My soft spot. Having had the pleasure of attending the New Zealand Chardonnay symposium in Gisborne earlier this month, my love of New Zealand’s most widely planted grape was solidified. And by widely planted, I can confirm it is the only grape that is planted and flourishes in every single region across the country. From sub-tropical Waiheke to the depths of the South - New Zealand Chardonnay can finally take its place on a global stage. We’re talking quality, style and infinite sass appeal.
Landing in Gisborne (the first place in the world to see the sunrise might I add) we arrived thanks to a privately chartered Air NZ ‘wine flight’. We departed Marlborough and flew via Nelson (thanks Neudorf) and then quickly over Martinborough (thanks The Elder) and lastly Hawke’s Bay (Church Road) each region showing off their cuisine impeccably matched to a wine selection. Needless to say we swiftly landed on our feet and were whisked into an opening tasting of prestigious Chardonnay’s from around the country. This was the first time in a long time I’d had the pleasure of wholeheartedly understanding the regionality of such a dynamic collection of New Zealand Chardonnay. Pick of the day, was the Chardonnay produced by William Hoare of Novum Wines. William as previously Mr Fromm before embarking on his very own family driven project with his wife. The vines producing his Chardonnay are in the Southern Valley’s of Marlborough and are nearly 30 years old, ensuring this Chardonnay was pure decadence, texturally enticing and abundant with sexy citrus fruit.
Auckland Chardonnay - moderate & maritime, bold, ripely fruited and refined
Gisborne Chardonnay - Freshly scented, ripe citrus - when made well can be full, concentrated and beautiful
Hawke's Bay Chardonnay - Concentrated, more medium bodied with underlying stone-fruit, wonderful minerality in best examples thanks to Gimblett Gravels.
Wairarapa Chardonnay - Elegance, riper stone fruits, brioche autolytic characters, tends to have serious oak integration.
Nelson Chardonnay - Richly textured, with poised precision and underlying stone-fruit with hints of tropical
Marlborough Chardonnay - Zesty Chardonnay, good acid and nectarines and grapefruits, we see examples with and without oak here
North Canterbury Chardonnay - Fine, linear examples, there’s a brightness and energy from Chard produced here on limestone, (Mel Brown's favourite region for Chardonnay)
Central Otago Chardonnay - Fresh, focussed - wonderful purity thanks to the varying daily temperature. Plenty of white peach and delicate florals -
A very exciting masterclass followed the next day which saw discussions surrounding viticulture, winemaking influences and terroir and how these elements along with the varying clonal selections contribute to New Zealand’s dynamic Chardonnay offering. Sadly we weren’t presented with individual samples of each of the clones to taste however we were presented with the bunches - defining the visual differences by grape clusters and formation of different clonal styles. Thus highlighting the difference in bunch size, colour and grape size - we were then presented with a flight of 12 wines selected by clone and style. As opposed to Sauvignon where we see only one clone planted across New Zealand, Chardonnay is quite the opposite - with nearly 30 clones being planted throughout the country.
Multi clonal blends typically account for New Zealand’s top end Chardonnay (and the majority of Chardonnay produced here) as each clone is responsible for a varying quality and feature to a final blend. The most planted Chardonnay clone in New Zealand is Mendoza. It was extremely evident that New Zealand is beginning to understand the importance of their clonal selections and how they plant and farm these clones. The constant examination of the clonal results is critical to continue to improve quality and admiration across the world. And given we are discussing wines that can hold their own against Grand Cru burgundy, at a fraction of the price - all we want to drink is New Zealand!
There were a bunch of very intuitive and smart advisors on the panel leading the discussions - and one quote that resonated deeply with me on the day was from James Millton of Millton Wines:
“Before a wine can be great it must first be true” - James Millton
New Zealand Chardonnay is not only true, but distinctly stylish and charismatic.
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Skin contact - this is the amount of time that the skins of the grapes stay in contact with their juice! How long do they stay on for? Well it completely depends...