Craggy Range, Sophia 2013 Hawke’s Bay


From NZ$69.99, €43.95, AU$69, 369.13 Danish krone, 58 Swiss francs, £39.80, HK$520 (minimum order six bottles) 

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I don’t often choose wines as relatively expensive as this one as my wine of the week but I was so struck by the sheer quality of this vintage of Sophia, the top Bordeaux blend from New Zealand’s most lavishly appointed winery (seen across the Gimblett Gravels vineyard, below), that I wanted to draw attention to it. 

It is grown in New Zealand’s sweet spot for Bordeaux red grapes, Hawke’s Bay on the east coast of the North Island, specifically in the stony, well-drained subregion dubbed in a pretty clever marketing move Gimblett Gravels. Here the low water-holding capacity of the silty, stony soil means that vine growers can control the vines very precisely by the timing and amount of irrigation. (Average annual rainfall is about 470 mm.) The climate is temperate maritime, not unlike Bordeaux and Margaret River, although the region tends to be slightly cooler.

Every year I am sent a dozen of the best reds grown in the Gimblett Gravels to give me an idea of the latest vintage to be released. I must say that I was distinctly unimpressed by the 2012 Gimblett Gravels combination earlier this year, so I was particularly pleased to come across this evidence that the 2013 vintage seems to have been so much better than the cool 2012. The early months of 2013, those leading up to the harvest, were unusually hot and dry with rainfall during the whole growing season totalling just 228 mm. But, of course, this being New Zealand and relatively close to Antarctic influence, there is no shortage of refreshing acidity.

You can see from this account of a Gimblett Gravels v Bordeaux 2005 tasting that the best vintages of Bordeaux blends from this part of the world can perform seriously well. Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t always ripen fully here. Craggy Range Sophia 2013 is basically a Merlot with knobs on:  62% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. The beauty of Craggy Range’s owner’s largesse is that there is such a plethora of information. Thus I can tell you that the grapes were hand-picked at an average of 24.3 Brix with an average yield of 48 hl/ha.

They were all destemmed and fermented with selected yeast in closed French oak cuves (nothing but the best) before being aged for 19 months in French barriques, of which 42% were new. The wine was not fined but was lightly filtered and was bottled last February with an alcohol level of 13.8%, total acidity of 5.9 g/l and pH 3.61.

According to the notes, it was released on 1 June. A week later I tasted it at home and wrote about this sophisticated but generous antipodean answer to Pichon Lalande, ‘Bright crimson and very bright fruit that is very beautiful and beautifully balanced. Super-ripe but not sweet. Much fresher than the too-heavy bottle suggests. Really very accomplished. Long and neat. Really lovely wine that lasted well in an opened bottle – A Good Sign.’

I was impressed, as you can tell. I added my tasting note, with a score of 17.5 out of 20 and a suggested drinking window of 2015-27, as what we call a Standalone (not part of a specific tasting article) to our tasting notes database – now standing at nearly 116,000 wine reviews, including seven other vintages of Sophia.

This wine may not be made in huge quantity but Craggy Range’s export department have managed to get it pretty well distributed around the world. According to, it’s available in New Zealand, Australia, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, the UK, Switzerland, Spain and Hong Kong. Craggy Range’s own literature suggests it’s also available in a further 16 countries. Curiously in view of the fact that Craggy, as locals call it, is American-owned, this vintage is not, unfortunately, available in the US yet as far as I can see. Never mind, the 2011, 2010 and delicious 2005 still seem to be in commercial circulation there. In the UK, good old Hedonism is the only stockist listed by Wine-searcher that can offer the wine by the single bottle. Bordeaux Index seem to be offering a dozen bottles in bond for £348.

The most recent Craggy Range news is that Terry Peabody's co-founder in 1998 Steve Smith MW is taking a new role as advisor and board member rather than man-on-the-ground. He will be spending much of the coming academic year at Stanford, California, lucky man.

I discussed my distaste for Craggy Range’s unnecessarily heavy bottles with him and he claims that customers love them. Not this one.

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