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08 April 2023

New Zealand: 16 Chardonnays & Pinot Gris/Grigios.

New Zealand white wines kick off a new mini-series of postings on WineWriting.com, with further ramblings to follow on red wines - mostly about Pinot Noir and Syrah with some Cabernet Merlots thrown in - and a touch of bubbly. The source of all these tasty wines sampled and regurgitated here was a recent New Zealand Wine tasting in Dublin. Photo: New Zealand Winegrowers Inc, Elephant Hill (Chardonnay).
I let my prejudice against Sauvignon Blanc win the day by focusing on mostly Chardonnay and a few Pinot Gris / Grigio wines. It's a little disappointing after all these years of 'diversification'-talk, although understandable from a marketing point of view given its lingering popularity, that Sauvignon still hogs the limelight in NZ white wine growing and making. The variety represents nearly three-quarters of all wine production and even more than that of wine exports, according to the NZW.
Chardonnay accounts for only 6% of production, 3187 hectares planted (out of 40,000 total) and hardly any of their exports. If this means New Zealanders keep most of it for themselves, then we should take serious note of that! Because New Zealand's wine regions (map above) are clearly capable of delivering some lovely Chardonnays in different styles and at a variety of prices. The best-known area of Marlborough on the north of South Island leads the way, followed by Hawke's Bay and Gisborne on the east coast of North Island.
There has been a slight expansion of other aromatic white varieties though: Pinot Gris covers 2800 ha, again dominated by the same three regions; followed by Riesling at 620 ha, much of it planted in North Canterbury on South Island’s eastern coastline; and Gewürztraminer at almost 200 ha. I've noticed most NZ winemakers have now opted to label as Pinot Grigio rather than Gris, even if they strive to make a more French style PG rather than Italian. Populist marketing does have its advantages.

North Island

Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2020, Auckland (13.5% abv): Hand harvested and whole-bunch pressed then barrel-fermented with indigenous yeast in French oak (20% new); aged 11 months in barrel. Quite closed up for me at least, underlying hints of toasted oak and yeast-lees topped with subtle creamy tropical fruit, fairly tight and steely finish vs big rounded texture. Very promising. €45 Pembroke Wines (Dublin). UK £22-£25 (2020+21). NZ $40.

Villa Maria Private Bin East Coast Chardonnay 2021 (13.5% abv): Juicy ripe citrus and peach fruit, tasty and easy-going with lightly nutty creamy flavours. €16.49 Barry & Fitzwilliam (Cork). £10-£12 UK. SG $34. US $14. CA $18.
Villa Maria Private Bin East Coast Pinot Grigio 2021 (13.5% abv): Tasty juicy fruit with honeyed rounded palate, fresh and quite weighty at the same time; consistently good. €16.49 as above. UK: same as above.

Te Mata Estate Elston Chardonnay 2021, Hawke's Bay (14% abv): Cask-fermented, aged on lees for 11 months in barrel. Tasty mix of light toasty oak, yeast-lees notes and ripe citrus fruit, lightly oaky texture turning towards oatmeal flavours, good weight and fresh bite to finish. €25 Ireland. £27-£33 UK. AUS $40-$44. NZ $45.
Smith & Sheth CRU Heretaunga Chardonnay 2019, Hawke's Bay (13.5% abv): A little oakier than some but had ripe and oaty fruit underneath; very nice well-made wine although I preferred the Pyramid Valley (see below), same price and importer. €37 Curious Wines (Cork). £27-£32 UK. NZ $40. US $40-$45.
Daniel Brennan Testify Chardonnay 2020, Te Awanga, Hawke's Bay (14% abv): Whole-bunch pressing and barrel fermentation, matured over the winter and spring in different sizes and ages of cask with lees-stirring. Yeast-lees infused rather than overtly oaky, tasty juicy fruit on the palate finishing with more structured and fresher mouthfeel; good although dear (not produced every vintage). €40 The Irish Cellar (Dublin). NZ $44. US $44.

Matahiwi Estate Holly South Series Chardonnay 2021, Wairarapa (13% abv): Vines planted in 2013. More aromatic and nuttier than some of the others on the nose, again closes up on the finish though with lingering ripe citrus fruit and fresh acidity. $29-$36 NZ. US $28.

South Island

Tohu Whenua Matua Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2020, Nelson (14.5% abv): Block planted in 2006. Whole-bunch pressed, barrel-fermented with weekly lees-stirring, final barrel selection, not fined. Another tightly built, yeast-lees led wine, moves on though to nice rounder texture with nutty tones; pretty classy I think and should develop well. €35-€40 Mackenway Distributors (Dublin). $33 NZ. £20-£29 UK. CA $52.50. US $30? AUS $40.
Greenhough Hope Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, Nelson (13.5% abv): Light yeast-lees and toast on the nose, plenty of sweet fruit though combined with tasty oat flavours on the finish. €25 Curious Wines (Cork) - €20 in April.

Blank Canvas Reed Vineyard Chardonnay 2021, Marlborough (13.5% abv): Whole-bunch pressed, 'ambient yeast' barrel-fermented in French oak, racked and left on 'light lees' for a few months, no fining or filtration. 'Reductive' nose, very yeasty to start with subtle toasty oak notes, tightly structured palate in the end not revealing much to me at the time. €41.99 Liberty Wines (Dublin and London). $45-$50 NZ & Aus. £25-£30 UK. €30 Germany.
OTU Estate Pinot Gris 2022, Marlborough (12.5% abv): Flavoursome style PG with juicy fruit, lees undertones and nutty finish. €25 Boutique Wines (Dublin). $20 NZ. Photo below from www.otuwine.com.

Oyster Bay Chardonnay 2021, Marlborough (13% abv): Part barrel-fermented, part in tank, some lees stirring. Juicy and tropical fruit lightly sprinkled with oak tones, another well-made good-value brand. £10-£11 UK. US $11-$13. CA$20.95 (Quebec). NZ and AUS $17-$21.
Babich Family Estates Organic Chardonnay 2020, Wairau Valley, Marlborough (13% abv): Part barrel-fermented, part in vat, left 8.5 months in cask on lees. Intense and leesy, tightly structured classy wine with subtle mineral notes and stone fruits; needs more time. €26-€29 Ireland. NZ $21-$25.
Allan Scott Family Winemakers Pinot Gris 2022, Wairau Valley, Marlborough (12.5% abv): Aromatic and nutty, nice juicy palate in an Italianesque style. €14.25 i19 Wines & Spirits (Dublin).
Allan Scott Family Winemakers Chardonnay 2019, Wairau Valley, Marlborough: Aromatic yeast-lees, toasty oak notes give way to creamy oatmeal flavours, quite structured finish still with good substance.

Pyramid Valley Chardonnay 2019, North Canterbury (13.5% abv): Yeast-lees notes bolstered by quite rich tropical fruit and oatmeal aromas, weighty and textured palate with ripe nutty flavours and crisp bite too; classy Chardy indeed. €37 Curious Wines (as above).

Coming soon - New Zealand Pinot Noir.

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.