New Zealand had been making quality sparkling wine in his day, he would have said the same of Cloudy Bay's Pelorus Brut, £15.59 special offer, down from £19.49, Waitrose, a Bollinger-inspired biscuity fizz with full flavour. The best Kiwi fizz is made from the champagne grapes, chardonnay and pinot noir, but a new trend is emerging. Perhaps from a surplus of grapes in the light of the island's burgeoning production, sauvignon blanc is being made into fizz. A good example, Lindauer Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, £7.49-£9.99, Majestic, Waitrose, makes for a refreshing, gooseberry and passion fruit fizz.

Despite credible progress towards new and so-called alternative white grapes, sauvignon blanc remains the haka with which New Zealand goes into battle. Brancott Estate, formerly Montana, and Villa Maria are the benchmarks, and both the nettley 2011 Brancott Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, around £9.59, and the elderfloral 2011 Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon, £9.99, available in most supermarkets, maintain a high standard. With an extra year in bottle, the 2010 Blind River Sauvignon Blanc, £9.99, Waitrose, and when you buy 2, Majestic, is delightfully aromatic, exotic and full of richly concentrated green bean-like fruit.

Craggy Range is based in North Island's Hawkes Bay, a region that bucks New Zealand's sauvignon and pinot noir trends to bring star quality to both Bordeaux- and Rhone-style reds. It's in these two styles that Craggy Range excels, Bordeaux for the cranberry bite and blackcurrant juiciness of the 2009 Craggy Range Te Kahu, around £15.99, Majestic, Wholefoods, slurp.co.uk. Growing on the same well-drained Gimblett Gravels soils in Hawkes Bay, the Rhône's syrah is proving itself in a spicy, cool-climate contrast to Australian shiraz. The 2009 Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Syrah, around £20, Flagship Wines, St Albans (01727 865 309), Fortnums, is an excellent example of the Crozes-Hermitage-like, blackberry-fruit elegance that the Gimblett Gravels bring.

Of the new intake of fine pinot noir, the fresh mulberryish virtues of the 2010 Brancott Estate Letter Series T Pinot Noir, around £14.95, Tesco by the case, Ocado, is admirable, as is the red berry-scented 2010 Mount Difficulty Roaring Meg Pinot Noir, £14.99. A notch up the ladder, Felton Road's 2010 Bannockburn Pinot Noir, around £29.95, swig.co.uk, Stone, Vine & Sun, Winchester (01962 712 351), is a model of cinnamon-spicy fragrance and richly concentrated cherry and cranberry fruit. Rewind to 2007 and the Desert Heart Pinot Noir, Central Otago, £24.49, Waitrose Wine Direct (5 branches), brings autumnal scents of smoky pinot fragrance and opulent cherry and strawberry-fruit flavour. A few tips for today, but no predictions for tomorrow's crucial game.

The Wine Gang Christmas Fair 2011 ticket giveaway

The Wine Gang is five of the UK’s most respected wine critics: Anthony Rose of The Independent, Joanna Simon of House & Garden, Tom Cannavan of wine-pages.com, David Williams of The Observer and Jane Parkinson of janeparkinson.com.

For the third year running, they have put together an incredible all-day festival of wine in Edinburgh where you can taste from 300 wines priced £6 to £80, take part in a fun and a free wine walk conducted by the Gang, and meet and learn from our tutored masterclasses on Chablis, Chile, Portugal and Argentina.

This is Britain’s brightest, best and most relaxed wine event and is a fabulous chance to plan your wine drinking for Christmas and beyond. Many of the exhibitors at the fair will be offering exclusive discounts on the day, too.

We have three pairs of tickets to the event, including a masterclass of your choice (subject to availability) to give away (each of the three prize packages is worth £70). Please write to indy@thewinegang.com.

The Wine Gang Christmas Fair 2011, The Merchants Hall, Edinburgh; Sat 12 Nov; £20, early bird £15, optional tickets for each masterclass £15; ticketSOUP.com; 0844 481 8898.

The closing date for this offer is midnight, Friday November 4th 2011.

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