So what is it about Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay? Over a couple of extended trips down to the region in 2020, it started to become apparent, by the end of the year, that something a bit special was starting to take shape. I’d asked a few people on my visits what they thought was going to be the next big thing for the region. And more than a few – a couple with a knowing smile – had replied with one word: Chardonnay.
It was only after I’d been and moved on to Pinot country further south that I heard whisperings of a special project. Cameron Douglas, Master Sommelier, in possession of perhaps the finest tasting palate in the country, had been tasked with finding the best of the best. Up to the task, he had this to say afterwards:
“Being asked to evaluate this line-up of fine wines of one variety, from one region and one vintage is an exceptional opportunity. Selecting the best of these wines for the inaugural Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay Collection was a great honour and a big responsibility.
2019 is indeed a great vintage for Chardonnay from Hawke’s Bay. The theme for the tasting revealed itself after the first flight – texture, intensity, tautness, great line of acidity and a core of fruit. The potential for ageing many of the wines was apparent as well – and confirmed at the retasting later in the day. This made selecting just 12 wines so much more challenging. In the end it was a matter of deciding on a range of styles, excellent winemaking, use of oak, and potential for aging”.
The collection is a varied assortment of Hawke’s Bay’s Chardonnay, highlighting the quality and diversity of production in the region. Although having a reputation of being one of our country’s warmer and sunnier climates – on a global stage, you could describe these Chardonnays of being born of a terroir that is distinctly ‘cool climate winemaking’. However, we’re also known for a ripe fruit-forward style, and, for Chardonnay certainly, I’d add the characteristics of intensity, fine acidity, richness and palate weight.
Of course Hawke’s Bay isn’t just all about Chardonnay. At WineFolio we love our Top 10 Tastings, where we’ll gather a selection of the best on New Zealand and taste a single varietal – publishing just the Top 10 scorers. Next week we go heavy on Syrah, and we’ve produced tasting of Pinot Gris and Chardonnay in 2020 (take a look elsewhere on the site for results). The Top 10 Tasting of Chardonnay was a triumph for Hawke’s Bay though, and I’m not too surprised that when I got the opportunity to taste these twelve wines recently, it brought back echoes of that epic tasting last year.
These wines are all great examples of what the outstanding winemakers of Hawke’s Bay can produce. Sure, this was an excellent year – Hugh Crichton has this to say: “A real standout for me in the 2019 vintage was how pristine the fruit was due to the ideal growing season. Fruit condition was perfect. If you got the picking decision right, had good viticulture practice and yield control then there is no reason why you wouldn’t have had the perfect material to work with. For me, good Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay is about richness, concentration but within a lovely framework of freshness from good natural acidity, and of course a little complexity.”
But, I’ve just been tasting some Chardonnay from the 2017 vintage – see Craggy Range’s Gimblett Gravels here – www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=2999 and this was supposed to be a diabolical year. Seems even in a crap year, the Chardonnay here is pretty darn good. The objective of this collection is to increase awareness of the outstanding and consistent quality of Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay, and its core role in telling the New Zealand Wine excellence story.
My thoughts on the wines are below. It was noticeable how approachable they are already. There’s succulent fruit, vivid acidity, great concentration and palate weight, and already a good balance and integration of oak.
Pask Winery ‘Declaration’ Chardonnay Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019
A little shy on the nose, but opens out to reveal lemon peel, allspice and toasted almond perfumes. Poised, with an elegant composition and a tight energy between the sweet white peach, greengage and apple strudel flavours. A backbone of crisp acidity and the unfolding vanilla and nutmeg spice showing toasty oak nuance. A grapefruit pith drying to the sustained finish. 90pts.
Monowai ‘Upper Reaches’ Chardonnay 2019
Floral, with a flurry of fresh hay, oatmeal, honeydew melon, and warm spice on the nose. Elegant and relaxed across the palate, showing crystallised ginger, apricot and white peach. Well balanced, framed with an oak influence of butterscotch and marzipan. A mellow, silken texture, but needing a brighter acidity to liven things up and give more line. 90pts.
Cooper’s Creek ‘The Limeworks’ Select Vineyards Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019
Pale green-gold in the glass, with youthful aromas of yellow peach, hazelnut, pink grapefruit and a hint of cardamom. Refined and focussed, with a balanced acid freshness and good intensity. More ripe citrus and stonefruit across the palate, seasoned gently with spicy, vanilla-flecked oak. A creamy texture showing a dab of lemon curd, carrying to a drying, mineral finish. 91pts.
Collaboration Wines ‘Aurulent’ Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019
With flint and struck match notes on the nose, then overlaid with perfumes of yuzu, grapefruit, cashew and brioche. Restrained, holding tension and great power through the palate. The fruit is accented – bright, sweet and golden, with layer of apricot, pear, peach melba, and a honeycomb warmth. Enriched with spice and toastiness from oak and less influences. A delicious textural finesse in the long finish. 93pts.
Clearview Reserve Chardonnay 2019
No real surprises to see this wine in the box of a dozen chosen wines. 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. Great line of acidity, well-seasoned with new oak and super-long finish. Smooth with great depth. 93pts.
Tony Bish ‘Heartwood’ 2019
This has an opulence to the aromas of peach, vanilla bean, flint, mandarin, roast almond and citrus blossom. Intense, concentrated and rich – not a shy style. The palate delivers swags of ripe fruit flavours – nectarine, melon, grapefruit, and preserved lemon; but some savoury and mineral nuance too – wet stone, sweetcorn and chestnut. The acidity is spritely and vivid – giving great drive and line. As you’d expect, the oak is generous but it’s not overpowering – toasty and spiced – but not the only story this wine has to tell. The balance between vineyard, craft and wood is excellent. 93pts.
Sacred Hill ‘Rifleman’s’ Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019
Floral, with aromas of orange blossom, blanched almond, chamomile, lime zest, and nectarine on the nose. The palate is full-bodied but elegant – ripe with peaches, rockmelon and pear. Framed with toasted oak, caramel and baking spice, oatmeal and autolysis characters. Acidity is crisply citric, fleshed out with a enveloping creaminess. 94pts.
Askerne ‘The Archer’ 2019
An appealing, upfront nose of smoky gunflint, toasted almonds, lemon curd, vanilla, and golden peach. Concentrated and vibrant on the palate, with ripe nectarine, grapefruit and sliced pear. Taut and complex – the toasted oak flavours are accented with a rush of acidity that gives great drive through the palate. A well-weighted, creamy texture with brioche notes – extended lees influence I suspect. Some pithy, drying elements merge into a lengthy and harmonious finish. 94pts.
Villa Maria Keltern Chardonnay 2019
Pale yellow, gleaming lime-green at the edges. An elegant, heady bouquet of lemon, blanched almond and peach – with the struck-match reductive nose noticeably reduced this year. Medium-full bodied and intense, although still tightly bound; with a succulent concentration of lime, nectarine and grapefruit. An opulent wine, but with refinement, balance and complex layers of flavour to be discovered beneath the fruit. Textural and plush with a silky viscosity. A steely acidity gives good drive through to a long, intense finish. 95pts.
Elephant Hill ‘Salomé’ Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019
An enticing nose of roast cashew, lemon blossom, grapefruit, and nectarine. A complex, layered, intense wine. The balanced, zesty line of acidity gives excellent line through the palate filled with deeper, tropical flavours of pineapple, quince and fig. Texture is deep and enveloping, with a nudge of salinity adding extra interest to the long, harmonious finish. 95pts.
Church Road ‘Tom McDonald’ Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019
A lifted, floral nose of nougat, orange blossom, roast chestnut and cashew with a blast of struck-match flintiness. For a big wine, the full-bodied palate is pure and focussed, with notable weight and depth of stone fruit and zingy citrus flavour. Herbal and spiced, with cardamom, chamomile and ginger notes. Balanced, complex and poised with both vibrant acidity, toasty butterscotch flavours and a sleek, crème fraiche texture that is dazzling and mouth-watering. A signature Hawke’s Bay wine. 96pts.
Bilancia Tiratore Chardonnay 2019
A fine, bright pale green in the glass, with voluptuous aromas of peach, lemon blossom, roast cashew and buttered toast. Ripe stone fruit and tropicals on the palate – pineapple, honeydew and quince balanced with a zest of kumquat, crisp nashi pear and nectarine. Rich and intense, but with a drive of acidity that is pure linear energy. Complex with plenty of vanilla oak influence – strudel, nougat and baking spices. A deliciously silky mouthfeel – unctuous yet with a stony minerality underneath. A floral, spiciness develops in the mile-long, sweetening finish. 97pts.