What are the top New Zealand chardonnays? It's a question that's been posed time and again and just last month it was asked on the Auswine forum, where contributors named their icon Chardonnays. Of course the same names kept cropping up because how could you leave out the likes of Kumeu River Mate's, Te Mata Elston and Neudorf Moutere?
These wines have the pedigree and the track record to be placed at the top - my personal No. 1 being Kumeu River. And based on the 2006 Kumeu River family of chardonnays, with three single vineyard's and the Kumeu River 'Estate' as well as the Mate's, they could easily take five of the top spots. Te Mata Elston, although released in infancy, has proven time and time again that it is a wine that blossoms in the cellar. With Neudorf Moutere I bow to others' opinions, because even though I've tasted a few, it is not a wine I get to taste each year.
So what other chardonnays will fill a case of New Zealand's iconic wines? It's a difficult choice because on the next tier down, there are a dozen or so chardonnays that are grafting away at consistency.
Some people would say Craggy Range Les Beaux Cailloux, but I have to admit never tasting that, and I've only tasted one vintage of the Morton Estate Coniglio, although lucky enough that on several occasions the 2002 passed my lips.
In my box I'd definitely have Sacred Hill Rifleman's Chardonnay, Clearview Reserve Chardonnay, Dog Point Marlborough Chardonnay, Cloudy Bay Marlborough Chardonnay, Church Road Reserve Chardonnay and any number of Villa Maria Reserve or Single Vineyard Chardonnays. More recently I've been very enamoured of the Auntsfield Cob Cottage Chardonnay 2006 and Bouldevines Marlborough Chardonnay 2006.
But there's one that many do not consider, simply because it flies under the radar to some degree, possibly because of where it comes from. It is the Marsden Estate Black Rocks Chardonnay from Kerikeri in Northland. This wine does have a rather impressive show record, scooping gold medals and trophies for x of the last y vintages.
Having just spent the week in Northland, it seemed an appropriate time to indulge in a bottle of the gorgeous Marsden Estate Black Rocks Chardonnay 2006 - one of my Chardonnays of the Year in 2007. I described it as "sophisticated, decadent, tantalising and harmonious" after it blew me away in a blind wine judging in September last year.
If you don't like oak, then this wine is not for you but if you like big rich toasty oak and butterscotch flavours, you'll simply drool over this delicious wine. Peach, fig and nougat fill the mouth in the most impressive way with an underpinning of citrus and savoury yeast lees flavours building to a long, harmonious finish where tropical fruits glow on the aftertaste. Barrel fermented and matured for 12 months in a mix of French and American oak, the 'upfront'
American oak of six months ago (October last year) has now integrated beautifully while malolactic fermentation and extended lees aging have added to the outstanding complexity.
It's simply a wine of class and power and will stand up to a wide range of food. We actually matched it to lamb with a mushroom-herb-bread coating.
Unfortunately, when you visit the winery in Wiroa Road, Kerikeri, you can't taste this wine. It's the only one that is not open for tasting, because of its triple gold medal haul. But you can taste everything else that they have on offer in the tasting room (pictured) - and tastings are free.
Marsden Estate Black Rocks Chardonnay 2006 has 13.5% alcohol and is sealed with a screwcap. It costs $35 at the cellar door and you may be able to still find it in fine wine retail too.
Check out www.marsdenestate.co.nz.
© Sue Courtney
7 Apr 2008