Sunday, 13 November 2011

Wine time; A Hunter interlude.

Diverting from the Yarra Valley for an evening...  Let us raise a glass or two to Cruickshank Callatoota Estate, a winery located in the Upper Hunter Valley at Denman, New South Wales.  The opportunity to open a few bottles with dinner guests was a great way to sample a few of their offerings together. Cruickshank is an interesting winery for a few reasons and I thought rather than just a raw review here was presented an opportunity to look at wine from a few slants.

note the poor quality and graininess in shot...
Personally, it's one of the first producers I can remember singling out as one I particularly enjoyed and was attracted to for their style and approach. Being small producers, they could be forgiven using another winery and contract winemaker to produce their wines. Instead they do it all in house, formally at Wybong and now at the new vineyard and winery at Denman. This allows the wine to be made the way they want, and to pursue wine styles as they feel appropriate and compelling. Cruickshank has had to relocate in the last few years as a result of a new open cut coal mine which was opening adjacent to the Wybong site, thus the move to the new Denman locale. I find it appalling really that a piece of prime agricultural land and producer come second to a coal mine, but this seems the way of things unfortunately.

A few wines were tried, both old and new, we even had a lovely 2007 Brangayne Cabernet (Orange, NSW) for a bit of difference and comparison. The Cabernet franc comes from the Wybong site, the Cab Sav and white from the newer Denman vineyard.  
Cruickshank Chardonnay/Verdelho 2011

Something a bit different, here's a 50/50 blend.  Fruit salad nose, citrus and tropical fruit. Rich with some fruit sweetness, in the mouth similar to the nose but with a lovely melon note, dryness on the finish retains line and refreshment. Here's a great little summer quaffer, 88.

Cruickshank Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Deep Ruby wine, lightens at the edges, smells rich with fruit and chocolaty vanilla oak. This somewhat masks the inherent cedar wood cabernet characteristics that are present, though these came up with a little air. The palate presents considerable power and generosity, there is something of grandma's Christmas cake here and the American Oak is very present. Thus toasty vanilla and even hints of coconut combine with the fleshy fruit elements of the wine, the cedar and spice also come through. The finish is surprisingly savoury with a satisfying lick of acidity and tannin tying it all together. Flavour lingers nicely in the mouth. Needs more time and should age well. 90.

Cruickshank Cabernet franc 2003

Quite a lovely autumnal colour to this wine as it fades to brick red tones at the edges. Smells of barnyard floor, straw and sweat, remarkably fresh fruit peeking through as well. The palate is redolent of these lovely elements mingling with fruit and cigar box/tobacco notes.  Nice vegetal characters and fine tannins.  Line and length complete an elegant wine of finesse and rustic charm.

We enjoyed the wines with a lovely rare seared whole eye fillet, potatoes and greens.  Simple but beautiful and a recipe which I will post in the future.

I'm loathe to score the Cabernet franc because it really was beautiful and somehow a score diminishes it all a bit. Being as objective as I can I still think it's a 93+ wine! As I have stated before I only like to score to give a rough guide, it's also usually reflective (or tries to be!) of quality and style as I try and take my personal preferences out as much as I can. If indeed this is possible, is really a valid question and challenge of any taster or commentator.  Can personal taste and opinion ever be practically moderated in a meaningful way to this end?  I think not, but I'm all for personal musings and lively discussion.

It seems that over time the wines have been tidied up and are cleaner and more polished in their production. Again it's arguable as to the relative pros and cons of this; cleaner wines promote the purity of fruit and varietal expression, but the slightly dirty rustic quality does lend some charming idiosyncrasies to the wines. Overall it's probably a move in the right direction, the wines should last better and indeed they still have the qualities that appealed previously. The dirt and paddock are still there but with a degree of subtlety absent previously. It may also be prudent to remember that the new source of fruit has no doubt changed the equation somewhat as well.  With regard to the fruit I'm tipping some great things as it settles down and the vines get a little older, heady times!

At the moment I thought the Cab Sav a good wine, but not to my taste entirely as the oak component seemed rather overpowering. The wine should integrate nicely over a few years though as it settles down and things harmonise a bit. On the Oak; and I'm being picky here, (I have a bit of an American oak thing!) I prefer french or atleast old oak, as otherwise I feel like things are a bit of a coconut vanilla bomb. For those who love it, this may be your thing.  For myself it just comes across as heavy handed, sticking out everytime I taste.  Time to pour another Malibu and Pineapple by way of training... 

In The land of Verdonnay/Chadelho/Denman gold things were suprisingly good. There has been much speculation amongst others who enjoy a Cruickshank drop as to what this wine would be like. Well, here it would seem is a lovely summer afternoon/evening drop!  I'm not a huge fan of the straight Vedelho, so this impressed and may even be something better than the individual varietals offered.  Regarding a name for the wine, perhaps a more oblique name or reference might give it a suitable title. 

So finally to the Cabernet franc much lauded previously, not much needs to be said; lovely wine and one so identifiably of the Hunter Valley, perhaps even more than the varietal characteristics.  Bliss!

Have a look at their website for more info, well worth a glance

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