Chardonnay to die for

During a visit to Burgundy organised by the Institute of Masters of Wine a group of us accepted an invitation to dinner at the winery of Louis Jadot, a well known local producer. After a tour of their impressive cellars we returned to the dining room where we were each given a glass of white wine.

It was clearly quite old with fragile, delicate and ever-changing flavours. I was impressed by the wine’s truly ethereal texture and its extraordinary length of flavour. A small sip seemed to linger for 10-15 minutes. I had never experienced a wine quite like it.

The wine was Louis Jadot 1907 Montrachet. Made from 100% Chardonnay grapes it was older than all but a handful of humans.

That was the oldest, if not the greatest, Chardonnay I have ever tasted. The experience moved Chardonnay from second to first place in my pecking order of white grape varieties. Until then I’d always put Riesling at the head of the field.

My tasting of 135 wines for this tasting also helped reinforce Chardonnay’s exalted status. New Zealand Chardonnay seems to get better every year, at least if vintage conditions allow. The disappointing lack of quality in many of the 2011 wines from Hawke’s Bay (that didn’t apply to other regions) revealed too many green, lacklustre wines lacking ripeness and weight.

The top wines in my tasting are shown below but I thought I’d acknowledge the fact that some of the best wines are never entered in wine competitions or in magazine tastings. One producer who makes tiny amounts of a superb Chardonnay every year (my precious annual purchase allocation was never more than a couple of bottles) sent me a sample “because we’d like you to know what we are up to” but begged me not to write it up because they “get deluged with orders that we simply can’t fill”.

Kiwi Classics (one per region)

The following producers have been delivering consistently great wines for a decade or more.

Auckland – Kumeu River

This great Chardonnay specialist produces a range of labels from Village Chardonnay at around $17 to the flagship Matés Chardonnay that’s worth every penny of its $53 price tag. They are all truly brilliant wines reflecting the genius of gifted winemaker, Michael Brajkovich MW. – view on

Gisborne – Millton

This organic producer harnesses the mystical powers of biodynamic viticulture and winemaking and an understanding of what great wine is all about to make very sophisticated Chardonnay. Clos Ste Anne is one of the country’s best and most expensive at $70. – view on

Hawke’s Bay – Te Mata Estate

Te Mata winemaker, Peter Cowley, has made a string of great Elston Chardonnays stretching back several decades. They’re an absolute bargain (and cheaper than ever) at around $35. – view on

Wairarapa/Martinborough – Ata Rangi

Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay is an outstanding buy at $38 although Petrie Chardonnay is arguably even better value at just $28. Both are intense, complex wines that make me proud to be a Kiwi. – view on

Nelson – Neudorf

Neudorf is a “no contest” choice, they’ve been making better Chardonnay longer than any other New Zealand winery. You can choose from a stylish and affordable Nelson Chardonnay at $29 or their iconic Moutere Chardonnay at $65. Buy them both. – view on

Marlborough – Cloudy Bay

In my view Chardonnay is Cloudy Bay’s top wine. They’ve been doing it, and doing it well for a long time. For just $38.90 you buy great wine and get New Zealand’s most prestigious wine brand thrown in for free. – view on

Canterbury/Waipara – Pegasus Bay

Pegasus Bay has a reputation for making huge, complex wines that are an absolute delight to drink. Recent vintages have slimmed down a bit without losing any appeal. In addition to the regular label at $35.95 you can buy an even bigger and more complex later released Virtuosos for $48.95. – view on

Central Otago – Felton Road

Felton Road only recently passed its first decade of Chardonnay production but has evolved in quality and style far faster than most. Block 2 at $50.50 is their supreme label – a wine that I would happily cellar for two decades. Next is the complex Bannockburn at $37 and the more fruit-focused Elms at $29.90. – view on

NZ’s Most Collectible Chardonnay

Bell Hill is a microscopic vineyard perched on an abandoned ancient limestone quarry in North Canterbury. Owners Marcel Giesen and Sherwyn Veldhuizen apply passion, experience and focus to making truly outstanding Chardonnay which sells to a small group of mail-order customers who are delighted to pay $75 for a meagre allocation. In my view it’s a bargain at this price. – view on

Taste Magazine Annual Chardonnay Tasting

Top Five Chardonnays

1st Felton Road 2010 Block 2 Chardonnay $50.50

Lots of nutty, bran biscuit character from extended contact with oak and yeast lees but powerful citrus, mineral fruit characters also make a strong statement. As the wine opens up it reveals an intriguing layer of tree fruit flavours including plum and nectarine. – view on

2nd Pegasus Bay 2009 Virtuoso Chardonnay Waipara $48.95

Big, powerful Chardonnay with strong ripe peach, nectarine and other stone fruit characters seasoned with hints of bread crust and smoky oak. Mouth-filling wine that’s layered and long. This is a seriously complex Chardonnay – accessible now but with great potential. – view on

3rd Cloudy Bay 2009 Chardonnay Marlborough $37.90

Big, complex and beautifully proportioned Chardonnay with layers of tree and citrus fruit flavours supported by nutty oak and bready yeast lees characters. Perhaps not the greatest Chardonnay ever made by Cloudy Bay but a worthy successor to a steadily evolving wine that I believe is the winery’s best. – view on

4th Foxes Island 2008 Chardonnay Marlborough $38.00

Lively, scented wine with impressively pure citrus, white peach and mineral characters seasoned with toasty oak and yeast lees characters. The wine has an ethereal texture and a lingering finish with a great balance between fruity acidity and fruit/alcohol sweetness. High energy Chardonnay with subtle power. – view on

5th Forrest 2010 John Forrest Collection Chardonnay Waitaki Valley $50.00

Concentrated cool climate style Chardonnay with Chablis-like character and minerality. Powerful, focused wine with fine citrus, bran and subtle toasty flavours. Long and complex. A wine of great power delivered with commendable subtlety. – view on

Top Five Chardonnays Under $25

1st Giesen 2010 The Brothers Chardonnay Marlborough $24.99

Delicious Chardonnay with impressive weight, richness and an appealing fruit/alcohol sweetness that is nicely balanced against fruity acidity. Quite a ripe style with peach and other stone fruit flavours together with a seasoning of bran biscuit and bread crust characters. Complex wine with a very lengthy finish. – view on

2nd Matahiwi 2009 Holly Chardonnay Wairarapa $25.00

Aromatic wine with strong peach and melon flavours supported by a seasoning of oak and nutty yeast lees flavours. Silken-textured Chardonnay that is beginning to show good toasty bottle development. Mellow and appealing wine that is great drinking now but will age well in the medium term. – view on

3rd Pukeora Estate 2010 Ruahine Range Chardonnay Central Hawke’-s Bay $20.00

Impressive wine with more weight and fruit sweetness than the regular label but showing the same minerality and subtle power. It carries a high 14.9% alcohol well enjoying the extra weight and silkiness which it brings although there is a little heat on the finish. Distinctive, unusual and appealing wine. – view on

4th Hunter’s 2010 Chardonnay Marlborough $19.90

Light, fresh and tangy Chardonnay with citrus/grapefruit and white peach together with a subtle seasoning of oak. Nice purity and drive with a lingering finish. An elegant fruit-focused wine. – view on

5th Marisco 2011 The Kings Bastard Chardonnay Marlborough $22.00

Attractive wine offering a pleasing medley of citrus, nectarine/stone fruit and spicy oak flavours. The wine achieves a delicate balance between fruit sweetness and crisp acidity. Appealingly pure. – view on

Top Four Chardonnays $15 or less

1st Pukeora Estate 2010 Chardonnay Central Hawkes Bay $15.00

Fine, focused Chardonnay with a strong mineral/chalk character from the high limestone soils of Central Hawke’s Bay. Very pure wine with drive and energy in quite a unique style. I like it very much, especially at this bargain price. – view on

2nd Conspiracy 2009 Chardonnay Hawke’s Bay $11.99

Elegant, fruity Chardonnay with a pleasing influence of grapefruit/peach/nectarine fruit flavours seasoned with a hint of toast and roasted nut flavours. Supple and attractive wine that offers great value at this price. Made for the Fine Wine Delivery Company. – view on

3rd Bishop’s Leap 2010 Chardonnay Marlborough $10.00

Light, clean, fresh Chardonnay with subtle citrus flavours. It’s dry and perhaps a little light in flavour but innocuous and easy to dink. Good value at this price. – view on

4th Takutai 2009 Chardonnay Nelson $12.50

Toasty Chardonnay with some savoury development adding extra interest to citrus and tree fruit flavours. Reasonably full-flavoured with a grainy texture and pleasantly drying finish. Perhaps a little too phenolic but offers undeniable value at this price. – view on

First published in Taste Magazine NZ – May 2012.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *