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A Tasting of some of New Zealand best Chardonnays
by Sue Courtney
21 May 2004

Imagine some of the New Zealand's best Chardonnays lined up on the table in front of you. Pretty exciting. But how would they perform in a blind tasting? Most of the wines were I had were from the 2002 vintage and I would expect these to perform. Now, having completed the pleasurable exercise, I can definitively say 'Yes, they did'.

Image copyright to Sue Courtney

Two of the wines, the Spencer Hill and the Selaks Founders, were previous vintage show champions. They had a reputation to uphold and my expectations were high. Several of the other wines do not compete in shows so it was going to be interesting to see how they performed in my little tasting.

The wines were tasted over two days, to gauge how they would develop. Some improved markedly while others showed they would be best to drink when first opened.

In the following tasting notes 'A:' refers to aroma and 'P:' refers to palate.

Pegasus Bay Waipara Chardonnay 2002 14.5% alc. Cork. $32.95.
A: Fragrant with yeasty scents, a hint of citrus, clean savoury oak, a little meaty.
P: Mouthfilling and rich with good acidity and weight, toasty oak, grilled stonefruits, apricots; intense, bright, mouthfilling and long with a savoury richness to the bready finish. Preserved apricot flavours linger. A well-balanced wine and quite delicious. 18.5/20
Following Day: Very powerful buttery, oaky wine, mouthfillingly rich, butterscotch and grilled stonefruits, very concentrated, almost too rich for me. Was in 2nd place yesterday, now 3rd.

Cable Bay Waiheke Island Chardonnay 2002 13.5% alc. Cork. $34.
A: Toast savoury oak, mealy, with a lactic influence from malolactic fermentation, and a touch of pineapple sage.
P: Spicy, a little spritzy, minerally, savoury, lots of winemaking influence makes the palate quite complex. Very long in flavour, caramel richness and tropical fruit flavours lingering. There's a touch of fruit salad on the end. Nice balance and mouthfeel. 18/20.
Following Day: A little dull at first, quite savoury with citrus and stonefruit emerging to brighten the finish and apricot flavours lingering with a suggestion of tangelo. Mealy and buttery with an earthy note throughout. Has become a little hard, however. 17/20.

Martinborough Vineyards Chardonnay 2002 13.7% alc. Cork. $33.
A: Buttery, lanolin, lactic (mlf) influences.
P: The lactic character dominates the palate too. Cheesy with savoury oak, oak spice, stonefruit sweetness, rich, full-bodied and mealy with emerging caramel that broadens the creamy finish. Needs to settle a bit at this stage. Has the potential to become excellent with time. For me the lactic character is too overt. 17/20
Following Day: The mlf character had integrated quite nicely. Overall a lemony, sherbet character and nice use of oak. I raised the score of this wine to 18.5/20.

Selaks Founders Reserve Marlborough Chardonnay 2003 13.5% alc. Cork. $27.95.
A: Fragrant, cedary, lots of new oak, toasty citrus.
P: Bright, mouthfilling, good acidity, citrus, green melons, and lovely butterscotch oak on the finish that is integrating nicely but will become more so with time. Mealy, rich savoury and long with juicy tropical fruit lingering. Oak lovers wine. 18.5/20
Following Day: The toasty oak is much more integrated today yet the wine still has a nice smoky, toasty richness. Tropical and stonefruit flavours more to the fore. Seamless. A wine of great finesse. 18.5/20. Was in 3rd place yesterday, now my second favourite.

Daniel Schuster Petrie Vineyard Selection Rakaia Chardonnay 2002 13% alc. Cork. $30.
A: Burgundian, savoury oak, oatmeal, lemon and mandarin scents.
P: There's an immediate nutty, toasty character to the palate while the influence from the lees stirring during winemaking adds a yeasty richness. Citrus peel adds to the character. Stonefruits too. Bright, interesting, lovely balance, lovely integration of components, great length with a ripe apricot sweetness to the savoury, slightly earthy finish. Good length. As the wine sits in the glass all kinds of nut flavours appear Ė a mixture of cashews, hazels and macadamias Ė to join the apricots. 18.5/20
Following Day: Nutty, leesy, lifted lemon characters, seems quite oaky today, a very powerful wine that begs to be accompanied to food and the roast chicken we matched it to seemed perfect.

Ascension Vineyard 'The Ascent' Matakana Chardonnay 2002 13.5% alc. Screwcap. $29.95.
A: Fragrant, lifted, honeyed oak, perhaps some coconut oil. Thought perhaps a little older.
P: Mouthfilling with toasty oak and a buttery richness, yeast lees stirring influence, a wine that's pretty easy to like. Stonefruits galore, lifted by a smidgen of ripe citrus. Buttery oak. Mealy, savoury and quite mouthfilling on the finish with very good length, however the oak seems a little hard, which detracts. My score went up and down on this one, I settled at 17/20.
Following day: Quite creamy but buttery oak seems more dominant now. Peachy finish.

Cloudy Bay Marlborough Chardonnay 2002 14% alc. Cork. $33.80.
A: Toasty, leesy, malty, hints of grapefruit.
P: Quite citrussy at first in the palate. Pears, toffee apples, then stonefruits, the malty character is there too and its quite lifted and leesy with a nice creamy texture and a warm toastiness. Clearly a young wine with lots of youthful spiciness and bright acidity, there's a honeyed richness to the caramel and stonefruit finish that becomes quite savoury as it lingers. A smooth textured wine with excellent potential. You can drink it without thinking too much about it. The only thing that detracted for me was that as it sat in the glass, the yeasty flavours became overpowering and I downgraded the score to from 18.5 to 17.5.
Following day: Leesy, grapefruit character on the nose. Rich, complex and elegant in the palate with a savoury finish. Everything had settled down and I elevated the score back to 18.5.

Morton Estate Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2001 14% alc. Cork. $15.95.
A: Butterscotch, toffee, a little minerally (steely) at first but later quite smoky.
P: Immediately mouthfilling with layers of spicy oak and citrus, it's a smooth textured wine that is fruity, earthy and savoury at the same time. The oak plays a big part in the wine and it overt spiciness leaves a prickly feeling in my mouth. Rich and full-bodied, itís a big wine without being too complex. Smooth. 18/20.
Following day: I though the wine had lost some of its finesse , it seems Aussie-like with brash oak and a pineapple richness. I demoted the wine to 17/20. This is clearly a wine to enjoy when it is first opened. I didnít realise that the price for this wine was under $20 until I came to write my notes. It should have gone into my under $20 tasting. It is clearly great value for money and highly recommended.

Spencer Hill Coastal Ridge Nelson Chardonnay 2002 13.5% alc. Cork. $35.
A: Yeasty, lemon, toffee, rich, intense
P: Quite malty and buttery in the smooth, creamy textured palate. A huge wine with lovely mouthfeel and weight, quite surreal honeyed oak and ripe stonefruits. There is lots going on in this immensely mouthfilling wine, which is savoury and mealy on the finish with those lovely toasty stonefruit flavours lingering. I thought this wine head and shoulders above the rest and it got my vote for 'Wine of the Tasting' with a score of 19/20. Neil agreed and placed this top wine too.
Following day: Didnít really write any notes, other than to say, 'even better now'. If anything it had become quite caramelly with a butterscotch richness, a mealy complexity and some bright citrus juices interweaving with the stonefruits.

There is no doubt our top producers are doing great things with Chardonnay. A few years ago it seemed all the wines were begin made to the same recipe but there are clearly differences and each wine has unique traits.

The Spencer Hill was clearly my top wine but I flipped back and forth between the Pegasus Bay and the Selaks for 2nd place. Both have quite dominant oak components. The Cloudy Bay was Neil's second favourite wine and a close 4th for me.

But do places matter? It all comes down to the enjoyment of the wine and I would say every one of the above wines fulfils that quite pleasurably. The all went pretty well to the food match of the evening, roast chicken and gravy, with potatoes, carrots and pumpkin braised in the juices.

Copyright Sue Courtney
21 May 2004

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