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Wine of the Week for week ending 14 March 2004
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Nga Waka Chardonnay 'Home Block' 2002
Martinborough, New Zealand

I've always had the greatest of respect for the Nga Waka Wines of Martinborough especially the Rieslings, which I discovered two and a bit years ago at the 10th Anniversary of Toast Martinborough. A vertical of verticals I called it. Winemaker Roger Parkinson put on nine Nga Waka Rieslings that showed his later release style definitely has the capacity to age. I also like his Pinot Noir's, another wine he holds back for release. The 2001, for example, was blossoming a couple of months ago at the Martinborough road show when all around (with a couple of exceptions) the 2002 was on show. But I am not really familiar with Nga Waka Chardonnays, which I've only tasted at trade tastings or the like, where the format is quick swirl, sniff, sip and spit in front of the expectant winemaker who is eagerly watching you for some expression of approval. I mean, how can one focus on Chardonnay at tastings like these when there are so many more glamorous wines, like Pinot Noir, Riesling and Syrah to taste?

So when a bottle of Nga Waka 'Home Block' Chardonnay 2002 arrived the other day and was added to the growing pile of Chardonnays waiting to be tasted, I decided that it was time that Chardonnay was revisited.

It's probably not surprising to my readers that the Nga Waka was my favourite wine (obviously it had to be, otherwise it wouldn't be 'Wine of the Week') but it was definitely a surprise to me when the identities of the wines were revealed as there were some big names alongside it.

It's a well-coloured wine, a medium gold, the same as most of the other 2002 Chardonnay's in the line-up, and stood out on the nose with its polished smoky oak and rich mealy spicy fig and stonefruit aromas one of about four that had immediate aromatic appeal. But it was the flavour and structure that put it ahead of the pack. Its a big mouthfilling style, ripe and round, slightly meaty, with spicy oak, musk, fig, honeydew melon and stonefruit with lingering fruit sweetness on the long savoury finish with good acidity to support it. A totally delicious wine with absolutely everything in the right place.

But there was a further test. How would the wines go with food? With my particular choice for the evening, a hot smoked salmon fillet lightly pan-fried to warm the fish through, served with a lettuce, tomato and avocado salad served with Caesar dressing, carrots and potatoes, the strong flavours of this wine were an easy match to the strong flavours of the fish. The wine's an all-rounder.

The notes that accompany the wine say that this wine is a milestone in Nga Waka's quest to produce fine Martinborough wine and is their first release of a single vineyard designated wine. The vines are now 15 years old and Roger feels that more of the vineyard site's characters are coming through. The wine is made from Mendoza clone Chardonnay that grows on its own roots (rare these days). The whole bunches of grapes were pressed and settled then barrel-fermented in French oak, 50% new. 70% of the wine underwent malolactic. The wine spent 10 months in barrel on its yeast lees and was bottled 6 months prior to release. It carries 14% alcohol by volume and a price tag of $35 per bottle. The closure is cork but Roger advises that from the 2003 vintage, the wines will be closed with screwcaps.

For further information - and to find out what 'Nga Waka' means - head off to the Nga Waka website.

Other top wines in the tasting included Tasman Bay Vintage Selection Chardonnay 2003, Dry River Chardonnay 2002, Trinity Hill Gimblett Road Chardonnay 2002, Ngatarawa Alwyn Chardonnay 2002 and Kawarau Estate Central Otago Chardonnay 2002.

The Kawarau Estate was the only other Chardonnay that was strong enough to drink alongside the richly flavoured salmon, the others needed something a little more delicate. The Tasman Bay is the one I would serve at any time and at its under-$20 price tag would definitely suit the 5 o'clock drink set.

© Sue Courtney
7 March 2004

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