NEW ZEALAND CHARDONNAY

Sauvignon Blanc enjoys the highest profile of New Zealand’s white wines, but that doesn’t mean it produces the country’s greatest dry whites. That lofty status has been reserved for Chardonnay for many years.

Chardonnay, the great white-wine grape of Burgundy, ruled the roost in New Zealand during the 1980s, but fell out of fashion a decade or so ago, when it was criticised as too oaky by members of the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) club. The good news is that winemakers listened to the criticism — today’s Chardonnays are far more stylish and harmonious, less overtly woody, than those of the past, and there are a host of new fans.

In my recent tasting of New Zealand Chardonnays, almost 80 per cent of the wines flowed from Marlborough (54 per cent) and Hawke’s Bay (25 per cent). That’s no surprise, given that two-thirds of the country’s Chardonnay vines are grown in the two regions, with Marlborough’s plantings slightly ahead of Hawke’s Bay’s.

Yet Chardonnay has a proven ability to produce top-flight wines in all regions, from Central Otago to Northland. In this tasting, the 4 1/2 and 5 star ranks included distinguished wines from Marlborough, the Wairarapa, Hawke’s Bay, Auckland and Northland. The Chardonnays from Hawke’s Bay performed especially strongly.

Reflecting the youthfulness of most New Zealand wine releases, the majority of the entries (68 per cent) were from the 2016 vintage, far ahead of 2015 (25 per cent). In Marlborough, a warm, sunny February and March yielded “stunning” Chardonnay, according to Nautilus, and in Hawke’s Bay, after a hot, dry summer, Sacred Hill reported harvesting “great to spectacular” Chardonnay.