Everything’s coming up chardonnay

Air New Zealand Wine Awards tasting

Air New Zealand Wine Awards tasting (Photo: Air New Zealand Wine Awards)

When I surveyed a group of fine wine retailers, asking them which wine competition had the most influence on their customers, the Air New Zealand Wine Awards was a clear winner. Professionally promoted and managed by NZ Winegrowers, the competition is held in early November each year and is followed by a black-tie dinner where the trophy winners are announced. Between the judging and the dinner, wine critics are invited to taste the gold medal winning wines.

With 90+ gold medal wines on offer and just 60 minutes to taste them, I had to be selective. Eighteen wines earned gold in the chardonnay section. I had tasted all but five of them.

So how did the judges measure up against my ratings? Or, to put it another way, how did I measure up against the judges?

I awarded the five wines two golds and three silver medals, although to be fair, the silver medal winning wines didn’t miss out on gold by very much.

My top wine was 2014 Giesen The Fuder Single Vineyard Selection: Clayvin Chardonnay, Marlborough (NZD $59.99 – 96 points). I found it to be the most intense and complex wine of the group. It may have benefited from a little bottle age but certainly showed the potential to develop further.

2015 Brancott Estate Letter Series “O” Chardonnay, Marlborough (NZD $26.49 – 95 points), was in second place. It’s a concentrated and slightly more accessible chardonnay, with a seductive texture and plenty of fruit and winemaker artefact to sink your teeth into. In value terms at least it beats the Giesen wine.

2014 Villa Maria Keltern Vineyard Chardonnay, Hawke’s Bay (NZD $35.99 – 94 points), is a super-classy chardonnay, with a lot of struck match reductive character that seemed a tad too excessive when I first reviewed it at this tasting. A few days later I tasted it again, finding the level of reductive character (just) acceptable. On the first occasion, I awarded the wine 94 points but gave it 96 points on the second outing. It’s a divisive wine.

2015 Villa Maria Reserve Barrique Fermented Chardonnay, Gisborne (NZD $37.99 – 94 points), is certainly an impressive mouthful, although I found the oak a little excessive at this stage. Two or three years in bottle and the oak will probably have integrated. I tasted the same wine again a few days later and it earned the same score.

2015 Brightwater Chardonnay, Nelson (NZD $28 – 93 points), is a more subtle and ethereal wine than any of the above. It’s the sort of chardonnay that could easily get overlooked in a big flight during a wine show so it was gratifying to see it get a big tick from the judges. I was charmed but very slightly underwhelmed by it.

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