Cuisine’s New Zealand wine writer John Saker headlines the feature tasting in Cuisine magazine issue #164 for May 2014 “New Zealand Chardonnay is back on form with some sublime wines”. This reflects the situation with this variety here now, as we have seen Chardonnay make a comeback over the last several years. It’s not really a comeback in quality, but more a return to focus, attention and recognition by the consumers, gatekeepers of wine style, and indeed the winegrowers. The quality has never gone away, with outstanding examples made continually over the last three decades. Of course, styles have evolved, with the result of greater elegance, but also finer complexities. The Cuisine judging panel of John Belsham as chair with Steve Smith MW and Sam Harrop MW, along with John Saker as associate judge celebrated the diversity of styles. Sam Harrop felt that the styles represented a desire to express site.
The results do demonstrate the diversity of what’s available in New Zealand Chardonnay. The top wine was the Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard – Taylors Pass’ Marlborough 2010, and this result just adds strength to the claim that Villa Maria is one of the top Chardonnay producers here, as the company dominates the wine show circuit with that variety.
Other high-flyer labels that made the ‘Top Ten’ were Fromm ‘Clayvin’ 2011, Giesen ‘The Fuder’ 2011 and Gibbston Valley ‘Reserve’. To show the broad acknowledgement of quality, more accessibly priced wines in the ‘Top Ten’ included Brancott Estate ‘Living Land’ 2013, Crossroads ‘Milestone’ 2013, Te Awa ‘Left Field’ 2013 and Selaks ‘Reserve’ Hawke’s Bay 2013, all retailing $20.00 or less. The spread of wines had another Central Otago wine, the Scott Base 2010, and other older wine, the Huia 2009, making up the rest of the numbers in this select group. Overall, there were 6 wines rated 5-stars, with 5 wines at 4 ½ stars and 17 wines with 4-stars, from a total of 127 judged. For the full results, the order of the ‘Top Ten’ and descriptions, go to www.cuisinewine.co.nz
From an outside observer’s perspective, it was pleasing to see that stylistically, the wines endorsed were those at the cutting edge of reductive management ranging to those that were more traditional , or “classic retro” as described by the panel. It’s a shame that some of our countries top producers of Chardonnay don’t enter their wines into Cuisine judgings. The likes of Kumeu River, Te Mata, Neudorf and Ata Rangi would bolster the interest in the tasting results! But then again, these makers don’t enter wine shows and have no need to. Therein lies the problem of comprehensiveness of any published tasting or competition, and the likes of independent reviews (such as mine). We know there’s a lot of top wine out there that doesn’t get tasted in these circumstances. At least these results can give pointers to new up-and-coming labels, or point out others that may have gotten lost in the crowd or left behind in marketing.
New Zealand Viognier
While the Cuisine results of the New Zealand Viognier tasting indicate the top quality possible from Hawke’s Bay, and the likelihood of the 2013 vintage to reveal more gems, the untold story is the unrealised potential of the Viognier variety in this country. A few short years ago, Viognier was being hailed as an important grape that would become significant for the industry and in the public’s eye. This hasn’t happened. I’ve seen many releases that are quite lean, fruit-oriented and simple in expression. Maybe it’s these wines which are disappointing the general consumer, though most wine producers see ‘elegance’ as the way forward. I believe the richer, more textural and layered examples, with sophisticated oak and lees inputs hit the spot for drinkers. There’s plenty of other varieties that offer clean, crisp and light drinking, but how many dry white varieties have the richness, weight and texture to match heartier food here?
For the record, the top wine in this tasting was the Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ Hawke’s Bay 2013 followed by the Elephant Hill 2013, both of these rated 5-star. A feeling for the overall and generally disappointing result can be seen that from 23 wines tasted, there were two 5-star wines, one rated 4 ½ stars and another two earning 4-stars. There were 16 wines with ‘no award’.
New Zealand Specialty Whites
The results of this sub-section of the Cuisine tastings are more interesting and a little more positive than the Viogniers. A small but important segment of the market appreciates and seeks the difference from varieties outside the norm. As Cuisine points out, from these can come mainstream styles, such as Pinot Gris. This country is in an exciting phase with new varieties such as Gruner Veltliner and Albarino, but also older ones such as Chenin Blanc. We are also seeing blended whites become accepted as alternatives that work.
From 33 wines tasted, the two 5-star wines were John Forrest ‘Collection’ The White 2009, and Mt Difficulty ‘Single Vineyard – Long Gully’ Bannockburn Chenin Blanc 2013. There was one wine at 4 ½ stars, the Saint Clair ‘Pioneer Block 5 – Bull Block’ Gruner Veltliner 2013, and there were 5 wines in the 4-star category.
As mentioned above, the full results with tasting notes from Cuisine’s panel can be seen on www.cuisinewine.co.nz