Shocking Chardonnay

I’ve selected a couple of Chardonnays from Waipara that shocked me … but in a nice way. They shocked me because they shattered my rather stereotypical view of one of my favourite New Zealand wine regions.

Waipara is a 60-minute drive north of Christchurch. It is one of the country’s most reliably dry wine regions during the critical ripening process when rain can dilute and split sugar-rich grapes. That takes the pressure off grape growers. They can usually harvest their crop of grapes when they achieve optimum ripeness instead of having to pick them in a hurry when bad weather threatens.

Waipara’s vines are typically grown on either free-draining soils or heavier clays. A number of vineyards are blessed with a limestone influence much prized by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir growers.

Waipara produces such thrilling Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir it’s easy to overlook the fact the region also makes great Chardonnay. On a recent visit an extensive tasting of 64 wines produced some shockingly good Chardonnay. It was a startling reminder that I’d taken Waipara Chardonnay for granted.

I’ve chosen two contrasting Waipara Chardonnay styles. Both are high quality wines representing excellent value. I’ve christened them “the athlete” and “the aristocrat”.

The athlete: Muddy Water Chardonnay, Waipara 2009 – $32

Generously proportioned Chardonnay with intense flavours suggesting toasted brioche, grapefruit, white peach, sizzled butter, bran biscuit and mineral salts. Classy wine that is likely to appeal to a broad spectrum of Chardonnay lovers from those who like their wine “big and buttery” to others who prefer a racier, lean style. There are elements of both in this well made wine. While approachable now it has the potential to develop well in bottle. – view on

The aristocrat: Greystone Chardonnay, Waipara 2009 – $35

Greystone is a fairly new Waipara winery that has earned many accolades for its aromatic wines; Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris as well as its Pinot Noir. You can now add Chardonnay to their “distinguished wines” list. It’s a seamless, silken wine in an elegant and beautifully restrained style showing subtle complexity and power. White peach, grapefruit, bread crust and spicy oak characters are all beautifully interwoven. – view on

First published in KiaOra Magazine – Apr 2011.

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