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Auckland, North Island, New Zealand
Wine tour operator, wine writer and lapsed physiotherapist. "Nature abhors a vacuum. I personally hate dusting."


Thursday, January 17, 2013

NZ Summer of Chardonnay

About fifteen years ago, there was a trend spread by fashion-driven wine drinkers, to the effect that ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) was  the smart rule for ordering white wine.  Even today, a lot of folk will not let a Chardonnay touch their lips, based on the old prejudice and/or bad experiences in the past.  And, to be honest, many of the first incarnations of Chardonnay in NZ were wildly over-oaked, bright yellow with extracted oak resin, pretty well undrinkable and tasted like a school desk.

However, in the last few years there has been a return to Chardonnay, as winemakers and drinkers realise that a good Chard is a balance of excellent fruit, subtle oak, yeast and suitable ageing.

Chardonnay, has long been regarded as the king of white wines and one which New Zealand winemakers do particularly well. 

New oak barrels sourced from France or the USA cost wineries around $1,400 each.  As a final part of the cooperage process, to bend the staves, a fire is lit under the upturned barrel and this is what gives toasty flavours to Chardonnay.   Furthermore, the origin of the oak lends special characters to the wine: closely grained French oak, typically imparts spicy characters to the wine; American oak tends to be wider grained and give flavours of vanilla and coconut.

New oak will give more flavour to the wine than an aged barrel and winemakers have the option of aging part of a vintage in new oak for a certain period and then in aged oak.  Apart from oak, Chardonnay has many other influences on its complexity of flavours.  The winemaker may use commercial yeast or may just take advantage of ‘wild’ yeasts from the air of the vineyard (as does Kumeu River).  A secondary malo-lactic bacterial fermentation is also widely used which transforms tart malic acid to less harsh lactic acid, adding softness and creaminess to young wines.

Even once your NZ Chardonnay is in the bottle, up to 5 years’ in a cool dark place will add mellowness and further shades of complexity – figs, melon, butterscotch and honey to name a few.

Here’s a selection, in order of strength from light to humungous:

Peacock Sky Waiheke 2012 $NZ32.00
A buttery style Chardonnay - but not overpoweringly so.  Some time spent in new French oak barrels has given some lovely hazel nut flavours, with a hint of stone fruit and honey.

West Brook Barrique Fermented Waimauku/Marlborough 2011 $NZ23.00
Parcels of Chardonnay were sourced from the stony soils of Marlborough and the clay soils of Waimauku. Flavours of stone fruit, almond, pear and fig, with mineral hints.

Ransom Cosmos Matakana 2008 $NZ27.00
An hour’s drive from Auckland, Ransom vineyards are just on the northern edge of the Matakana region.  Another medium to full bodied example.  All stone fruit on the palate – peach, apricot and nectarine, with subtle hazelnut creamy oak and a lengthy finish.

Man O’ War Valhalla Waiheke 2010 $NZ42.00
Okay - if you love big Chardonnays, this is a stunning example: a take no prisoners, gorgeously complex and full-bodied wine, which will tempt you to just another glass. Maybe another.  Gosh the bottle’s almost empty.  Shame to waste it.  Hits all the buttons – toasty oak, buttery mouth feel, stone fruit, honey, cape gooseberry, canned peaches, crisp lime, and massive lengthy palate.
Phil Parker is a wine writer and operates Fine Wine Tours in Auckland.

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