Chardonnay – the next big thing

In the year of the Millennium Chardonnay was New Zealand’s “number one” wine. Sauvignon Blanc snatched the crown from Chardonnay’s head the following year. Three years ago Chardonnay was again pushed down the ranking when it was overtaken by Pinot Noir. Pinot Gris is now snapping at Chardonnay’s heels.

It has been a humiliating decade for a variety regarded by many as the world’s top white wine grape. New Zealand’s wine production has doubled in the past ten years. Of the nine main grape varieties grown in this country only Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (a contender for the title “world’s top red wine grape”) now produce less wine than they did a decade ago.

Supporters of the “big and buttery” Chardonnay style claim that a trend toward sleeker, crisper and more austere wines prompted Chardonnay lovers to move to lusher pastures such as Pinot Gris. “Winemakers are making wine they like to drink and ignoring the tastes of their customers”, they cry.

I am on the side of the winemakers, believing that “modern” style Chardonnay is superior to the softer, richer, more buttery and more oaky wines made in the past. Wine producers should lead their customers toward better wines rather than compromise wine quality to meet the market. The wines of today age better, are more food-friendly and are simply better to drink.

Despite its gradual decline over many years there are signs that Chardonnay may be on the comeback trail. A number of wine producers have told me that demand has risen sharply recently. Several report that they are completely out of stock. There is talk about expanding their Chardonnay vineyards.

If disenchanted Chardonnay drinkers need a juicy carrot to lure them back they will get exactly that from a pair of vintages that promise mouth-watering Chardonnays of record quality. I’ve tasted quite a number of outstanding Chardonnays from the generally excellent 2013 vintage and if early reports are anything to go by 2014 promises to be at least as good.

Even the “big and buttery” buffs will love the ripe and concentrated fruit flavours of the latest wines from our three big Chardonnay regions: Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough.

Babich Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2013 – $20

Disenchanted with Chardonnay? Try this seductively fruity Hawke’s Bay wine and you just might change your mind. Sipping this wine is like sinking your teeth into a tree-ripened golden queen peach. The texture is seductively silken making it dangerously easy to drink. – view on

The Landing Chardonnay, Bay of Islands 2012 – $30

This gold medal Chardonnay is not from the latest vintage but it will put a smile on the face of anyone who loves big, bold and buttery wines. It’s a peaches and cream wine with plenty of flavour and a texture to die for. Available only from First Glass Wines in Takapuna (the home of big and buttery Chardonnays).

First published in KiaOra Magazine – Jun 2014.

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