Kim Crawford at The Turf with Andy Tarry and execellars
“New Zealand comes to Devon”

Exminster, Devon June 9th, 2004 An evening’s tasting of the New Zealand wines of Kim Crawford hosted by the winemaker himself, followed by a seafood dinner at the Turf, Exminster? Yes, please, Andy, I said, when my friend, Exeter’s best independent wine merchant, ( called me. We can go down by boat, I offered. Only problem, at 7 pm when we were due to head out, there was no water, our RIB high and dry, sitting immovably on the glistening Topsham mud.
No worries, said Andy, we’ll have another drink. And we did. The thing about tide is that though you can’t do anything about it, you can utterly depend on the fact that it will inexorably come in when it is supposed to. So as soon as our boat was afloat, and James Redfern had come up from Turf in his sportsboat, and Paul Kingdom had loaded up his roomy Ribtech not only with guests but with all of Kim Crawford’s wines, we set off in something of a convoy, us bringing up the rear as we pootled down through the winding mudbanks, from Topsham downriver to the Turf Lock, enjoying a glass or two of a rather excellent Ricci Curbastro Franciacorta Brut.
The evening was hosted by Clive and Ginny Redfern of Turf, who over the past, what, thirteen or fourteen years, have turned this unique water- and canal-side inn — one of very few in the country that is not accessible by car — into one of the best pubs you’ll find anywhere (provided you don’t end up here on a sunny and therefore heaving Bank Holiday weekend). Of course, Turf is our local and we’ve been coming here for literally a quarter of a century, by foot, dinghy, canoe, bicycle, yacht, and now RIB; indeed it’s fair to say that we’ve enjoyed some of the more significant moments in our lives here over the years. These days, with Ginny and Clive now joined by their sons James and Ollie in running the place, with a superb kitchen team as well as friendly and enthusiastic young people serving both food and behind the bar, the place is really humming and has never been better. Add to that a great selection of wines supplied by Andy, superb ales from the local Otter Brewery and, well, it doesn’t get much better than that.
For this evening's wine tasting, Andy together with Richard van Ruth of Liberty Wines (Kim Crawford’s UK agent) had assembled a most congenial gathering. Steve Edwards of Michael Caines Restaurants was there with his wife Tracey. It was nice to meet Nick and Sophie Coilley from Agaric Restaurant, Ashburton (we knew and enjoyed Nick’s cuisine when he was the chef at The Carved Angel). There was a New Zealand chef and his English wife who have just taken over The Smokehouse in Porthleven, Cornwall. Plus other friends and of course the eponymous winemaker himself, Kim Crawford.
The wine tasting was held upstairs in the old sitting room that overlooks the wide Exe estuary, and beyond the massive evergreen oak (on which a generation of children, including ours, have learned to climbed ropes) to the canal mouth that leads down to the sea. Yes, looking out over this gorgeous waterscape, it seemed an absolutely fitting place to be tasting wines made in the cool climate of New Zealand’s Marlborough district of the South Island.
We began with a first tasting of Kim’s Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2004, bottled only last week Thursday, said Kim. Pale in colour, intensely aromatic with a pungent, herbaceous character that is by no means over-powering, and a zesty, citrus finish that was razor sharp. This is a beautifully expressive example of Kiwi Sauvignon at its best. The Marlborough Dry Riesling 2003 has an impressively exotic and ripe nose, with hints of ginger and honey. In the mouth, it’s a big, powerful wine, the acidity softened and tempered by a year’s ageing; though there is a touch of residual sugar to round it off, the dry finish makes this a wine equally good as an apéritif as with food. I somehow missed tasting the Marlborough Unoaked Chardonnay 2003 but Kim (my Kim, not the winemaker) said it was her favourite white of the evening (and she is definitely not usually a Chardonnay fan): ripe and full in flavour, yet exceedingly fresh and clean at the same time, not in the least heavy or cloying. Pinot Gris is not a grape usually associated with New Zealand, but Kim Crawford’s Marlborough Boyszone Vineyard Pinot Gris 2003 is an intriguing example. Part of the wine was fermented in used American oak and there is a proportion of Chardonnay added to the final blend. The result is a full and powerful wine that combines the intense aromatic character — apricots and lychees — in a richly deep and full palate with just a touch of residual sweetness that comes through at the finish.
The whimsically named Pansy Rosé 2003 was a revelation: everyone adored it! Made from Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes, the rather full colour bled from a portion of the grapes left on the skins after just a day’s crushing. With intense berry fruit aromas, this is a gorgeously gluggable wine, full juicy fruit and with enough body to stand up to a range of foods. Finally we tasted two Pinot Noirs. The first was Kim’s ‘straight’ Marlborough Pinot Noir 2003, medium weight in body with a deliciously attractive Pinot nose of wild berries and cherries; juicy and attractively soft on the palate, with clean and moderately persistent finish. The Anderson Vineyard Pinot Noir 2002 is in another class. Aged in both new and old French oak, it has a deeper colour and an intense nose that combines primary fruity aromas, notably raspberries, with soft new oak and the deeper, vegetal Pinot tones that come with bottle age. On the palate, the wine displays a rich and almost voluptuously silky character with a fine balance of fruit, oak and grippy tannins. A truly wonderful wine!
(All Kim Crawford wines, including the reds, incidentally, are now sealed with screw-top Stelvin closure. According to Kim, this ensures that cork taint is eliminated, oxidation is minimised and he can be sure that the wines will reach the consumer in the way that he himself intends them to be. Personally, I don't have a problem with this, and indeed have come to enjoy reaching into a 'fridge, pulling out a bottle of something I know is good, and just twisting off the cap to open.)
Wine tasting completed, we repaired downstairs to enjoy an informal but delicious meal prepared by the Turf kitchen team led by Ollie Redfern. Bruschetta, guacomole and humous appetisers were followed by monkfish wrapped in prosciutto and served with local English asparagus. A richly dense and delicious chocolate tart to finish. The meal was prepared and served informally yet with an easy style and indeed the flavours of Devon seemed to be an ideal complement to Kim’s pungent, characterful, relaxed and, yes, somewhat irreverent New Zealand wines.
Over the years, we’ve been to many wine tastings, but this certainly must rank as one of the most enjoyable. The mixture of great wines, congenial company, excellent food and the unique setting of Turf meant that rather than tasting wines in isolation, we were able to experience them with the winemaker in the broader context of how they are meant to be drunk and enjoyed, which for me really is wine is all about.
It was pitch dark when we made our way down to the boats for the return passage upriver. But Topsham boats have an uncanny way of knowing their way back from Turf with seemingly little assistance required from the driver. We sped up the channel, picking out glimpses of the starboard and port buoys almost as we passed them, disturbing the flocks of birds who had hunkered down for the evening. As we approached Topsham, we suddenly came upon a shoal of Exe salmon: in their seeming joy at making their way back upriver to spawn, ten, fifteen, maybe more fish leapt out of the water all around us!
It was a magical finish to a great evening.

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