I bumped into Malcolm Reeves the other day. For those of you who donít know who Malcolm Reeves is, he is a sage of the New Zealand winemaking scene. He used to lecture at Massey University - where he helped to establish some of the first University wine courses held in New Zealand - but now he teaches Wine Science at the Eastern Institute of Technology in Hawkes Bay. But probably of more importance to the wine drinker is the fact that Malcolm is the man behind Crossroads Wines - well he was - until he sold it in September 2000 to a company called Ager Sectus. And even after selling his baby he stayed on for a while as consultant winemaker and to nurse the wines through their maturing phase.
"I tasted a couple of your wines recently," I told Malcolm. These were wines that Malcolm made before he sold the winery. One was the Crossroads Hawkes Bay Riesling 1992. "It was drinking beautifully," I said.
His ears pricked. His eyebrows raised. He smiled. "That was one of my all-time favourites," he said and divulged that he still has some squirreled away.
"The other was the Crossroads Talisman 2000. Wow, what a wine," I said.
Talisman is the company's flagship red and the 2000 vintage is a stunner. It's unbelievably deep in colour - a deep, opaque, red-black - so youthful for its age. And the nose is youthful too with savoury oak backing a concentrated perfume of cracked berry fruit that titillates to the nth degree. While the first taste is oak, oak and more oak, which is a bit of an anti-climax, the fruit fights its way through and all is forgiven as it strikes a perfect balance. Talisman 2000 is rich, opulent, mouthfilling and moreish with boysenberry, blackberry and cherry fruit, chocolate and cigar box in the background, a beautifully fine tannin structure and fantastic length as the flavours linger.
Talisman was among the first of the flagship wines that started to be produced by wineries in the 1990's - a wine that represented the best a winery could do. But unlike other flagship wines, Talisman is an enigma as the grapes that make up the wine - and the proportions of those grapes - have always been a closely guarded secret.
Malcolm wasn't about to divulge the secret either. His lips were sealed. So I'm going to make a guess.
All I know is there are six 'premium' grape varieties in the wine and for the 2000 and previous vintages they were sourced from the home block around the vineyard in the Fernhill subregion of Hawkes Bay.
For a start there has to be the popular Cabernet Sauvignon, as everyone who planted red grapes in Hawkes Bay in the late 1980's and early 1990's, had a dream of making great Bordeaux-styled reds. That means there will also be Merlot and almost definitely Cabernet Franc.
Three down, three to go.
Number four has to be Malbec because the colour is so deep and bright and what else, besides malbec, could influence the colour of a 5-year-old wine to this degree?
There's probably some Syrah because that is one of the grapes the company grows and there's a hint of spice that could be coming from the grapes as well as the oak.
So what could be the sixth? My wild guess is Pinot Noir.
Am I right or wrong? Perhaps one day I will find out.
I wish I had put my theories on the grape varieties to Malcolm, because even though his lips were sealed, facial expressions can sometimes give clues.
The six varieties were fermented separately and racked into French and American oak barriques, of which 60% were new. After 12 months the barrels were progressively blended to produced a wine of the desired style, then returned to oak to mature for a further 12 months.
Malcolm was pleased I like the wine because although he was responsible for the winemaking and blending, he said he hadnít tasted the finished wine, which was bottled in July 2002. He had left the company by then.
Talisman 2000 then matured in the company cellars for a further three years before being released for sale. It costs $38 a bottle, carries 12.5% alcohol by volume and is sealed with a cork.
Matthew Mitchell is now the man in charge of the Crossroads winemaking - and we can look forward to more exciting Crossroads Wines. Find out more from the Crossroads website - www.crossroadswinery.com.
© Sue Courtney
9 October 2005