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Wine of the Week for week ending 19 Aug 2007
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Saint Clair Pioneer Block 4 Chardonnay 2006
Marlborough, New Zealand

When Matt Thomson, winemaker for Saint Clair Wines, says, "this is the best chardonnay I have ever made," you take notice. You definitely take notice. You give the glass another swirl, you shut your eyes and inhale the fragrance then you savour another mouthful of the light golden liquid.

It was the Saint Clair Pioneer Block 4 'Sawcut' Chardonnay 2006 in my glass and was enjoying it immensely. I knew the wine was pretty smart, I had tasted it in May and wrote

Striking right from the outset with its light golden colour, its ripe stonefruit and mealy, spicy oak aromas and its rich, almost oily, full-bodied, creamy textured palate that's full of semi-dried, concentrated stonefruit with a touch of tropical fruit and a hint of grapefruit. Beautifully balanced and deliciously drinkable already, it is made in the mould of the stunning, multiple gold medal winning 2005."

But it's a big call from Matt to say it is the best he has ever made, especially given his impressive track record with chardonnay.

Take the Saint Clair Omaka Reserve Chardonnay - the top chardonnay in the Saint Clair stable. There have been some pretty impressive vintages over the years and indeed the current release 2005 is drinking superbly right now. Last year I also tasted the 2000 vintage of this wine, which proved it can also age magnificently too.

There is also the Saint Clair Pioneer Block 4 Chardonnay 2005, the predecessor to the wine in my glass. Gorgeous on first tasting last August - it was a Wine of the Week exactly one year ago. That wine blossomed gorgeously over the next few months and when I tasted in March this year, it had three gold medals to its name and the boisterous oak of its youth had integrated beautifully resulting into a wine that was rich, smooth, seamless and totally refined.

"The trick to the wine right now is decanting," adds Matt, bringing me back to the present. He says it tastes even better on the second day and on the third day it's just glorious. He said it was reminiscent of a Mersault. Doggone it! When did I last taste a Mersault? So long ago I can't remember. I guess Matt has recently tasted one though, because he flits off to Europe four times a year, making wine for four Italian labels and two French. In fact he even has his own 'Matt Thomson Selection' for one of the lines.

I decided to try Matt's theory out, and what do you know, he is on the button with this wine.

The first pour from a newly opened bottle Saint Clair Pioneer Block 4 'Sawcut' Chardonnay 2006 is bright and citrussy on the nose and the funky wild yeasts (about 50% of the wine had a natural ferment) - are more obvious than before. It's big and oaky with the oak seeming a little unresolved at first but the rich, mouthfilling wine has a silky texture with a focussed citrussy backbone and a nectarine-empowered finish with a satisfying aftertaste that goes on and on and on. And the oak seems to dissolve into the fruit. With its yeasty savouriness and citrussy brightness, it's a rather classy match to chicken breasts stuffed with apricots and wrapped in smoky bacon.

But the screwcap went back on the bottle because, as much as it would have been nice to continue drinking the wine, the experiment had to continue.

Next day the wine is more lemony leesy, quite delicate on entry with citrus to the fore and savoury, grilled peach emerging to build to a rich, powerful finish with hints of butter toffee. Despite its voluptuousness, it's lean and focussed with the acidity riding along in perfect balance. Very smart indeed and I can see why it has been compared to Burgundy, where Mersault is a subregion.

On the third day it is ripe, rich, and caramelly creamy with such impeccable mouthfeel and flow. Grilled peach is the dominant fruit flavour and the toasty oak is beautifully integrated. You can tell there's been some serious work on this wine and the result is all balance, balance, balance.

While we may automatically decant young red wines, I've been finding pinot gris is often better on the second day - and now young chardonnay too. I guess it all depends on how it has been made.

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 4 'Sawcut' Chardonnay 2006 is a wine of great potential. Made entirely from Clone 95 grown on Geoff and Mary's tiny 'Sawcut' Vineyard on their farm in the Ure Valley, about 55 kilometres south of Blenheim, this little 'hot spot' is composed of limestone soils - which are quite rare in the Marlborough region.. The finished wine has 14% alcohol and reasonably high acidity of 6.5 grams per litre and despite it being Burgundian-like, it was fermented and matured for 10 months in American oak! This wine sells from the Saint Clair for $24.95 but you may pay up to $27.99 in retail.

Find out more from the Saint Clair website and navigate to the Pioneer Block range.

Also check out all of my notes from the tasting with Matt Thomson - including three wines from this unique 'Sawcut Vineyard'. I like what they're doing with pinot noir too.

© Sue Courtney
12 Aug 2007

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