Cuisine - - NZ CHARDONNAY -

Kid­nap­per Cliffs Chardon­nay 2014 (Hawke’s Bay)

-3 $55 ★★★★★

THE PROD­UCT OF A fine Hawke’s Bay vin­tage, this wine has that com­bi­na­tion of com­plex­ity, en­ergy and ele­gance that makes New Zealand’s best chardon­nays so cap­ti­vat­ing. It leads with white flower, lemon blos­som and flinty scents. The palate ex­udes ripe stone­fruit with lifted green high­lights, and of­fers a tex­tu­ral master­class – “mouth­wa­ter­ing acids com­bined with tex­tu­ral flinti­ness add to the wine’s power with­out over­pow­er­ing the fruit”, noted Michael Bra­jkovich. The fin­ish is long and lovely. The panel quickly reached con­sen­sus on a food match: cray­fish.


First sole-charge wine­mak­ing gig, first vin­tage, first in the Cui­sine chardon­nay tast­ing. Not bad at all. Richard Painter has ev­ery right to look back on 2014 as one of those years. Painter moved in as Te Awa’s wine­maker (he was pre­vi­ously the as­sis­tant at Vi­dal) just be­fore the 2014 grow­ing sea­son be­gan. What was a very good vin­tage, he says, be­came even bet­ter when he picked his chardon­nay early in re­sponse to the per­ceived threat of Cy­clone Lusi. “We had good ripeness, but there’s al­ways the temp­ta­tion to leave the fruit out a lit­tle longer. I think the wines would have been less el­e­gant if we had done that. Lusi forced our hand. As it turned out, she never came any­way.” Kid­nap­per Cliffs is Te Awa’s top chardon­nay, pro­duced from prime parcels grown on the es­tate vine­yard, and only made in the best vin­tages. The Te Awa site strad­dles the Gim­blett Grav­els and Bridge Pa Tri­an­gle sub-re­gions and Painter says his best chardon­nay fruit comes off the siltier Bridge Pa soils. Hand-picked, whole-bunch-pressed and fer­mented wild, the wine was made with min­i­mal in­ter­ven­tion. Says Painter: “The beauty of this wine is that it’s only just been re­leased. It has had a year in bar­rel and two years in bot­tle. It needed that time to re­ally open up.”

2 / te Pā Marl­bor­ough Chardon­nay 2016

★★★★★ -4 $29.95

This wine is grown close to the sea on the Wairau bar. “The fruit is pris­tine and a won­der­ful mar­riage of stone­fruit and cit­rus,” said John Belsham. It’s a young, tight chardon­nay with in­ci­sive acid­ity and a sil­very flinty seam. A bright, fresh style that would part­ner well with sun­dried toma­toes or olives.

3 / Ele­phant Hill Hawke’s Bay Re­serve Chardon­nay 2015

★★★★★ -4 $49

Wine­maker Steve Skin­ner has crafted a lovely ex­pres­sion, where lemon curd meets smoky flinti­ness. They grow and dance in step all the way across the palate with poise and pre­ci­sion. This is a com­plex style with real fruit power, but also har­mony and bal­ance. Try it with pan­fried snap­per and lemon juice.

4 / Bran­cott Es­tate Let­ter Se­ries ‘O’ Marl­bor­ough Chardon­nay 2016

★★★★★ -4 $26.49

The top chardon­nay from Bran­cott Es­tate has been gar­ner­ing its share of ac­co­lades over re­cent times. This 2016 re­lease is a bright pun­gent wine, show­ing flinty com­plex­ity over a foun­da­tion of crisp grape­fruit-in­fused fruit. “Ex­cel­lent tex­ture,” noted Michael Bra­jkovich. Ex­cel­lent value, as well.

5 / Wrights Re­serve Gis­borne Chardon­nay 2015 ★★★★★ -3 $38

Or­gan­i­cally grown by Ge­off and Ni­cola Wright, the founders and pro­pri­etors of this Gis­borne la­bel, this chardon­nay ex­cited the panel. It’s an ex­u­ber­ant, big style, of­fer­ing lifted, smoky, struck match notes and what John Belsham de­scribed as “creamy, spicy, warm ripe fruit”. Try it along­side a leek and feta tart.

6 / Clearview Es­tate Beach­head Chardon­nay 2016 (Hawke’s Bay)

★★★★★ -3 $28

Clearview and chardon­nay have a long, happy as­so­ci­a­tion and fans of the la­bel will en­joy this new of­fer­ing. It has a tra­di­tional-meets-new wave feel – plenty of ripe peach and lash­ings of oak, sup­ported by a light, flinty seam. It’s also marked by a vi­brancy and length that leave you want­ing more.

7 / Sileni Es­tate Se­lec­tion Lodge Chardon­nay 2015 (Hawke’s Bay)

★★★★★ -3 $33

“Beau­ti­fully framed with a slaty pu­rity that grows through the palate,” noted John Belsham. This is a juicy, fresh style with at­trac­tive fruit of­fer­ing trop­i­cal fruit and more herbal notes. Tight acid­ity helps it steer a course to a long, fine fin­ish.

8 / Te Kairanga John Martin Chardon­nay 2015 (Wairarapa)

★★★★★ -3 $37

This is de­cep­tively com­plex wine. Charm­ing aro­mat­ics – sweet­corn, stone­fruit – usher in a rich, gen­er­ous mouth­ful en­livened by a touch of flinti­ness and an ap­peal­ing toasted nut char­ac­ter. With its quiet opu­lence, it would be a good part­ner for a creamy chicken and mush­room pie.

9 / Villa Maria Sin­gle Vine­yard Kel­tern Chardon­nay 2016 (Hawke’s Bay) ★★★★★ -3 $50

Mak­ing one of its reg­u­lar ap­pear­ances in our top 10 is this lat­est of­fer­ing from a vine­yard with a great chardon­nay pedi­gree. Poised, lovely flinty scents set the tone. In the mouth there is plenty of fruit to back up the smoky over­lay. This is a se­ri­ous, en­er­getic and per­sis­tent wine.

10 / Villa Maria Re­serve Bar­rique Fer­mented Chardon­nay 2016 (Gis­borne) ★★★★★ -5 $35

This de­light­ful chardon­nay from the prac­tised hands at Villa Maria has fo­cus and ten­sion. Great acid­ity and flinty en­ergy lift the cit­rus pith, sweet spice and nutty oak flavours, giv­ing the wine drive and length. The fruit pres­ence is gen­er­ous. We sug­gest drink­ing it along­side a dish of seared tuna.

Clearview Es­tate Re­serve Chardon­nay 2015 (Hawke’s Bay)

★★★★ -4 $45

The rich, creamy-tex­tured, ex­hil­a­rat­ing style that Clearview Re­serve is so well known for con­tin­ues to strut its stuff with this 2015 ex­am­ple. Straw-coloured and with plenty of smoky, flinty aro­matic in­trigue, this wine de­liv­ers won­der­ful fresh­ness and juici­ness in the mouth. We rec­om­mend en­joy­ing it with a dish of pork ril­lettes.

Is­abel Marl­bor­ough Chardon­nay 2016

★★★★ -3 $30

This chardon­nay, from an es­tab­lished Marl­bor­ough name, is quick on its feet. With a flavour pro­file fea­tur­ing fresh fen­nel, juicy min­er­al­ity and ripe peach notes, it treads with a gen­tle creami­ness. This is a re­fresh­ing style that would make an ex­cel­lent ac­com­pa­ni­ment for a seafood salad.

Jules Tay­lor OTQ Sin­gle Vine­yard Marl­bor­ough Chardon­nay 2016

★★★★ -4 $40

OTQ stands for ‘On The Quiet’, and this is some­thing of a quiet achiever. Be­hind a veil of flinty com­plex­ity is a core of multi-lay­ered fruit (green olive, stone­fruit) that grows with time in the glass. Said John Belsham: “The in­trigu­ing palate shows a tem­pered ap­proach.”

Mount Ri­ley Seven­teen Val­ley Chardon­nay 2016 (Marl­bor­ough)

★★★★ -3 $30

“Very at­trac­tive oak and ripe fruit,” noted Michael Bra­jkovich. For a young wine, it has come to­gether well, the el­e­ments al­ready nicely in­te­grated. Flinty, cit­rusy and crisp, it be­longs to the leaner, more min­i­mal­ist camp. Try it with any shell­fish.

Ngatarawa Pro­pri­etors Re­serve Chardon­nay 2014 (Hawke’s Bay)

★★★★ -3 $35

A smart ex­pres­sion from an ex­pe­ri­enced player. Flinty char­ac­ters are a fea­ture, and play a role in giv­ing the wine en­ergy and fo­cus. Lovely stone­fruit and fresh herb notes come through, with a touch of sweet­ness that works well. This 2014 is drink­ing well now.

Stoneleigh Ra­paura Se­ries Marl­bor­ough Chardon­nay 2016

★★★★ -4 $27

Wine­maker Jamie Mar­fell con­tin­ues to ex­plore his Ra­paura ter­roir with this de­light­ful ex­pres­sion. Flinti­ness bol­stered by smoky oak are bal­anced by qual­ity fruit, with cit­rus, white pep­per and stone­fruit char­ac­ters all in the mix. A brisk, juicy chardon­nay.

Sum­mer­house Marl­bor­ough Chardon­nay 2015

★★★★ -4 $30.90

The nose is muted, but in the mouth this wine has plenty to say. White stone­fruit, mus­tard seed, cit­rus and fen­nel notes un­fold around a line of taut acid­ity. It’s a sweet­ish, ripe style where the fruit has the loud­hailer. Try it with a pork and ap­ple dish.

Tiki KORO Hawke’s Bay Chardon­nay 2014 ★★★★ -4 $33

South Is­land-based Tiki ob­tained Hawke’s Bay grower fruit to pro­duce this ex­cit­ing ad­di­tion to its top-tier KORO range. The aro­mat­ics are fab – hon­ey­suckle min­gling with flinty, smoky notes. In the mouth, there is tex­tu­ral rich­ness and gen­uine length. A wine with pres­ence and har­mony.

Villa Maria Pri­vate Bin Chardon­nay 2016 (East Coast)

★★★★ -3 $15

You don’t get much bet­ter value than this. It’s full, rich, ripe with at­trac­tive flinti­ness and great bal­ance. There’s a be­guil­ing mix of green and yel­low fruit flavours. “A well-pre­sented wine with sub­tlety and grows in the mouth,” opined John Belsham.

Villa Maria Sin­gle Vine­yard Tay­lors Pass Chardon­nay 2016 (Marl­bor­ough) ★★★★ -3 $35

All class from Tay­lors Pass once again from Villa Maria. It’s a flinty, zesty style, green-edged and cit­rusy in flavour pro­file and del­i­cate in tex­ture. The fin­ish is fresh, gen­er­ous and dry. You couldn’t go wrong pair­ing it with a beer-bat­tered tarakihi or snap­per fil­let.

Wither Hills Ben­mor­ven Chardon­nay 2016 (Marl­bor­ough)

★★★★ -4 $26

Grown in the Ben­mor­ven vine­yard in Marl­bor­ough’s south­ern val­leys, this wine can look stand­off­ish early but has a lot to of­fer. Del­i­cate flinti­ness and sweet cit­rus grow across the palate. The fin­ish is min­er­ally and in­sis­tent. An el­e­gant, very lovely chardon­nay.

“‘If a lit­tle of some­thing is good, a whole lot must be great.’ With chardon­nay we’ve seen that think­ing ap­plied to oak and more re­cently, to sul­phides. I feel we’re fi­nally leav­ing it be­hind, and mak­ing more bal­anced wines.” MICHAEL BRA­JKOVICH

Al­lan Scott Gen­er­a­tions The Eli Col­lec­tion Chardon­nay 2016 (Marl­bor­ough) ★★★★ - 4 $101

Babich Iron­gate Chardon­nay 2015 (Hawke’s Bay) ★★★★ - 4 $39.95

Coop­ers Creek SV Big & But­tery Gis­borne Chardon­nay 2016

★★★★ - 3 $26

Coop­ers Creek SV Plains­man Hawke’s Bay Chardon­nay 2015

★★★★ - 3 $23

Hawkes­bridge Re­serve Marl­bor­ough Chardon­nay 2016

★★★★ - 4 $30

Hunt­away Re­serve Chardon­nay 2015 (Gis­borne)

★★★★ - 3 $22

Marisco Vine­yards Craft Se­ries The Pi­o­neer Chardon­nay 2014 (Marl­bor­ough) ★★★★ - 4 $70

Marl­bor­ough Sounds Marl­bor­ough Chardon­nay 2015

★★★★ - 3 $20

Mud­brick Re­serve Chardon­nay 2016 (Waiheke Is­land)

★★★★ - 4 $54

Ob­sid­ian Re­serve Chardon­nay 2016 (Waiheke Is­land)

★★★★ - 3 $48 Pere­grine Chardon­nay 2015 (Cen­tral Otago) ★★★★ - 5 $37 Saint Clair Pi­o­neer Block 10 Twin Hills Chardon­nay 2015 (Marl­bor­ough) ★★★★ - 3 $32.90 SOHO Carter Chardon­nay 2016 (Waiheke Is­land) ★★★★ - 4 $38 Spy Val­ley Chardon­nay 2014 (Marl­bor­ough)

★★★★ - 3 $23 Te Awa Sin­gle Es­tate Chardon­nay 2016 (Hawke’s Bay)

★★★★ - 3 $30 The King’s Bas­tard Chardon­nay 2016 (Marl­bor­ough)

★★★★ - 3 $28.95 Vava­sour Anna’s Vine­yard Chardon­nay 2015 (Marl­bor­ough)

★★★★ - 3 $41 Vi­dal Re­serve Chardon­nay 2016 (Hawke’s Bay)

★★★★ - 3 $20 Villa Maria Cel­lar Se­lec­tion Hawke’s Bay Chardon­nay 2016

★★★★ - 3 $18 Villa Maria Cel­lar Se­lec­tion Marl­bor­ough Chardon­nay 2016

★★★★ - 4 $18 Villa Maria Re­serve Marl­bor­ough Chardon­nay 2016

★★★★ - 3 $32 Waipara Hills Equinox Waipara Val­ley Chardon­nay 2015

★★★★ - 3 $34.90 Ze­phyr Marl­bor­ough Chardon­nay 2016

★★★★ - 3 $28


For this New Zealand chardon­nay tast­ing, John Belsham, an in­ter­na­tional wine judge and owner of Foxes Is­land Wines in Marl­bor­ough, was joined by Michael Bra­jkovich, wine­maker at renowned Kumeu River Wines and New Zealand’s first Master of Wine, and John Saker, au­thor and Cui­sine wine writer. As­so­ci­ate judge (non-scor­ing) was Poppy Sak­erNor­rish, har­vest wine­maker at Ata Rangi.


Those wines of­fer­ing an out­stand­ing mix of qual­ity and price are awarded Best Buy sta­tus. Price points dif­fer, de­pend­ing on the va­ri­etal, but if you see the Best Buy sticker you can rest as­sured you’re get­ting a great wine at an ex­cel­lent price. Look out for the sticker on wine bot­tles at all good wine re­tail­ers.

Michael Bra­jkovich

John Saker

Poppy Saker-Nor­rish

John Belsham

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