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Wine of the Week for week ending 25 November 2007
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Distant Land Reserve Chardonnay 2004
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

Charged with the task of writing brief wine descriptions for the Air New Zealand Wine Awards booklet, I've tasted some absolutely magnificent wines this week. Absolutely magnificent! I do have my favourites, but I can't wait to see which wines win the Trophies. They will be announced on the 24th November, after which time the booklet will also be available, perhaps at wine shop near you.

So many of the wines could have been contenders for Wine of the Week. But the wines were tasted at a venue, a tasting venue, a tasting for wine writers, a tasting where it was necessary to sip, spit and scribble and the wines were not tasted blind. They were not tasted with food and they were not tasted in the comfort of my own home. So therein lies a problem.

Then, as well, there are the Pinotage leftovers that I retasted during the week and I could have humoured Pinotage-lover Peter May by picking a Pinotage again this week. However I stand by my top three choices as they were selected in the initial tasting and my choice for last week's Wine of the Week. The sparkling red wine, the Soljans Sienna, also proved to be an absolute star. Firmly stoppered and refrigerated after the tasting, five days later the bubbles were still rising and the fascinating taste was still captivating. And to top that off, it worked well with a spicy chicken curry main, but was even more delicious with gigantic, fresh and deliciously tasty fresh strawberries that we had 'au naturel' for dessert.

So Chardonnay was taking my fancy, a rich, flavoursome Chardonnay, something with a little age. We are used to drinking wines on 'current vintage' release - and that means the 2006 vintage right now. Although some are released with a bit of age, most are released to satisfy market demand.

We found eight Chardonnays with that little bit of age, seven from the 2004 vintage and one from 2003. The tasting resulted in three super wines, three wines that any Chardonnay lover would have considerable pleasure drinking.

Photo by Sue Courtney But the top wine, after much deliberation between this and the number two wine, was revealed as Distant Land Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2004 (5 stars). It was acclaimed Wine of the Week. And what's more, it has just been released.
Light golden coloured with grapefruit on the nose and lovely, ripe, rounded mealy barrel-ferment flavours filling the palate, this is a chardonnay-lovers wine with plenty of toasty oak, gorgeous winemaking complexities, good attack of peach and citrus fruit and a Burgundian nuance to the long, dry, spicy finish. Powerful, classy, stylish, and maturing beautifully with lovely integration and juiciness to the lingering, warm, mouthfilling aftertaste, we liked this immensely.

Distant Land is a new brand, one I think you should be hearing much about shortly. I absolutely love the label and I love the connotation of the name. When the bottle arrived, it had a tiny piece of Kauri Gum tied to the neck - anyone who knows a little of New Zealand's vinous history prior to Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, will know that kauri gum and wine went hand in hand. Because it was the Croatians who came to New Zealand to dig for kauri gum, who made the wine in the tradition of their home country. Then, when they left the gum fields, they bought land, mostly in Henderson, and planted vines.

Distant Land's vinous heritage dates back to 1937 when gum digger Petar Fredatovich purchased land in Lincoln Road and established Lincoln Wines. Seventy years later the grapes are gone - except for a token two rows, and while houses are sited on the former expansive vineyard, the winery is still there. Peter Fredatovich Jnr, (or Peter the 4th), who works alongside his father, is the young gun of the business and responsible for this new evocative new brand.

The fruit in this gorgeous Distant Land Chardonnay 2004 is Mendoza clone from the Dartmoor Valley in sunny Hawkes Bay grown in what can only be described as a 'dream' vintage. The whole bunches were transported to the winery in Auckland where they were pressed and transferred to French oak barrels (50%) new, for barrel fermentation. They spent 12 months in barrel on the yeast lees then the best barrels were selected for this wine, the 'Reserve', and although 'Reserve' is not mentioned on the label, the stylish presentation says it all. The label indicates 14% alcohol, the wine has a screwcap and the price is about $30.

You can too, by checking out the Distant Land website -

Now it is possible, in fact even quite probable, that this new Distant Land wine is the same as the Lincoln Reserve Barrique Fermented Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2004, that I reviewed as Wine of the Week 18 months ago in May 2006. If that is the case, well what a super wine. Delicious then and still delicious now.

Runners up in the tasting were Mahi Twin Valleys Chardonnay 2004 (*****) from Marlborough, knocked by a whisker into second place, and Matua Valley Ararimu Chardonnay 2003 (****1/2) from Gisborne, which was emphatically third.

The other five wines in the tasting were showing a little bit of age. But I guess most disappointing, when the labels were revealed, was Babich Irongate Chardonnay 2004 from Hawkes Bay. It had a natural cork closure (the winners had screwcaps) and was suffering from the effects of oxidation. Michael Cooper rates this 4.5 stars in his latest Buyers' Guide. It did not come up with that rating in our tasting today.

© Sue Courtney
18 Nov 2007

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