Neil Hodgson's wine column
A little over a decade ago you, the consumer, decided you had had your fill of chardonnay and, just like the traitorous cat that turns on you once you have fed it, you shunned your previous favourite tipple in favour of the newcomer, pinot gris.
That may be just a little harsh but I am sure there are plenty of chardonnay producers who will agree with me. Maybe you had overdone a good thing and simply wanted to try a wine that offered different flavours, and pinot gris offered that difference.
In the meantime those of you who did shun chardonnay have missed a huge transformation in chardonnay production; years ago big, fat, muscular – almost brutish – wines that tasted like they had a couple of planks of oak in each glass were the fashion but in recent years the predominant winemaking style has evolved to a point where many modern chardonnays are incredibly well-balanced, elegant wines and at last you, the consumer, seem to have remembered why you liked it so much in the 1990s.
For me chardonnay is a great expression of the skill of the winemaker as well as the quality of the fruit and the vineyard location. The winemaker has to make a huge number of right decisions to make sure he (or she) adds just the right amount of what I call "winemaker influence" to the wine; when to stop fermentation, how long to ferment all or part of the fruit in oak barrels, how much if any of the juice will go through a secondary malolactic fermentation and many other small but significant decisions.
Chardonnay sales are on the increase and right now is the perfect time to poke your nose into the chardonnay shelf. Because producers had so much trouble selling it, many of the current releases are a few years old and make fantastic drinking. On top of this you can also buy some of these older vintages at very good prices.
Some great examples have crossed my doorstep in recent weeks and my email inbox has been filling up with incredible offers. This week online wine sales company Best Wine Buys (bestwinebuys.co.nz) have been offering Waimea Estates Spinyback 2009 Chardonnay for $9.99 a bottle on case buys (plus freight).
I have always rated this wine as delivering way above its recommended retail price of $19.90. It is made in that old-school style with the use of plenty of oak to give it a nice toasted-bread character along with full malolactic fermentation with yeast lees stirring to make it nice and creamy, but everything is beautifully balanced.
We know that Brightwater Vineyards 2009 Lord Rutherford Chardonnay was awarded the trophy for best wine in show at the Royal Easter Wine Show Awards and while that wine is sold out you will still find it on a few wine lists around town.
And we simply can't write about Nelson chardonnay without including Neudorf Vineyards. Both their Neudorf Nelson Chardonnay and Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay are considered among the very best in New Zealand with the Moutere version rated as one of the best in the world. The Neudorf Nelson Chardonnay 2011 ($29.90) has just hit the market and once again delivers incredible value for money.
Next time you are looking for a nice rich, warming white wine to drink this winter, check out the chardonnay shelf and rediscover one of the world's finest white wine varieties.
I HAVE BEEN DRINKING
Villa Maria Single Vineyard Taylors Pass Chardonnay 2007 RRP $37 As part of Villa Maria's aged release programme this wine has had time to develop complexity that only comes with time. Delightfully fresh citrus flavours with layers of freshly toasted bread, hazelnut, creamy peach tones and a bit of oak spice are simply delicious.
Albarino Via Almeira 2010 from DO Rias Baixas RRP $23 Another import from Kahurangi International Selections, albarino is a Spanish white wine variety that has been planted in New Zealand in recent years and this example points to how tasty the wines can be. With beautiful fruity, floral aromas of fresh apple and apricot this dry wine has lovely fresh flavours with a nice weighty mouthfeel and a touch of fruit sweetness in the finish. It is well worth searching for.