In due time, the red grapes of Bordeaux will establish themselves as some of New Zealand’s other great wines, but today it’s Chardonnay’s turn! Already on the market, if in limited distribution and sometimes challenging to find, New Zealand produces Chardonnays that offer the ideal synthesis between the fruit of the new world and the zesty, mineral-laced vibrancy of the old.
A long-time player in a relatively young industry, the Brajkovich family, led now by Michael -- New Zealand’s first Master of Wine-- Kumeu River has emerged as one of the premier producers of Chardonnay not only in New Zealand, but in the world.
Unusually for New Zealand, Kumeu River’s vineyards are far in the north. Their proximity to the Tasman Sea keeps the climate cool and consistent, allowing the vines to produce ripe fruit yet elegant wines.
With vineyards in Central Otago famed for their Pinot Noirs, it’s no surprise that Felton Road might have sneaked a bit of Chardonnay into its vineyards. After all, Chardonnay is the white complement to the Burgundian Pinot Noir.
Since 2002, Felton Road has been farmed organically and biodynamically, with all three of their vineyards receiving full biodynamic certification in 2010. The Chardonnays have responded well to these techniques and these wines always seem to express a sense of place that is rarely found among New Zealand Chardonnays.
Established in 1984 literally in the shadows of some of New Zealand’s original vineyards, Millton Vineyard is located on the eastern side of New Zealand’s North Island along the shores of the Te Arai River.
Millton Vineyard is another winery opting to farm organically and its pair of Chardonnays clearly express the soil, sun, and gentle hand of man that guides this winery.
Saint Clair is well known as a producer of super-premium Sauvignon Blanc in that classic Marlborough style. With all that experience, Chardonnay is a natural next step, and Saint Clair has got a running start!
With a full line-up to choose from, beginning with a base wine then progressing through unoaked, premium, single vineyard as well as a reserve bottling, one can learn all about Marlborough Chardonnay, not to mention the Saint Clair style, without ever leaving the property!
Ata Rangi offers one of the truly great Pinot Noirs of New Zealand. A pioneer in the Martinborough region, which is now globally renowned for its wines, Ata Rangi had humble beginnings, springing from a mere 12 acres of barren, stony land in 1980 into the brilliant winery it is today.
With so much of the focus here in Pinot Noir it’s easy for the Chardonnay to slip through the cracks but, make no mistake, this is some world-class Chardonnay. Both Chardonnays, the Craighall and the Petrie, benefit from low yields, indigenous yeast fermentation, and a judicious barrel regimen that allows these subtle, minerally yet fruity wines to explode from the glass. Rare but worth tracking down!
More about New Zealand wines
Did you see the second installment of our series on New Zealand wines at New Zealand Wines Part 2: Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon?
If you haven't already, check out Part 1 of our series on New Zealand wines, focusing on Sauvignon Blanc, in New Zealand: The Discovery of Fine Wine.
Explore some of the country's vineyards in our slideshow New Zealand Wine Regions.
WhatsCook.in: Celebrating New Zealand Cuisine
And if you'd like to learn about what the Kiwis eat, check out our sister site WhatsCook.in, which is Celebrating New Zealand Cuisine and traditional dishes for New Zealand's national Waitangi Day.