20 Top New Zealand Chardonnays

Favorite findings from a trip down under


New Zealand has made a name for itself first with Sauvignon Blanc and increasingly with Pinot Noir, but one of its greatest gifts to wine lovers everywhere has pretty much remained a secret. That secret is Chardonnay. The wine that everyone loves to hate is being pumped out in delicious forms all over New Zealand!

I recently spent a couple of weeks in New Zealand. While tasting through all the Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, I kept being surprised by the wonderfully crisp, precise Chardonnay that I was sampling. With a cool climate that makes New Zealand ideal for Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, it should come as a surprise to no one that the Chardonnays also excel, revealing a ripeness of fruit matched to a nervous energy that just might make these the best Chardonnay wines outside of Burgundy!

As always with notes like these, availability will vary. Some of these wines are not yet released or even distributed in the states, so please keep in mind that some readers may have access to bottles that others don’t.

Photo courtesy thegaventas via Flickr/CC

2010 Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay Nelson $40

This is low and tight on the nose with slow to emerge notes of almond husk, dried apple fruit and a touch of toffee. The aromas are gentle but distinct and well-balanced, lending this a fine, elegant feel. In the mouth this is bright with real verve and energy. The oak is prominent but well integrated, with fruit that remains very much in the citrus end of the spectrum, adding resin and stony notes on the finale with just a soft suggestion of vanilla. This is intensely flavored in a sort of extracted way, but the texture ends up feeling so polished, round and frankly airy. Really a superb wine. 95pts

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2009 Kumeu River Hunting Hill $40

Tight on the nose, reticent at first, with a touch of lip balm and some early berried fruit. This shows huge intensity as it rolls out across the palate with richness and depth, but it remains transparent. There is lovely intensity of pollen, apricot, apple and gentle wood tones, then lemon curd on the mid-palate. Huge length on the finish, which shows mineral, spice and orchard fruit flavors and a huge mineral finale. Awesome wine. 95pts

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2010 Felton Road Block 2 Chardonnay Central Otago $50

Light, leesy nose that offers gentle wood spice along with bright notes of crystalline citrus fruit. Right off the bat this shows fine cut on the palate and a wonderfully pure expression of lime fruit accented with a touch of peachy sweetness. This remains very fresh with a lovely, dry fruit character and aromatic notes of acacia on the palate. There’s some dusty limestone on the finish, which shows fine length and firm, clear, notes of lacy fruit recalling crisp white peach, slightly creamy lime pith and a touch of pineapple on the finale. Today I prefer this to the Bannockburn, but it does lack some of that wine’s focus and tension. 93pts

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2009 Kumeu River Mate's Vineyard $40

Aromatic and slightly spicy on the nose with a touch of honied character, candy corn and preserved lime fruit. Very round and supple in the mouth, though with bright acids supporting a very fine mineral, toffee almond, dried citrus and touch of pineapple core of fruit. Turns a bit more toffeed and nutty on the finish which also shows vibrant acids and mineral cut. Nice finale of pithy almost grapefruit character. More Burgundian, there' s something innately Burgundian about this wine. Very clear finish bit of spice on finale. 93pts

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2009 Pyramid Valley Field of Fire Chardonnay North Canterbury $60

This opens with a distinct note of boiled peanuts on the nose, joined by layers of floral, honeycomb and heirloom apple fruit aromas. In the mouth this shows super fine balance, with light honey and toasted almond accents framing the core of clear orchard fruit. Very transparent feeling with fine depth to the zesty mineral and fruit flavors. Bright acid on the back end drives the lovely, vibrant finish, showing a little spice and lingering lemon verbena aromas. 92pts

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2010 Escarpment Chardonnay Martinborough $30

The nose here is quite savory, starting off with some gentle toast notes and a fine edge of fresh nuttiness reminding me of pignoli. There’s some aromatic butcher’s wax and a hint of pollen that accents the dry, soft peachy fruit on the nose. This is very light on the palate, showing an early bit of nuttiness and a stony texture under the cut orchard pie fruits. This is youthful, almost a bit mean, but it’s remarkably clear and pure with a long, lemon pith/lemon oil note on the chalky, almost dry woody finish. I could drink this all night. 92pts

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2010 Felton Road Bannockburn Chardonnay Central Otago $40

Clean and light on the nose with a gentle blanket of barrel fermented aromas covering elegant stone fruits with soft mineral edges. Round, juicy and fresh on the palate in a generally lean style which really finds a happy medium between fruit and mineral. There’s firm if airy structure here and gentle toasty biscuit accents on the back end, adding detail to the sweet apple fruit on the finish. The finish is quite strong here, zesty and sapid with a touch of cleansing tannin. This is a baby with a bright future. 92pts

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