When Kim Crawford became interested in wine in the mid-1980s, the New Zealand industry was in its infancy. Montana had bottled the country’s first vintage-dated varietal wines barely one decade before, and both Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay were just beginning to be widely planted. Crawford did a stint in South Africa before returning home in 1988 to work in the production and marketing sides of the business.
He founded his own company in 1996, with an initial output of 4,000 cases. He was one of the early pioneers of screwcap closures, out of the firm belief that they would keep the wine fresh and closer in taste to what the winemaker had actually made. The rise of the brand was meteoric, as the wines continually won every available accolade, award and medal. Crawford signed a distribution agreement with Vincor in 2001, and in 2006 was acquired by Constellation.
As you might imagine, production has increased considerably, with 425,000 cases of Sauvignon Blanc coming to the U.S. last year. What’s amazing is that the quality has remained impressively high, and that the wines are just as fragrant and captivating as they were years ago. The current winemaker is Anthony Walkenhorst, who has been at KC since 2005 and had the opportunity to work with both Crawford and former winemaker Matt Large.
Aromas of racy grapefruit and tropical fruit are prominent on the nose of the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc ($14), a selection of grapes from vineyards throughout the region. In the mouth, the wine is ripe and delicious, leading with flavors of citrus and peach; the grapefruit emerges again in the mid palate, and all the fruit is carried onto the finish by vibrant acidity. This is a terrific poolside wine on a hot day, a joy with finger food and shellfish, and a good match for simple fish dishes in generous butter sauces.
The 2010 Marlborough Pinot Noir ($17) has a light ruby color and an earthy nose with scents of black cherries and crushed red berries. The wine is soft on entry, with supple tannins and tart flavors of cherries, raspberries and blackberries. Good acidity amplifies the mouthwatering fruit, and the wine will pair well with roast chicken and light veal dishes. This is an understated style of Pinot Noir---far closer in style to Burgundy than California---so if your belief is that bigger is better, you might want to look elsewhere.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to iconicspirits.net.