Central chardonnay hitting stride

This week reviewer Mark Henderson enjoys some very drinkable chardonnay.

I vividly remember back in 1994 when I helped friends plant their vineyard in Bannockburn. It was my first experience of the rigours of vineyard labour, though soon to be superseded by training and trellising, pruning and the dreaded bud rubbing.

At the time, much debate went into the composition of the grapes planted.

The pioneering work of people like Alan Brady, Rolfe Mills, Anne Pinckney and Verdun Burgess, followed by the Hay brothers, had already proved the viability of grape growing in Central Otago and signalled the bright potential of pinot noir making that a given.

Pinot gris, and riesling looked promising while sauvignon blanc was a commercially astute choice. Then there was chardonnay.

Pinot noir's spiritual home is Burgundy in France, as it is for chardonnay, so there was a strong feeling that if pinot noir succeeded, then so should chardonnay. Chardonnay was duly planted widely across the region but early examples, while pleasant, failed to excite.

This may have been due to the chardonnay clones available at the time being unsuitable for the region and climate, lack of vine age, along with viticultural and/or winemaking practices or a combination of these things?

Whatever the cause, chardonnay remained the somewhat unloved child in the Central vinous palette.

Not that all Central chardonnays were dull: far from it, it was more an "ugly duckling'' quality of youthful gangliness desperately needing bottle age to show its finery, yet few people had the confidence to put them away.

Fast-forward to today and Central chardonnay is undergoing a quiet but assured resurgence. I cannot pinpoint precisely when this all started to change, but recent examples have shown marvellous drinkability, yet still with that potential for improvement in the cellar.


2015 Mt Difficulty Growers Series Lowburn Valley Chardonnay
Price: $39 (cellar door)
Rating: Excellent

This opens to white peach, pineapple and citrus blossom; clearly rich and vibrant. Full bodied and nicely textural with the palate following the nose, bringing in notes of spice, yeast lees and lanolin/wetwool with time. Oak seasoning doesn't dominate and a hint of apricot kernel brings a refreshing close.

Lovely and accessible now.





2015 Felton Road Bannockburn Chardonnay
Price: $37 (cellar door)
Rating: Excellent to outstanding

A schisty, stony nose with ripe melon and then milky/creamy notes with time. The minerally elements continue on the palate with peach, oatmeal and spice nuances becoming evident. Elegant and integrated; with a lovely spine of acidity and a deliciously long finish.

This builds and grows in the glass and shows great potential.





2014 Brennan Gibbston Chardonnay
Price: $33 (cellar door)
Rating: Excellent

Creamy/milky notes on the nose with a subtle pineapple and fruit salad undercurrent. This is tighter on first sip, but quickly shows richness and nuances of butterscotch, buttered popcorn and spiced apple with oak tannins giving structure. There's a lovely, refreshing quality to the close; real zip here.

Lots of interest and potential.





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