Midwinter is, for me, usually a time to get into my favourite wines. New discoveries can wait until Spring, when I’m out and about and poking into places for wines still to be found. An opportunity arose this month to do a little of both – mostly a chance to compare some iconic favourites to a couple of old world ones and even a brand new wine. Hosted at the Northern Club – nice – by Atelier Nash in collab with Man O’ War, this ‘Kulta Series – Chardonnay masterclass’ was a match made in heaven.
The Flight lists read like an extract of this infamous Top-10 list in my head (yes, I know) that I’m asked about every week. But with a twist – the last three wines are two excellent Burgundies, and finally a new un-tasted wine from Man O’ War.
So we start off with a Blanc de Blancs sparkling and Bluff oysters. Classic. This match has been honed over centuries. The wine is bone dry, and I mean dry, not a hint of dosage or sweetness here at all, and a shivering acidity. I’m a latecomer to bubbles, and it’s still growing on me. I mean, who ‘tastes’ sparkling wine. Sure, we all drink it… but I like tasting wine – that we have with food, that we lose ourselves in. Anyone every get lost in a glass of bubbles? This. This however is a smart wine. The freshness, vitality and actual deliciousness of this is for real, and quite something.
It’s from the Kulta range and called Tulia Method Traditionalle, and I’d call it quite an ambitious wine. Readers will know that I think that our NZ sparkling can be our ‘next big thing’. This one is definitely a mark in the sand for whoever wants to be crowned the best of our best. No. 1 and Quartz Reef will be there for sure, but it’s going to be a high quality contest.
The wines are introduced by Duncan McTavish, the Man O’ War winemaker, and David Nash, in a seated setting in a quiet room at the back of the Northern Club – the table laid with fabulous grazing platters and we’re on the best of the stemware around – wine just tastes better from these Jancis Robinson x Richard Brendon glasses. Now, I’m a fan of my Riedel glasses at home, but these light and perfectly balanced are frankly another step up.
“Flight One” is a run through of three New Zealand Chardonnays that could reasonably be considered classics of the modern style. We’ll be having conversations about this type of thing for our lifetimes – my list of favourite NZ chardonnays is subjective, liable to ‘seasonal variations’ and each to their own I say. At least tasting one against another in flights allows for assessments of style, crafting and discussion of such nuances as malolactic fermentation, new oak levels etc – for me, I can do this all night, hahaha.
Pitted against these is the Valhalla from Man O’ War – David introduces it as a “cult” wine and asks my opinion. Hmmm, I’m on the spot but not sure if I’d say it is that. To me, a cult wine is harder to get than something like a Valhalla. It’s a great wine, and ten years ago developed a real following – it was a few people’s go-to; and like the Grand Reserve or a Legacy, paved the way for what I colloquially call ‘the new wave of NZ chardonnay’ – big, characterful, flinty, textural beasties.
So, we have, in order, the Valhalla ‘19 – Kumeu River Mate’s Vineyard ’19 – Villa Maria’s Keltern ’19, and Neudorf Moutere Home Block ’17. Now, the 2014 Neudorf has had a 100-point score from Bob Campbell. Kumeu River Single Vineyard chardonnays are so good someone made a film about them. And the Keltern is not only one of only a handful of New Zealand vineyards that have slipped into our vocabulary as ‘named vineyard wines’, it’s also our most-awarded winery’s flagship chardonnay. Quite the line up.
Facts are I love all these wines, and the next 20 minutes isn’t a hard ask. I do learn new info on a few of these – no malo in the Valhalla (I’m surprised), and that people present regard the Keltern vineyard to be in a bit of a Hawke’s Bay no-man’s land (I don’t!) These are superb wines, and we settle into comparing their virtues, fuelled by a little prosciutto, salmon and sourdough.
Valhalla is punchy and savoury on the nose, with a bright acidity, great concentration and an untypical level of pithy tannin profile to go with the big flavours and linear nature. Mate’s new vintage is a beauty – the first for a while that I would happily drink on release. Purity of fruit – pear and citrus flower but also brooding and smoky. Villa Maria’s Keltern is usually a big wine, and this new 2019 shows a whack of new oak, 50% malo, and is richly sweet-fruited. The Neudorf is perhaps the most ‘complete’ wine in this set – helped by the extra bottle age, and it’s a highly structured wine. Lively, with a mineral tang and layers of complexity.
“Flight Two” takes a slight stylistic turn in my opinion – with a nod towards the old world. First up is Prophets Rock Cuvee aux Antipodes Blanc ’18; then bookended by the new Man O’ War Kulta Chardonnay are two frenchies – Domaine Jean Marc Boillot ’Truffieres’ 2018 from Puligny Montrachet; and Domaine de la Vougarie ‘Clos Blanc’ 2018 from Clos de Vougeot. Prophets Rock is a beautiful, fragrant chardonnay – crafted with a clarity and finesse, and possessing a creamy texture and subtle length.
If the two New Zealand chardonnays here are ‘burgundian-inspired’, then sure enough the next two wines are not from NZ. I drink them anyway. The Boillot wine is, again, very mineral, a delicate balance, with a line of oyster shell right through it; but the Clos Blanc shows raw, refined power. A bold example with huge concentration. The Kulta is cut from a similar cloth – weighty and intense, particularly on the nose; but also a pithy, tannic undertow and finish. I reviewed this one specifically here: www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=1799
The Man O’ War Kulta is more than just a range of wines – the concept is to bring people together around some special events, wine and get to peek behind the farm gate, and maybe hang out a bit at a special property. The website tells you more about what’s involved, and I believe that Atelier Nash will be doing more events in future as well. This was a superb evening – an old school night of fun, conviviality and celebrations of great wines.