OPINION: Rather than get all hysterical about a reduction in the 2012 New Zealand wine vintage and its likely effects on consumers and the industry, I have preferred in the past few weeks to focus on last year's record vintage, and on others before it, by tasting the product now appearing on shelves.
There are some stunning wines, as there no doubt will be from the latest harvest.
In fact, the quality overall could well be higher, as it often is when crops are lighter. Better still, there could be less rubbish, made to a price to keep the supermarkets happy.
But enough of this.
About these wines that are already in the bottle: I have for many years had a love affair with chardonnay and little time for those who rubbish the princely white because it has been fashionable to do so.
I do, however, understand the complaints of those who have been put off by the over-use of oak in chardonnay and have forced those who make it, which is just about everyone, to let the fruit do a bit more of the talking.
I mention this only because two of the wines I have most recently tasted are from Morton Estate, one of the first of New Zealand's wineries to produce barrel-fermented , lees-aged chardonnay back in the 1980s, and, thanks to John Hancock, earn a big reputation for doing so.
He has long since moved on, to found Trinity Hill, but his legacy lives on at Morton, which recently released the 2009 vintage of the Black Label chardonnay he first made in 1984 and the 2010 edition of its super-premium Coniglio, launched several years after his departure.
The Black Label, at about $34, is a wine that will certainly satisfy chardonnay lovers like me, with its almost unctuous texture and hint of buttered toast, as well as those who enjoy the charge of the Hawke's Bay citrus and stonefruit, which drives the wine and will provide more richness over time.
The Coniglio (Italian for rabbit) is a wine for lovers of chardonnay who can afford one of the best produced in this country – it sells for $89, often more – and only in exceptional vintages.
The truth is that Hawke's Bay produces some of the finest chardonnays in the world and Coniglio has a track record that suggests it is among them. The 2010 is the first since 2004 and only 6463 bottles have been produced, each individually numbered and boxed.
As winemaker Sharon Goldsworthy says: "When you have a really good, ripe Hawke's Bay chardonnay, it has a real `wow' factor" – gorgeous stonefruit and citrus flavours sensibly massaged with good French oak to produce the richness and the bready, nutty characters that go with them.
It is a classy wine that will be best appreciated by those who appreciate and understand the variety.
Also from Hawke's Bay are a couple of wines that celebrate the life of one of the most famous names in New Zealand wine and introduce a smart new range from Church Road, once the domain of the famous Tom McDonald.
The new Church Road McDonald Series includes a sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot gris, merlot, and, of course, a cabernet sauvignon for which McDonald was best known. All these will be generally available, but a sauvignon gris, marzemino (an Italian red) and syrah will be available only at the cellar door and selected restaurants.
Among the first off the rank are the soft and subtly spiced 2011 chardonnay and a 2009 cabernet sauvignon that is further proof the man who championed the variety in this part of the world was right. It is a mouthful of what those who know the variety would want and expect – ripe, sweet currants, blackberries and plums and the promise of better things to come.
Both sell for about $32, which is just a bit more expensive than Church Road's estate range.
And worth it, too.
- © Fairfax NZ News