Looking for inspiration for the lead-in to this week's Wine of the Week review, I spotted on my bookshelf, 'Chardonnay - Photographs from around the World' with photographs by Charles O'Rear and text by Michael Creedman.
It's always nice to have a book like this - a book that is mainly photographs but with some meaningful text - to pick up and browse from time to time.
My favourite photograph, on a page that the book always falls open at, is of a single, back-lit, dissected chardonnay grape. It is transparent like amber and shows, like a bug trapped within, its "distinctive seed shape", which looks to me like a freshly-plucked pear complete with tiny stalk and leaf.
In the chapter, 'Chardonnay: The Wine', Creedman states "For the winemaker, a ripe field of chardonnay is like a giant block of flawless white marble, just waiting to be carved. To a greater extent than perhaps any wine in the world, Chardonnay is an expression of the individual winemaker's art."
Creedman's metaphor to the block of marble may be unique, but he is not the first person to make the analogy that Chardonnay is the expression of the winemaker's art.
Chardonnay gives a winemaker so many options. How it is grown in the vineyard, how it is picked, how the grapes are pressed, how they are fermented - with what, in what and for how long - with or without aging on the spent yeast lees, there are so many choices to be made along the way.
There are so many expressions of Chardonnay, no wonder it is one of the worlds most popular white wine styles.
A set of four wines from Ngatarawa, in the Hawkes Bay, shows why. They range in style from light and easy to this week's Wine of the Week, the rich and complex Ngatarawa Alwyn Chardonnay 2002, the flagship wine that bears the signature of the winemaker, Alwyn Corban*. There produce a style of Chardonnay for everyone.
Ngatarawa Stables Chardonnay 2004 ($15.95) is a light, clean, crisp chardonnay with a melon fruit scent, a slightly oily texture and pip fruit flavour on the finish. It is lightly oaked and is the only wine in the range to have malolactic fermentation to soften the acidity. It carries 13% alcohol and is closed with a screwcap.
Ngatarawa Silks Chardonnay 2004 ($19.95) is creamy in texture with mouthfilling flavours of melon, stonefruit, citrus and nutty oak with a touch of caramel on the warm spicy, finish. It is a fruit-driven wine with only partial barrel fermentation and has all the goodies in a deliciously easy style. It gets top marks for daily drinkability. It carries 14% alcohol and is closed with a screwcap.
Ngatarawa Glazebrook Chardonnay 2004 ($24.95) has nutty oak on the nose and spicy oak in the palate. It is crisp, young and fresh with bright, clean fruit, a creamy texture, a mealy, nutty richness and savoury oak on the finish and as the aftertaste lingers in the mouth, juicy stonefruit flavours emerge. Barrel fermentation and maturation on lees have added complexity. It carries 14% alcohol and is closed with a screwcap.
Ngatarawa Alwyn Chardonnay 2002 ($34.95), the flagship wine, is rich and mouthfilling with spicy oak, concentrated stonefruit, pear and tropical fruit, exotic spices and a smoky savoury finish with nutmeg and cedar lingering beautifully with fruit that now seems more like melon. It is a little reminiscent of a Burgundy with a creamy finish and a rich nutty aftertaste and lots of honey caramel-coated wheat but on other respects it is nothing like Burgundy at all. It's a dry wine with lots going on and more comes to the fore as the night goes on. A beautiful wine to sip and savour and enjoy with a plump juicy breast of corn-fed chicken.
I tasted this wine about 14 months ago and at that time it was still tightly wound up in its bud. Now it is blossoming with the full flower to emerge with a little more cellaring - or do as I do and let it open up in a decent-sized glass.
The ripest chardonnay and lowest yielding chardonnay was selected to make this wine that was barrel-fermented and matured on lees in same French oak barriques. It carries 13.5% by alcohol and comes closed with a cork.
Find out more from the Ngatarawa website.
*Corban is one of the best known names in the New Zealand wine industry. Corbans founder, Assid Abraham (A.A.) Corban, a Lebanese immigrant from a family with a 300-year history of winemaking, bought 4 hectares of land in Henderson in West Auckland in 1902 and set about planting grapevines. Winemaking is the family tradition. Alwyn's father Alex ( who was A.A. Corban's grandson) was praised for his Chardonnay in the late 1960's and early 1970's. While the original Corban's brand is now in the hands of a mega wine company, Alwyn Corban ensures the continues the tradition and heritage lives on in the family-owned Ngatarawa Wines.
© Sue Courtney
11 July 2005