TOP 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.
NEW KID NAILS IT
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.