When the West Brook Barrique Fermented Chardonnay 2007 was proclaimed Champion Chardonnay at the New Zealand International Wine Show awards dinner on Saturday night, it raised a few eyebrows among the industry insiders, but for some of us it wasn't a surprise at all. That's because we've been drinking this terrific wine for some time now, the main reason being that as well as being rather rather tasty, it's affordable wine selling at my local fine wine retail store for $16 a bottle and even less on case buys.
It's an interesting wine because if you drink it well chilled, as some of my drinking buddies like to, it presents itself as a big toasty oak number but at winter / very early spring room temperature, the oak, while still rich and toasty, is so much more in harmony. That's the way I like it and judged at room temperature, it is obviously the way the judges liked it too.
It's a rich ripe creamy style of Chardonnay with a medium gold colour that has a lustrous glow. The toasty oak harmonises with the delicious fruit that covers the tropical fruit, stone fruit and melon spectrum with a zing of citrus to add vibrancy, there's a mealy richness from the 100% barrel ferment and a touch of butterscotch on the scrumptiously juicy, long long finish. If you savour the wine you discover the layers of deliciousness
So what makes this wine so special? What made it outclass all the other 230+ Chardonnays in the show? In my opinion it is the 32% fruit that comes off the West Brook vineyard in Waimauku, just north of Auckland city. It's the Waimauku fruit that adds the x-factor to this Marlborough-Auckland blend.
I'm a huge fan of Auckland Chardonnay - it's just that they don't get much airtime because not many are made. There's Kumeu River of course, right at the top of the pack, New Zealand's best Chardonnay producer in my book, but West Brook is another stellar producer. I highlighted this fact on blog back on
March 31st this year when I raved about was the West Brook Ivicevich Chardonnay 2006, made from 100% Waimauku fruit.
"Didn't you make an Ivicevich Chardonnay in 2007?" I asked winemaker James Rowan by email.
"Yes we did but it still hasn't been released," he replied.
He explained that 2007 was a "really good vintage" in Auckland with fruit that had "nice balanced acid retention". From the two Chardonnay clones (95 and Mendoza) grown on the West Brook Waimauku vineyard, it was primarily clone 95 that was selected for the Ivicevich label - this gave the characters for the style they wanted that label to aspire to. So they had a balance of some very smart Mendoza fruit. They decided not to put it into the "Blue Ridge" label as that is 100% Marlborough for export reasons, so this new blend was devised.
"We won't be able to export it to the EU," said James. But will that matter? Now with the Champion Chardonnay trophy, as well as trophies for Champion Commercial White Wine and the illustrious Champion Wine of the Show, they won't have to. It will be quickly snapped up at home.
As for chilling, "it certainly isn't how we blend the wines....but hey, different folks, different strokes, "said James.
West Brook Barrique Fermented Chardonnay 2007 has 13.8% alcohol and is sealed with a screwcap. Find out more from West Brook Wines.
© Sue Courtney
22 Sep 2009