I, for one, am really enjoying this flush of ‘online tastings’ that has developed during our enforced Covid-19 Level 4 Lockdown. The latest was an early evening session with MW Steve Smith, introducing the latest releases from the CRU label. Wines tasted on this evening were and Albarino from Bridge Pa, a Pinot noir from Kawarau, and a Cabernet Franc from Hawke’s Bay.
Steve explained that the ‘Negociant’ style business that’s been set up allows for him to identify and approach “exceptional vineyards” and purchase parcels of outstanding fruit; to be made into wines of either varietally-specific or blends, according to their suitability. Some years they might make one-off wines; and in many years, fruit that is part of a long-standing relationship will become a standard of the range. They own no winery and only supply a few pieces of “kit” to make the wines – barrels, for example, as necessary.
Part of this involves working with great winemakers such as Pete Bartle in Central; and getting to re-visit places from earlier in his career – like the Howell vineyard in Bridge Pa. The New Zealand wine industry is full of characters and to spend an evening with someone with the depth of experience, and stories to tell that Steve has – is never going to be dull. I’m looking forward to a time post-lockdown when I can visit the superb-looking Smith & Sheth Wine Studio and Cellar Door in Havelock North and chat to the team in person.
Smith & Sheth CRU Heretaunga Albarino 2019
Pale yellow, greening edges in the glass. A bright bouquet of nectarine and pear, with wafts of orange blossom and honeysuckle. Full-bodied and plush; but with a lithe balance of sweet fruit and acidity. A savoury, nutty character on the palate that goes well with the saline quality that good Albarino has – a little wet stone and sea spray. There’s a note of ripe citrus and an oatmeal character tucked away in here, enriched by a beautiful, creaminess in texture. The finish is lasting and satisfying. An elegant and open wine – reminiscent of a well-crafted Chardonnay, and would be the perfect companion to a feed of delicious New Zealand seafood
Smith & Sheth CRU Kawarau Pinot Noir 2018
Ruby coloured, bright and vibrant; with evocative aromas of violets, birch sap, and red cherry. The lighter colour disguises a rich and concentrated palate of damson, blackberry and a balsamic note (possible from the 30% whole bunch used in one parcel of the fruit). Plenty of acidity, but with svelte, fine-grained black tea-like tannins – silky and taut. A little minerality, with savoury herbals and mocha towards the long and succulent finish. Has all the ripe hallmarks of a warm-year Gibbston Pinot, and the components to last a good ten-year stretch. Drinking beautifully already though, and good luck hiding this from yourself until 2030!
Smith & Sheth CRU Heretaunga Cabernet Franc 2018
This sits in your glass, typifying a classic Hawke’s Bay red. A dark claret, dense but vibrant. A nose of cassis, crushed redcurrants, lavender and fresh leather. Leading to more red fruit like a raspberry coulis, but an underlying earthiness of sumac, black pepper and black olive. A nudge of oaky barrel perfumes the mid palate, but a layer of spicy resinous lingers with tobacco, moss and bark typifying the varietal. A supple mouth-filling texture, with heaps of complexity and a graceful length to the finish. Not too many of these single-variety Cab Francs around, and this one has the structure and balance to go the distance. Drinks fresh and seductive now, but pop one out of sight for a while, and return to a treat one autumn evening with a big steak?