Top 10 NZ Chardonnays
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Chardonnay is the new black!
It's back. The popularity of Chardonnay is once again restored. Plantings are on the rise all over the country, and producers and drinkers are finally moving in the right direction with Chardonnay in New Zealand.
We have finally accepted that big, bold and buttery is not our style. We’re now seeing a winning recipe that allows purity to shine through and creates a beautifully textured palate – techniques like barrel fermentation and wild ferment to increase complexity, using majority seasoned barrels with a small percentage of new oak for maturation, and employing malolactic fermentation to soften the acidity.
Currently, Chardonnay is the second most planted white variety in the country with 3,222 hectares. It’s planted in all the regions of New Zealand and performs well with shining examples from each; my Top 10 Chardonnay truly reflects that. From the North to South:
Gisborne - Warmer climate, plentiful rainfall combined with high water retention clay and silt loam soils enable dry-farming in the region. Gisborne used to be known as a high quantity producing region of Chardonnay. However, more producers are now focused on quality production, showing good concentration and a broad palate with lush tropical and stonefruit characters.
Hawke's Bay - The east coast of the North Island with the Pacific Ocean’s cooling influence provides vibrant acidity. Producers here often use malolactic fermentation to soften the acidity and give the wine a creamy mouthfeel to accompany the citrusy, grapefruit and stonefruit characters. Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay often shows elegant texture and minerality, ranging from medium to full-bodied.
Martinborough/ Wairarapa – Located a short drive from Wellington city on the east coast of the bottom North Island, small family-owned producers are the majority here. The Chardonnays in this region are usually medium-medium+ bodied, age-worthy and showing citrus and clean stonefruit, thanks to the free-draining soil and the dry, cooler climate.
Marlborough – There are 1,086 hectares of Chardonnay planted here out of the total 27,808 hectares, so very similar in size to Hawke's Bay and just slightly in the lead as the most planted region for Chardonnay. Typically high in acidity with citrus, grapefruit zest and nectarines; they work well with or without oak, but malolactic fermentation is almost necessary to tame the bright acidity created by the mild Maritime climate. With long sunshine hours, the diurnal shift of warm days and cool nights allow the grapes to ripen slowly and to retain acidity here.
North Canterbury – A cool, dry climate with good sunshine and a long growing season combined with diverse soil types, from free draining stony soil with alluvial deposits to limestone derived clays on the hillsides. The Chardonnays here are often concentrated, broad on the palate with great acidity. There are some powerful and age-worthy examples coming out of this region. Only 90 hectares planted.
Waitaki Valley – A small region with just 5 hectares of Chardonnay planted and a few more in the coming years. The wines here are outstanding in a good year. Complex limestone/ Greywacke/ Schist soils along the braided Waitaki River, with hot, dry summers, long, dry autumns and cold winters provide magical conditions for Chardonnay; however, there is little margin for error. Apple, citrus and crunchy minerality are the feature of Chardonnay in Waitaki.
Central Otago - "The desert" is extremely dry with a huge diurnal during the growing season, seeing long hot days and cold nights; it’s the only region in the country that offers a Continental climate. Mainly schist base soil with windblown loess soils, Chardonnays here are citrusy, minerally with taut acidity and fine-textured.
Here I share my Top 10 Chardonnays tasted in the past year with you.
FEATURED WINES IN THIS REVIEW
Tony Bish Skeetfield Chardonnay 2019, Hawke’s BayChardonnay from New Zealand - Hawke's BayReview Date : 31-Mar-2021Brilliant, bright, moderate yellow-gold, slightly lighter on the rim. The nose is voluminous and refined, an elegant bouquet of lemon rind, peach and apricot, entwine with toasty barrels and spice, and custard tarts. Medium-full bodied, calm and integrated flavours of crunchy lemon sherbet, lemon rind, and stonefruit interweave barrel spices, toasted hazelnuts, along with baked custard tarts. The flavours are well-proportioned and refined, multi-layered with punches. The smooth and seamless palate flows with chalky textured mineral, with the perfect amount of acidity and great energy, reminded me of Chassagne Montrachet's fine drops. This is a harmonious, elegant Chardonnay with all the trimmings in perfect proportions. Match with pan-seared foie gras and grilled langoustine over the next 8-10 years. Dry-farmed Mendoza clone handpicked, whole bunch pressed. 100% barrel-fermented to 13.5% alc, 60% new Taransaud French oak. 100% MLF, battonage, on lees for 12 months. 20/20 pts (100 pts) March 2021 RRP $60
Matawhero Church House Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2020, GisborneChardonnay from New Zealand - GisborneReview Date : 17-May-2021Bright, even, pale yellow with some depth and a green hue. The nose is softly full, youthful aromas of lemon sherbet, pineapple melded with toasted nuts, crusty baguette and creamy lees are in well-proportions. Medium-full bodied, vibrant aromas of lemon, sherbet and pineapple entwined with buttered popcorn, baguette and toasted hazelnuts. Creamy lees haul along a chalky palate with excellent acid tension, lends a long, lively finish. The fruit has lovely concentration and acid balance; cleverly use of oak, enriched with a toasty nut element and a fulsome palate. This is a youthful, harmonious Chardonnay with great acid tension presented on a chalky palate, already delicious with excellent ageing potential. Match with pork chops and barbeque tiger prawns over the next 8 years. Fruit sourced from Tietjen's vineyard in the Hexton Hills (Gloden Slopes), dry-farmed, Medoza clone, machine-harvested portion fermented in tank, full MLF, 4 months on lees, then transferred to barrels for further ageing before blending. The handpicked portion was fermented in a combination of American and European barrels, full MLF. Vegan friendly. 19-/20 pts (95 pts) May 2021 RRP $31
Lime Hill Chardonnay 2019, WairarapaChardonnay from New Zealand - Wairarapa & WellingtonReview Date : 15-Jan-2021Bright, pale yellow-gold with some depth, slightly lighter edged. The nose is elegant and refined, nuances of citrus, stonefruit melded with crunchy minerals, toasted almonds and oak spice elements. Medium-bodied on a fine, sleek mineral line; aromas of stonefruit intermix citrus, grapefruit zest have concentration; unveiling well-proportioned oak elements presented in spices and mouthfeel elegantly, along with a touch of creaminess. Chalky mineral mouthfeel left a fine coating on the palate along with lively acid precision to a long lingering finish. This is a mineral-driven Chardonnay with well-proportioned citrus, stonefruit and oak element, persistence and elegancy. Match with scampi and clams risotto over the next 6-8 years. 13% alc. 19.5/20 pts (98 pts) Jan 2021 RRP $49
Nga Waka Home Block Chardonnay 2018, MartinboroughChardonnay from New Zealand - Wairarapa & WellingtonReview Date : 29-Jan-2021Bright, medium gold-yellow, lighter on the rim. The nose is elegantly-presented and open, aromas of ripe stonefruit entwined with warm butter, sutle spices, popcorns and hazelnuts. Full-bodied, voluminous nuance of ripe nectarines and peaches interweave roasted hazelnuts and butter popcorns; delicate spices lingers to a long sustained finish. The ripe fruit withstands the barrique elements marvellously, both contribute to a full-body and allow the complexity build-up. The smooth, creamy palate flows with good energy, carrying spices, nuts and toffee across the palate and leaves a rouned, buttery finish. This is an opulent Chardonnay with full-body and barrel-fermented complexity. Match with peanut butter chicken and strong hard cheeses over the next 6+ years. 100% barrel-fermented in tight-grain French oak barriques, 33% new. Full MLF, regular lees-stirred, aged in barrels for 10 months. 18.5+/20 pts (94 pts) Jan 2021 RRP $35
Greywacke Chardonnay 2017, MarlboroughChardonnay from New Zealand - MarlboroughReview Date : 11-May-2021Bright, pale yellow-gold with some depth and a green hue, slightly lighter edged. The nose is full, well-packed with nuances of brioche, roasted nuts and barrel spices, underlined grilled pineapple, ripe stonefruit and chalky mineral. Medium-full bodied, the palate is filled with grilled pineapple, peaches, preserved lemon, grapefruit zest, flavours have good depth, enriched by well-proportioned spices, vanilla, toasted hazelnuts, along with brioche melba toast. Brilliant acidity cut through a creamy palate, unveil fine-textured flinty phenolic, carries nutty components to a lengthy, powerful finish. The wine has great concentration and breadth, full of elegant interest. Match with roast goose and crayfish thermidor over the next 5+ years. Primarily Mendoza clone, plus Clone 5, the majority of fruit was sourced from Brancott Valley and Fairhall, with the remainder from Renwick and Rapaura. Handpicked, high ripeness levels, whole bunch pressed, some full solids, fermented with indigenous yeast in French oak barriques to 14.2% alc, 20% new oak. Occasional lees stirred and full MLF, aged in oak for 18 months. 19/20 pts (95 pts) May 2021 RRP $43
Two Rivers Clos Des Pierres Chardonnay 2019, MarlboroughChardonnay from New Zealand - MarlboroughReview Date : 27-Jan-2021Bright, light straw-yellow with some depth and a gold hue, slightly lighter edged. The nose is full, elegantly penetrating stonefruit nuances melded with a citrus backbone, stony minerals crunch, spices and flint. Medium-bodied, bright aromas of lemon sherbet, lemon curd, along with grapefruit, white peaches integrated with subtle flinty spice and pine nut, unveiling stony minerals drives a lingering finish. The electric acid drive provides good energy and freshness; subtle creaminess rounded out the mouthfeel to a smooth lemon curd texture. This is an elegant Chardonnay with a brilliant acid line and mineral drive. Match with pan-fried turbot and crayfish sashimi over the next 5+ years. Predominantly from 25 years old vines in Wairau & Southern Valley, Clones Mendoza, B95 and 15. Handpicked, whole bunch pressed, wild-fermented to 13% alc, aged 11 months in a 4,500L French oak cuve and a concrete egg tank. Full MLF, unfined, unfiltered. Vegan friendly. 19-/20 pts (95 pts) Jan 2021 RRP $30.99
Giesen The Fuder Series Clayvin Chardonnay 2016, MarlboroughChardonnay from New Zealand - MarlboroughReview Date : 14-Jan-2021Bright, medium straw-yellow with a light gold hue, slightly lighter on the rim. The bouquet is expressive and full, nuances of toast, roasted nuts are filling the glass, along with stonefruit, citrus, bonfire and minerals. Medium-bodied, the palate is bright and delicate, the aroma of lemon, apricot has a fine core, unveiling hazelnuts, toast and a hint of toffee; soft ginger white spices linger to a long, sustained finish. A light phenolic line added to the silky mouthfeel, supported by a precise acid tension. This is an elegant Chardonnay with precision and fineness, showing subtle positive developments adorn complexity. Match this with roasted guinea fowl and tiger prawns over the next 8+ years. Selectively handpicked, whole bunch pressed, wild yeast starter fermented in 1,000L German fuder to 13.3% alc, rested on lees for 11 months, 100% MLF. BioGro organic certified. 19+/20 pts (96 pts) Jan 2021 RRP $56.99
Black Estate Home Young Vines Chardonnay 2020, North CanterburyChardonnay from New Zealand - Canterbury & WaiparaReview Date : 30-Apr-2021Bright, pale straw-yellow with some depth, even colour throughout. The bouquet is soft and elegant, nuances of stonefruit, wildflowers interweave subtle spices underlined, toasty and creamy secondary details. Medium-bodied, brilliantly bright with a sense of purity on the palate, wild elderflower, honeysuckle melded with mustard seeds, white spices, along with a stonefruit and apple backbone. The mouthfeel is smooth and lightly creamy, toasty pastry aromas added interest; delicate spices enlivened the palate. There is good concentration and purity of fruit, clarity in spices and floral layers, a very attractive young wine. Match with pumpkin & fetta frittata and Hainanese chicken over the next five years. Fruit from young vines in Home Vineyard, handpicked, whole bunch pressed, 100% barrel fermented with vineyard derived yeast to 13.5% alc, 1.69 g/l RS, and matured in barrel on lees for 11 months, full MLF. Unfined and unfiltered. BioGro organic certified, vegan friendly. 18.5+/20 pts (94 pts) Apr 2021 RRP $40
Q Wine Chardonnay 2019, Waitaki ValleyChardonnay from New Zealand - OtagoReview Date : 24-Aug-2020Bright, even, light yellow with some depth. The nose is elegant and poised, nuances of stonefruit, lemon, along with subtle florals, melded with vanilla, curd and oak spice element. Medium-bodied, flavours of apricots, peaches, lemon sherbet, flows on a creamy palate reminiscent of panna cotta, subtle spices and crunchy minerals to linearity. The fruit has good concentration and intensity, ripe with great flavours. The acidity is balanced and calming, flows with delicate spices and carries stony minerals and a fine layer of chalky phenolic texture to a lengthy finish. This is elegant and poised Chardonnay with excellent flavour intensity, balanced acidity on a creamy palate flows with stony minerals. Match with Asian savoury pancakes and Vietnamese fare over the next 3-5 years. Clone B95. 100% French oak barrel-fermented to 13.5% alc, 26% new, aged for 10 months. 19-/20 pts Aug 2020 RRP $50
Domaine Rewa Chardonnay 2019, Central OtagoChardonnay from New Zealand - Central Otago & WaitakiReview Date : 03-Mar-2021Bright, pale straw-yellow, even colour throughout. The nose is gently full and elegant, penetrating aromas of stonefruit, melon, citrus, along with mineral melded with subtlely well-proportioned custard, raw nuts and spices. Medium-bodied, lush fruit of peach, nectarine and melon fills the palate, lemon sherbet and zest added freshness. Flavours grow in intensity, unfolding refined toasty oak with white spice and a little cream linger to a long, sustained refined finish. The wine is elegant and delicate; crisp acidity thread flows smoothly with chalky phenolic, adorn by a little creaminess and reflecting fruit's purity. This harmonious and sleek Chardonnay with fruit's purity, lacy acidity and a chalky mineral mouthfeel is already delicious. Match with whitebait fritters and soft cheese over the next 5+ years. Handpicked Mendoza and Clone 15 Chardonnay, whole bunch pressed to tank, settled overnight, then transferred to French oak barriques for wild fermentation, 13.5% alc. Aged in oak for 9 months, 36% new oak, MLF occurred, and lees stirred weekly. No fining. 19/20 pts (95 pts) Mar 2021 RRP $55