First of this year's wines heading out cellar door

Last updated 15:31 17/08/2012

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That time of year has arrived again. The first of the new season's wines are about to hit the shelves and a few have been crossing my doorstep in the past week or so.

It is also the time of year local winemakers take some time out to enjoy their annual Winemakers' Degustation Dinner and hand out the Colin Harrison Memorial Trophy for the region's best chardonnay.

This year, 15 wineries submitted entries to the chardonnay competition, the majority from the 2011 vintage, a few from 2010 and one from 2009.

The rules are quite simple - the wine needs to be made from Nelson fruit by a local winery and be commercially available.

Cas del Vino's Ann Banks, NMIT school of hospitality's Phillip Rae and yours truly had the task of selecting the winner this year, and the wines we judged all had distinctive Nelson characters.

Some were a disappointment, others were obviously easy drinking but well-made commercial styles, and many showed plenty of winemaker skill in the use of oak and malo-lactic fermentation to add complexity to the fruit flavours.

The real surprise was the runner up, Kahurangi Estate 2011 Nelson Chardonnay (RRP$18). This wine shows that a mid-range commercial style of wine can not only be great value but fantastic quality.

For the second year in a row the region's best chardonnay was produced by Rimu Grove from the 2010 vintage and the result reflects the quality of this producer.

On the new release front, I have been trying some wines from the 2012 vintage, but because some aren't due for release until September 1, I will write about those in my next column. A couple of older recent releases that caught my attention are:

Waimea Estates 2011 Pinot Gris RRP$19

Even though this is an off-dry wine it is incredibly lush, bursting with very ripe pear flavours balanced by fine acidity and a streak of minerality running through the backbone. While some pinot gris wines seem a little bland, this is packed to the rafters with flavour.

Ara Single Vineyard 2011 Sauvignon Blanc RRP$21.99

Bursting with intense ripe fruit, this Marlborough sauvignon blanc is a beauty. Lovely fresh gooseberry and ripe lime flavours and firm juicy acidity make this one of the better sauvignons I have tried from Marlborough in recent times.

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