Craggy Range vintage head-to-head

Matt Stafford

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Which is the better Hawke’s Bay red wine vintage – 2013 or 2014? 2013 was a highly touted vintage, with a number of producers declaring it as “the best ever”. But when the 2014 reds were safely in tank a number of winemakers claimed that it was the equal of 2013 or, in some cases, even better.

I had a head-to-head tasting of both vintages during a visit to Craggy Range recently. We looked at Le Sol Syrah and their merlot-dominant prestige label Sophia from 2013 and 2014. I had previously tasted and reviewed all four wines, but the chance of revisiting the wines in a different context with winemaker Matt Stafford was too good to miss.

Le Sol Syrah

I defined 2013 Le Sol Syrah in my two sets of tasting notes (tastings) as “classic Le Sol” with masses of dark berry fruit flavours plus a suggestion of spice and subtle floral influence. Matt was more reserved, describing the wine as “slightly nervous”. He told me that he would be interested to see how it ages. I was more bullish about the wine’s ageing potential. It was my marginally preferred wine.

The 2014 Syrah (tasting) is an edgier wine in my view, with higher energy and more floral and pepper influence. Matt enthusiastically described it as,

“longer, more powerful, more expressive and more transparent than the 2013 vintage.”

He clearly preferred the younger vintage.


2013 Sophia (tasting) is a blend of 62% merlot, 19% cabernet sauvignon, 18% cabernet franc and 1% petit verdot. It’s a truly great wine from a vintage when merlot was the hero. Matt describes it as the “best wine I’ve made to date”.

2014 Sophia (tasting) is a similar blend of 61% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon and 19% cabernet franc. I found it harder to judge than the earlier vintage because I had to fight my way through a solid structure of ripe tannins that locked the flavour in. Matt recalled that he had to wait to get the tannins fully ripe and be careful that the wine didn’t get overripe. It’s a wine with considerable potential but we both agreed that it was outclassed by 2013.

Which is the better vintage? It is difficult to come up with a definitive answer on the basis of these four wines. I generally prefer 2013 but feel that many 2014 wines have more cellaring potential. Perhaps I’ll suggest to Matt that we might repeat this tasting in ten years’ time.

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