Our recent tasting with Hugh Crighton from Vidal’s was a learning experience. His job is making wine, but he taught us a few things about how to sell it.
Speaking as a winemaker he was modest – emphasising his reliance on teamwork in vineyard and winery. But when assuring the crowd of his wines’ future in cellar he was all confidence and swagger – the crowd was putty in his hands.
As expected, the four vintages of his top Legacy Chardonnay got a somewhat divided reception. Crighton is renowned for a style that is elegant in fruit and mineral character, but distinctly bold in the flinty or ‘sulfide’ funk that envelops the nose and palate.
An effect of low-oxygen or ‘reductive’ winemaking, this sulfuric atmosphere was adored by roughly half the room. Especially the Francophiles that were with us celebrated the Legacy Chardonnay’s complexity and Burgundian styling. The other half struggled however, describing the most sulfidic vintage (2015) with terms like ‘barnyard’, ‘silage’ and ‘Rotorua’.
Crighton seemed to enjoy the banter. As a winemaker identified with New Zealand’s most controversial Chardonnay, he was no stranger to debate – and unashamed of his European preferences. His assurance that such flinty characters integrate in cellar helped to sway the day, with most tasters forced to admit an admiration for the wine’s distinctiveness and savoury harmony.
After these Chardonnays typified by a deliberate lack of ‘cleanliness’ – a rare thing in New Zealand – it was a real turnaround when his four vintages of Legacy Syrah were rolled out. These reds were equally unique, but for precisely opposite reasons. The flavours were so pristine and precise that the fruit clarity wasn’t even masked by the slightest hint of pepper – let alone the savouriness or gamey funk we have come to expect in other good Kiwi Syrah.
Clearly Crighton has full licence to make the style he wants. His Legacy Syrahs – eccentrically opposite in style to his Chardonnays – offered red and black fruit simply so pure, penetrating, focussed and long that the relative absence of spice and minerality felt more like a gain than a loss. Though highly appealing now, their impeccable focus offers a very sound platform for complexity in years to come.
Thanks for popping over, Hugh – we all had a good night!
Vidal’s Legacy Chardonnay 2013 – Back vintage (not available)
An elegant nose carries nuances of slightly salty citrus pith, straw and dried flowers. The attack on the palate is elegant too, with cleaner and more powerful mid-palate citrus fruit nicely wrapped in weight and texture. A little saltiness returns on the long, fresh, and subtly layered finish. Overall it comes across as an impeccably textural wine, with fruit that’s deep but restrained and integrated with good in-built complexity.
Vidal’s Legacy Chardonnay 2014 – Back vintage (not available)
A touch more ripeness on the nose, edging into stone fruit with suggestions of passionfruit and pineapple. But the core remains about citrus, cleaner and less salty that 2013. The palate follows up with slightly brighter fruit, mainly citrus, backed by a racier acidity that opens into a broad but fresh and salivating finish of lemon juice and stony minerals. It is not heavily sulfidic yet feels stylistically in line with 2013, if bigger and more refreshing, while retaining an impressive elegance, weight and presence.
Vidal’s Legacy Chardonnay 2015 – Library stock, $52.99
More obvious sulfides on the nose here, with rounded and expansive salty themes verging on onion or chicken stock (other tasters said ‘barnyard’ or ‘Rotorua’). Almost masked by this, a fruit profile of Fino Sherry-like citrus pith forms almost a background aroma. Like the 2013, there is less evident minerality (is the funk covering up the stony characters?). A focussed palate integrates muted citrus into onion-like sulfide themes, finishing with a freshness that sits between the ‘13 and ‘14. Despite the wines savoury elements it feels, counter-intuitively, a touch less complex – as if the sulfides are dominating or masking the other kinds of complexity and layering. Still, it is compelling and complete as a statement of this style.
Vidal’s Legacy Chardonnay 2016 – Current release, $52.99
Similar nose to earlier wines but with less evident sulfide influence, just a smack of chalky cleanliness nuanced with toasty smoke. A defined palate of bright citrus and stonefruit allows mineral and butter notes to register. Feels more generous and lush up front before breaking into mineral freshness and chalky grip on the finish. The elements are here for a great wine, but less integrated than the others (due to youth and recent bottling, no doubt). Promising.
Vidal’s Legacy Syrah 2010 – Back vintage (not available)
A very pure and poised fragrance of red currants which conceals slightly darker undertones of tar and blacker fruit. A nuance of spicy cigar box is the only other non-fruit character. The fruit on the palate is penetrating and nicely reflects the nose, with a subtly mouth-filling texture driven by acid and fine, granular tannins. On the finish the fruit feels riper, more developed, with the tannins carrying subtle flavours of dried dark fruit.
Vidal’s Legacy Syrah 2011 – Back vintage (not available)
A more perfumed nose shows red fruit along with dark plum. A touch of toast and spice gives the aroma gives a more complete, traditional feel. The palate brings a silky attack of poignant red and dark fruit, followed by an impressively broad and penetrating flavours in the mid-palate. This tapers beautifully to a resonant, consonant and penetrating finish where gentle waves of tannin have a powdery feel and, again, fruit after-effects that have slightly darker, tarry depth. Despite the chalkiness felt through the palate, there seems to be a very slight tackiness about the tannins that linger after it.
Vidal’s Legacy Syrah 2013 – Back vintage (not available)
A slightly candied nose of redcurrant, almost raspberry, with blackcurrant notes touching subtle undertones of ink or tar. The palate is broad and juicy, with pastille and fresher fruits filling out a palate that is however more linear and focussed in feel that the others. The finish is fine powdery tannins and sun-warmed fruit. Excellent but needs a little time.
Vidal’s Legacy Syrah 2014 – Current release, $69.99
A slight licorice note this time, with inky-tar nuances almost concealed behind deep red and black fruit. The fruit tastes warm, like 2013, a bit more pastille-like, and this time with an almost aniseed note that touches off the darker spectrum flavours. These flavours finish with nice clarity amongst a wash of fine, powdery tannins. The freshness and structure feels youthful, promising to soften and integrate nicely as the fruit refines in cellar.