You’ve probably tried a few New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs and maybe even dabbled in the occasional Pinot Noir, but have you taken a look at their Chardonnays? If you haven’t, you really need to. I should probably rephrase that. If you enjoy a leaner, crisper style of Chardonnay that manages to be ripe yet firm with vivid clarity, then it’s time for you to try New Zealand Chardonnay!
Several styles of Chardonnay are produced in New Zealand. Due to the rather unique growing conditions found there, the wines tend not to be cheap, even pricey, so if you’re going to be spending the money on one of these wines, you’ll probably want to find one that really expresses what New Zealand has to offer.
There are several reasons why New Zealand’s wines tend to be on the pricier side, ranging from the extreme distance shipping to terroir-driven issues like cool weather, wind and minimal rainfall.
If you travel through New Zealand visiting wineries, you’re bound to hear it over and over again: “We just can’t make cheap wine, except for…”
I get it, I really do, and I’m not asking you to make cheap wine. I think what New Zealand is doing is just great, but at the same time if your expecting someone to pony up the bucks for one of the “not cheap” wines, please make it something special. Something that could only come from New Zealand. If you go off trying to compete with the world by making big, blowsy Chardonnay, you’re going to lose that game.
Thankfully, the vast majority of the Chardonnay I tried during my recent visit to New Zealand was anything but big and blowsy. The cool temperature, poor soils and challenging climatic conditions present through most of New Zealand’s wine regions have conspired to prevent that. Those factors seem to deliver a sort of Chablis-style wine that has lean, crisp nuances and is refreshing. Some folks like these wines and I count myself as one of them, others want something more.
I’m not sure what is going on with me. I used to look dubiously upon almost any Chardonnay, but the past few years have seen a real change in both my palate and my preferences. I am learning more and more to love Chardonnay, though ironically I usually love those Chardonnays that are showing a little less!
New Zealand’s Chard, as you might gather, excels at this. From north to south, I was faced with Chardonnay that defied my expectations. As a group, they were wines that were blessed with fine balance and a ripeness that delivered rich flavors, but were lean and rather firm in many cases. I made the Chablis comparison earlier, and while the expression of terroir is obviously different, I think it’s a very apt comparison. I doubt I’ll find many Burgundy drinkers who will convert full on to drinking these Chardonnays, but perhaps I am misjudging the market. For whatever reason, most likely soft demand due to limited exposure to these wines, prices for these New Zealand Chardonnays tend to be quite reasonable. In some cases, they are indeed quite cheap, protestation to the country aside.
So why should you try these wines? Because they are delicious! You are not going to impress many people by whipping out a bottle of Waipara Chardonnay, and you certainly will not find these wines to be some magical investment, but boy will you drink well. So try a few, I’ve got plenty to recommend here.
Please remember, some of these wines will not be available in your markets but might be for other readers. I was very lucky to try such a vast range of wines while on location, and while I know you might not be able to find some of these gems, I would be remiss had I not brought them to your attention!
After all, these wineries deserve some recognition too, even if they have yet to master the complex distribution chain that delivers delicious juice to our favorite retailers!