Tasting Panel – Chardonnay

, from Issue #47. November 15, 2013
Tasting Panel – Chardonnay

The Dish Tasting Panel assesses Chardonnay

Varietal/Style: Chardonnay

Tasting date: March 2013

Entries: 119

Judges: Cameron Douglas (senior lecturer at AUT and Master Sommelier); Andrew Parkinson (fine wine manager, Negociants NZ). Panel led by Dish wine editor Yvonne Lorkin.

Notes from Yvonne: Chardonnay. No matter what end of the spectrum: whether it’s lean, dry, delicate and mineral-driven or exotically rich and creamy, toasty and tropical there’s a chardonnay for everyone. We opened up a separate category for un-oaked examples (sometimes labelled un-wooded), as it’s a style of chardonnay that appeals to those who prefer to avoid that ‘toasty’ flavour. The quality of these entries led to one qualifiing squarely for our Top 10 and another achieving a four-star rating. Great stuff indeed.  

“Chardonnay is my ‘go to’ wine when I need a glass of something distracting and satisfying at the end of a gruelling day,” explains judge Cameron Douglas MS. “Chardonnay isn’t just chardonnay though – it’s 20 different wines and styles, so when one finds a style that suits them they tend to stick with the brand that makes them smile. This highlights a challenge when judging because there
are many different expressions to consider. At the end of the day though, it is balance, weight, concentration of fruit, freshnessand the all-important influence and complexities from any oak that is used.”

Andrew Parkinson was amazed at the range of flavours, but adds, “I was a little surprised at the number of clearly poorly handled wines that showed excessive oak and ‘winemaking characters’ dominating more delicate and less intense fruit. But the general feeling out there in the trade is that the quality of chardonnay at the top level in New Zealand has never been better.”


Top Wines of the Tasting

1. Villa Maria Reserve Barrique Fermented Chardonnay 2011 $36.99 ★★★★★

“We’re really proud of what we have achieved with this wine,” says winemaker Nick Picone. “The Barrique has an excellent pedigree but 2011 was an extremely challenging harvest in Gisborne with up to three times the average rainfall during the key harvest month of March.” 

Despite being a delicious drink now, he’s confident it’ll continue to develop complexity in the cellar over the next three to five years. Our judges were completely seduced by its rich, toasted panetone and grilled peach aromas paired with spicy aromatics and a harmonious, beautifully balanced texture. It’s a dry, slightly smoky chardonnay that is a joy to drink. “The palate is washed with mineral notes and it’s a deeply concentrated, rich, beautiful wine,” commented Andrew.  

2. Stoneleigh Marlborough Chardonnay 2012 $24.99 ★★★★★  

A superb example that really impressed with its “juicy stone fruit, citrus pith and spice layers, crisp acidity and excellent length of flavour,” according to Yvonne. Our other judges’ noted sweet talcum on the nose, good concentration with the citrus flavours developing nicely on the palate. Cameron also remarked on its subtle, skilful use of oak. It’s a well-built wine that has the added advantage of being affordable and easily sourced.

3. Mount Riley Seventeen Valley Marlborough Chardonnay 2011 $31.95 ★★★★★
“A concentrated, elegant, very smart wine,” noted Andrew. All three judges were quite taken with its fruity, creamy, lifted character. “It has a sound mix of fruit-to-oak texture and all its attributes are well highlighted,” remarked Cameron. “Dry, balanced and lovely.” The wine had lean, mineral notes on the nose and a clean, focussed acidity and richness that continues to build on
the palate.

4. Auntsfield Estate Single Vineyard Marlborough Chardonnay 2010 $35 ★★★★½

Loads of adjectives littered the judging sheets with this wine – one sip and you’ll see why. “Buttered bagel and ripe grapefruit flavours,” “really attractive fruit toast and oak sweetness,” “palate is sound, dry and really interesting” and “rather lovely, spicy mid-palate weight – darn lovely!” So yes, a very impressive wine indeed.

5. Kim Crawford Regional Reserves Unoaked Chardonnay 2012 $23.99 ★★★★½

We were chuffed to have an un-oaked chardonnay in our Top 10 because it really shows just how delicious this style can be when made with care and consideration.
The nose is lean and limey. Yvonne also loved the “oyster shell minerality and long, intense, lemony mouthfeel.”  Andrew commented on its nice acid spine, taut, lean palate, while Cameron enjoyed its “attractive crisp apple and fruity bouquet, delightful texture and good length.”

6. Brancott Estate Letter Series O Gisborne Chardonnay 2010 $37.99  ★★★★½

Andrew ’s comments of “rich, grainy, peachy, marzipan flavours, good richness and length,” were echoed by the other judges who also gave credit to the wine's juicy stone fruit flavours, tangy, clean acidity, sound dryness and layers of character on the finish. 

7. Auntsfield Estate Cob Cottage Marlborough Chardonnay 2010 $49.95 ★★★★½

To have two chardonnays featuring in our Top 10 out of 119 wines is no mean feat, but brothers Ben (viticulturalist) and Luc (winemaker) Cowley have poured their hearts and souls into these wines and their efforts clearly show through in the results. “I love the juicy, bright acidity,” remarked Yvonne, “and the lovely, buoyant layers of flavour and texture.” Cameron and Andrew found the fruit concentration powerful and edgy, yet nicely balanced, alongside a complex, mealy, grainy finish.

8. Osawa Wines Prestige Collection Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2011 $39 ★★★★½

Sourced from a 100-acre vineyard west of Hastings in the Mangatahi Valley, alongside the Ngaruroro River, the wines produced by the team at Osawa just keep getting better as the years progress and they’re now definitely one to watch from the region. Cameron was impressed with this “modern style of chardonnay with real interest and texture.” Andrew and Yvonne both agreed that it also showed tangy fruit concentration, refreshing, cleansing texture and a long satisfying finish.

9. Odyssey Reserve Iliad Gisborne Chardonnay 2011 $36.95 ★★★★½

When it comes to producing world-class chardonnay, Rebecca Salmond is one of New Zealand’s star winemakers. Her wines are always choc-full of character, personality and punchy flavours. This vintage is no exception. Oozing nectarine, butterscotch and brûlée aromas, it’s an elegantly built wine with lovely fruit richness on the palate, sweet oak and “a long and classy finish,” according to Andrew. All of our judges agreed it had huge crowd pleaser potential.

10. Lawson's Dry Hills Marlborough Chardonnay 2009 $28 ★★★★½

A very well made wine with a nose featuring toasty, buttered scone notes and a flavourful mouthfeel but not overly rich. “Good fruit concentration, elegant, showy and stylish,”
were common descriptors from our judges, who were also impressed with the citrus element on the finish.

Matching Chardonnay with Food

When it comes to food and chardonnay the rules are simple: “The bigger, fatter and creamier the wine, the bigger, creamier and richer the food can be,” advises Cameron Douglas MS. “Think about how well chardonnay laps up a ‘cream of anything’ – for instance a dish of fettuccine or a pan-seared crispy skinned snapper fillet beurre-blanc.”

Another rule of thumb to follow, according to Cameron, is ‘if it’s smoked bring on the oak’. “In other words the smokier the food, say smoked chicken breast stuffed with pine nuts, oyster mushrooms and ricotta cheese, then the chardonnay can be as buttery and oaky as you like. Oak in wine and nuts in food are good partners, too.”