Must Try: Smith & Sheth ‘Cru

Steve Smith will be best known to most winelovers as the man behind so many great Craggy Range wines. He was one of the founders, along with Terry Peabody, and responsible for sourcing the superb vineyards from which their grapes came, as well as making the wines. All that said, I suspect Steve sees himself first and foremost as a viticulturist. 

Steve had previously worked at Villa Maria and Peregrine and was one of New Zealand’s earliest Masters of Wine. As mentioned, he was at Craggy since the beginning and what he achieved there was extraordinary. 

Having scaled back his involvement with Craggy, Steve has now teamed with Texan investor and wildlife conservationist, Brian Sheth, to form Smith & Sheth ‘Cru’. They call themselves ‘contemporary negociants‘. Steve has incomparable contacts throughout the New Zealand wine industry, not just in Hawkes Bay, allowing them to source quality fruit from numerous regions. 

Steve has no intention of attempting to duplicate what he has done at
Craggy. As an example, he says about their Heretaunga Syrah (Heretaunga is Maori for Hawkes Bay), it “is definitely a different statement to what we
did at Craggy where the wines were bigger and denser. The whole idea here is Northern Rhone meets Gimblett Gravels with a very open feel to the wine and more of a focus on the floral nature of Syrah and supple nature of the wine alongside the distinctive Gimblett Gravels black pepper dark fruits feel. They are no less ripe than the bigger wines from the gravels, just a
different take on the idea.” 

The wines are split into the Single Vineyard Collection and the Appellation
wines and, at this stage, are extremely reasonably priced, mostly between
NZ$50 and $60, with the Sauvignon Blanc about half this. At this stage,
these wines will be hard to find, though some will be making their way to
Australia. Anyone seriously interested should contact the winery to arrange

The single vineyard wines include a Syrah and Chardonnay from the Omahu Vineyard, a Chardonnay from the Mangatahi Vineyard, a Chardonnay from the Howell Vineyard and the Cantera, a red blend from the Omahu Vineyard.

The Appellation wines include Chardonnay, Syrah, Albarino and Cabernet
Franc, all from Heretaunga, Pinot Noir from Kawarau (in Central Otago – the
Kawarau River featured as the setting for the Gates of Argonath, the Pillars
of the Kings, in the Lord of the Rings films) and finally, a Sauvignon Blanc
from Wairau. 

Cru Cantera 2017 – A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and
Tempranillo. Only 146 six-packs of this wine were made. The grapes came from vineyards with stony riverbed soils in the Gimblett Gravels subregion of Hawkes Bay. They were destemmed and co-fermented in open-top vessels and punched down twice daily during fermentation. The wine spent 19 months in barrel, most of which were new American oak, which is comparatively rare for this style, though much less so in Rioja, which is understandable given the use of Tempranillo. 

The stunning aromas leapt from the bottle as soon as it was opened. Filled
the room. Fabulous stuff. Just gorgeous. Inky black notes, cloves, spices,
vanillin notes, florals, with soft, cuddly, supple tannins to finish. Great
length and fine concentration with underlying power. A fine, layered style.
Has many years ahead of it, though delicious today. 95. 

Cru Heretaunga Syrah 2017 – 686 six-packs here, with the grapes from
15-Year-Old Syrah vines (and yes, that is reasonably old in New Zealand),
again the stony riverbed soils. Destemmed grapes, indigenous yeasts, open-top fermenters and daily punching down. 15 months in barriques, 40 per cent of which were new. 

A wine with fineness and finesse. Alluring aromas. Has the dense chocolate,
black olives and floral notes of a top Hawkes Bay Syrah, but is more elegant
than most. Excellent balance and length with juicy acidity. Very fine, supple tannins. This should age extremely well for the best part of a decade. 94. 

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