What a great feeling to finally get to our second Top 10 Tasting, after two postponements during the winter. The panel of tasters could finally gather and dig out the boxes we’d been eager to get stuck into, to find out what are the top 10 New Zealand chardonnays around. Good coverage, from every corner of the country. Only the top ten are listed, but the standard was generally very high.
We noted a more harmonious feel to the wines – generally a move away from overt and out-of-balance flavours of reduction or oakiness. Also, despite the 2019 vintage being trumpeted as one for the ages, it was felt that many of the ‘19s were a little shy, and a couple were sweeter and lacking in acidity.
No such problems for our Top 10 though. See below – you can say it’s a triumph for Hawke’s Bay in general; although we tried many very very good examples, from Marlborough in particular, with only a single point defining the placings below the top three.
At the $20-30 price point there is a lot of excellent New Zealand Chardonnay on offer – with great varietal style, and, in many cases, showing great regional flavour and personality. Once you get step up to the wineries top-tier examples, we found you’re getting to wines that would shine on a global stage. With our growth in vine age, and also ‘winemaker age’ you can see what an experienced artisan can do with some of the outstanding fruit that our vineyards are now producing.
No. 1 >> Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay 2018
Our winner comes from the Gimblett Gravels in Hawke’s Bay. Full-bodied – an intense wine with smoky elements of reduction on the nose, but beautifully layered into the overall complexity. Grapefruit, nectarine and a biscuity spiciness. Solid structure, with high acid giving great line, and long finish. Judges noted “Great balance with integrated oak”.
No.2 >> Clearview Reserve 2019
No real surprises to see this wine make the podium – well awarded in recent years, and it shone through in this blind tasting. No shrinking violet, this is rich, upfront, and really grabs your attention. Filled with appealing, ripe fruit flavours of citrus, golden peach and a hint of popcorn. Vibrant acidity, well-seasoned with new oak and super-long finish. “Smooth with great depth” was one comment.
No. 3 >> Clearview 3 Rows 2019
Two out three ain’t bad. They know what they’re up to down at the coast in Te Awanga. This was another popular drop in the tasting. Brioche, orange peel and floral aromas; with a big helping of apricot, candy apple and lime zest. Generous weight and shining acidity drive this through layers of nutty oak, mineral and into a scintillating crème brulee texture. “Rich and luscious” featured in the notes.
No. 4 >> Alexia ‘Happy Wife’ 2018
A new wine to WineFolio – this was the first time we’d tried this, and our panel were mightily impressed – one taster adding “I love this” to their tasting notes. Great personality to this wine. Golden and brightly presented – smoky, lively on the nose, with bags of stonefruit flavours and a sharp acidity. Slices of sourdough toast – one with honey, one with lime marmalade (Chardonnay for breakfast, hmm) Lovely harmony and poise.
No.5 >> Ka Tahi Rangatira 2015
Full, open aromas of vanilla, peach, cardamom and a yeasty apple strudel. Full-bodied palate with grapefruit, preserved lemon and white peach. Opulent – a big, richness to its core, but well structured – layers of butterscotch and toasty oak influences and with a creamy texture. Long finish.
No.6 >> Te Awanga ‘Trademark’ 2015
This is Rod’s ‘love it or hate it’ Chardonnay. We loved it. Notes of flint and biscuit, with ripe citrus and tropical fruits. Focussed, exhuberant but rounded. Sweet marzipan, caramel, pineapple, roast cashew and layered with a seasoning of spicy oak. A dash of mineral and grapefruit pith, with a drying but lingering finish. David added “Big but with soft edges”.
No. 7 >> Vidal Soler 2019
Another big wine, with a slightly polarising reductive struck-match flintiness on the nose (that they’re known for, to be fair) that left a couple of the panel to find it slightly off-balance. Lush palate, with an adundant fruit basket of greengage, nashi pear and lemon sherbert. Layers of oatmeal, nougat and stony minerality are enriched with spicy oak. An enveloping, creamy texture plays against a moderate acidity, to a clean, linear finish of good persistence.
No.8 >> Soljans Estate ‘5th Generation series’ 2016
Good to see the winners of our WineFolio Top 10 Tasting of Pinot Gris back in the thick of it again with this beautiful wine from Kumeu. Roast cashew, mandarin peel, pineapple and peach on the nose. Well developed, with a rounded palate showing flavours of apple pie, hay, gooseberry jam and a yeasty lees influence. Luscious texture, nice acid tension and toasty oak. A soft butteriness to the smooth finish.
No. 9 >> Leveret Estate Reserve 2018
A vivacious example coming from the Riverview vineyard in Hawke’s Bay. Fresh, with a citrus peel, peach and honeysuckle bouquet , and a distinctive top note of smoky, Riesling-like kerosene. Medium-bodied with more lemon, rockmelon and stony mineral on the palate. A busy rush of acidity, a nice touch of oak, and a creamy finish. Judges noted “great acid and great potential”
No. 10 >> Mahi Marlborough 2018
Bursting from the glass, with a piquant flinty reductiveness, red apple, grilled peach and toasted almond. Full-bodied palate with a salty, mineral edge of green olives, but balanced with a ripe fruitiness of lime curd, fig and sliced pear. A rich oak note, and a fine poise to this generous and concentrated example. Good poise, and the balanced length of finish suggests this is built to last.