New Zealand’s Shy White Star Should Be Top Of Your List

Make this ELEGANT CHARDONNAY your new best friend, says wine editor MARY DOWEY

Wine fashions come and go – or do they? New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has been one of the biggest crazes the drinking world has ever seen for a much longer time than seems decent. It’s become the blue jeans of wine styles, an easy-going default option, even if far too many versions are shapeless rather than smart. The problem is that Sauvignon’s rampant success has obscured Kiwi genius with another white grape which it spins into much more subtle and distinctive wines. Chardonnay.

There’s not that much of it around. According to the latest figures, Chardonnay accounts for only seven per cent of New Zealand’s total wine production and three per cent of wine exports – whereas Sauvignon Blanc clocks up 72 per cent of production and 86 per cent of exports. Vineyard plantings echo the same story, with just over 3,000 hectares devoted to Chardonnay compared with over 21,000 to Sauvignon Blanc.

Rather depressingly (and, to me, bizarrely), Chardonnay’s position hasn’t advanced in New Zealand in a decade, whereas Pinot Gris is coming up fast on the inside track and will soon go flying past.

Why should we care? Imagine you meet three New Zealanders who may become your new best friends. The first – let’s call her Sauvignon Blanc – is chatty and friendly but eventually her gushing personality becomes a bit tiresome. The second, Pinot Gris, can be hard going – sometimes too saccharine for comfort or so plodding in conversation that you wish she’d lighten up. The third, Chardonnay, seems quiet at first but turns out to be so interesting that you could spend months in her company without feeling bored. And, by golly, she’s smartly turned out.

That’s my take on New Zealand’s big three whites, and of course it’s subjective – but I hope it will at least encourage you to look at the country’s Chardonnay with new interest. Styles are influenced as much by individual winemakers as by conditions in the many different regions in which it is produced, from Marlborough and Hawkes Bay to Gisborne, Nelson, Auckland and beyond. In general, though, you’ll find citrus notes with tangy mineral undertones wrapped in a smooth, creamy body. Elegance and understatement
are key.

New Zealand’s shy star becomes particularly compelling with food. Try unoaked or barely oaked Chardonnays with salads, light fish or seafood and weightier, oak-influenced examples with salmon, roast chicken or pork. You’ll certainly find possibilities at lower prices than my top recommendations but it’s worth spending a bit more if
you want to see just how glorious the good stuff can be.

Three of the best

Kumeu River Village Chardonnay, Kumeu 2015. Developed by Burgundy fan Michael Brajkovich at his acclaimed estate near Auckland, this stylish, versatile wine was a favourite at our May Gloss Wine Dinner. Alcohol: 13.5%. From Corkscrew, Dublin 2; Redmonds, Dublin 6; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Wicklow Wine Co; www.pembrokewines.ie, €22.

Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay 2015. Fermentation and ageing in large oak barrels make this a richer, nuttier wine than the one above but it retains a lovely, juicy core. A natural partner for main courses. Alcohol: 13%. From Corkscrew, Dublin 2; Green Man, Dublin 6; www.wineonline.ie, €33.

Dog Point Chardonnay, Marlborough 2014. A beautifully poised, full-bodied, smoky beauty with rippling layers of flavour that linger impressively. No wonder organic estate Dog Point has a stellar reputation. Best with substantial dishes. Alcohol: 14%. From Corkscrew, Dublin 2; Donnybrook Fair; Dublin 4; Whelehans, Loughlinstown; €35.

@MaryDowey

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