DRINK / Elegant and grassy or big and buttery: New Zealand is making delectable chardonnay, says Anthony Rose

CLOUDY BAY, as much for its dreamy name and label as its fine wine, has drawn the world's attention to the outstanding quality of New Zealand sauvignon blanc in general and Marlborough in particular. But New Zealand is now starting to show that it has even more to offer.

Its chardonnay can be delectably rich and, with the added advantage of naturally fruity acidity, it is capable of developing a complex, smoky, chablis-like character with age. Riesling, gewurztraminer and chenin blanc, too, with their penetrating citrus-and- honey flavours and elegant balancing acidity, all perform exceptionally well.

Now New Zealand reds, once so grassy and herbaceous that they were dismissed as pale imitations of Loire Valley reds, are coming into their own, thanks largely to a root-and-branch revolution in the country's vineyards.

In the Seventies, New Zealand began replacing its Germanic grape varieties with plantings of the French classics: sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. More recently, its vineyard husbandry has been elevated to new scientific heights.

Dr Richard Smart, an Australian, has turned on its head the conventional wisdom of low yields equals high quality. His technique is to space out the vineyard to create a dappled-sunlight effect within an open canopy of foliage. In New Zealand's vigorous vineyards, such 'canopy management' works in producing riper fruit and better wine.

But ripening can still be a struggle. After the excellent 1991 vintage, 1992 was a cooler year with high natural acidity adding steel to white wines, but making life tough for red wine grapes. Most of the sauvignon blancs at the annual New Zealand wine-tasting this month in London were from the 1992 vintage.

Pick of the crop for me were three outstanding wines, each rather different in style: Hunters (from Jane Hunter OBE), which was aromatic, super-ripe and concentrated with real intensity of tropical fruit flavours; Cloudy Bay, showing its class with a typically powerful, exotic effort; and, in lighter vein, Palliser Estate's remarkable, grassily crisp 1992 from Martinborough, with its grapefruity overtones, taking over where the exceptional 1991 Wairau River (not as exciting this year) left off.

Lower down the order, the consistency that was the hallmark of 1991 is less evident, although there are still many excellent sauvignon blancs including a ripe, exotic Vidal, and Te Mata's elegant, perfumed Castle Hill, both from Hawkes Bay.

As expected, the lion's share of excellence is to be found in Marlborough: Allan Scott, Collards Dryland Vineyard, Jackson Estate, Matua Valley and Selaks have all turned in fine examples of the variety. In the under- pounds 5 good value stakes, both Villa Maria and Nobilo's show nicely textured, typically gooseberryish characters. Even Montana, not quite up to its hugely successful 1991, is still fair value for the price.

In the case of chardonnay, all the regions are keen to tell you that they produce the best. Certainly in a country whose wine regions range from sub-polar to sub- tropical, chardonnay is a more complex, diverse creature than sauvignon is ever likely to be. Broadly speaking, South Island tends to produce a crisp, elegant style notably from Nelson, Marlborough and Christchurch.

North Island chardonnays are likely to be richer. But generalisations are dangerous because of the influence of so many other factors. For instance, noble rot, as it is affectionately known, can add a complex, honeyed character. New Zealand's green-apple acidity, if too tart, may be reduced by means of a malolactic fermentation which, when well executed, creates a butterscotchy, burgundian character.

Then there is the fashion for new oak with everything. Often a selection of the best wine goes into expensive small French barrels, with the result that it is impossible to see the fruit for the trees.

It is still early days for 1992 chardonnay, but the potential looks good. Cloudy Bay, Jackson Estate, Goldwater Estate and CJ Pask are all fine. Montana, in lighter, more simple, buttery vein, offers good value. There were a number of fine chardonnays from the 1991 and 1990 vintages which are too numerous to mention in detail.

In a whirlwind tour of the South Island regions, I marked as outstanding Waipara Springs' elegant 1991, with its undertones of vanilla and butterscotch, Redwood Valley's powerful, delicately grassy chardonnay from Nelson, and, from Marlborough (Cloudy Bay apart), both Hunters' rich 1990 and Selaks' sleek 1991.

From the North Island, Palliser Estate's 1991 is big, fat, rich and buttery, a New Zealand meursault, while from Hawkes Bay, Morton Estate's 1991 smoky, intensely fruity chardonnay is nicely balanced with a citrus-streak of acidity. From Gisborne, Judd Estate 1991 Chardonnay is an elegant classic, while in the Auckland region, Kumeu River is typically, full of nutty, butterscotch fruit.

The Nineties will test New Zealand's capacity to produce consistently fine reds. In Coleraine, John Buck at Te Mata Estate has shown that New Zealand can make great red wine. Others in Hawkes Bay such as Ngatarawa (the g is silent), C J Pask, Vidal, Esk Valley and Stonecroft all demonstrate the potential of the region for cabernet sauvignon, merlot and even syrah.

In Martinborough, Ata Rangi, Palliser and Martinborough vineyards are now turning out high- class pinot noir as, in the South Island, have Waipara Springs, Neudorf, Gibbston Valley and Rippon vineyards.

While it is good for the image to have a number of high-class reds, the big question is whether New Zealand can reproduce red wine quality on the same commercial scale as it has with its whites.

Time was when, apart from lamb and butter, New Zealand's best-known exports were Kiri Te Kanawa and Richard Hadlee. Now we in Britain have acquired a thirst for New Zealand wine that has seen exports shoot from next to nothing up to projected sales of 600,000 cases for the year 1992-93.

The UK now takes 65 per cent of New Zealand's wine exports, and the trend is set to continue. All the more impressive when you consider that New Zealand wine, apart from California at the boutique end, is the most expensive in the New World. The fact that it has found a niche suggests that, even in our price-conscious market, quality will still sell if the value is there.

WHERE TO BUY THOSE CHOICE BOTTLES

THE 1992 New Zealand sauvignons are starting to arrive. Palliser Estate Sauvignon Blanc 1992 is pounds 7.99 from Wine Rack and Bottoms Up and also at the Hermitage, London N10 (081-365 2122), which has Hunters at pounds 7.99, too.

Cloudy Bay is mostly in restaurants but pounds 8.99 at selected Davisons shops; pounds 9.15 from Lay & Wheeler, Colchester (0206 764446).

The Jackson Estate is pounds 6.69 at Davisons; pounds 6.95, Tesco; and pounds 6.99, Wine Rack/Bottoms Up.

Allan Scott's 1992 is pounds 7.70 from Lay & Wheeler.

Villa Maria is pounds 4.99, Thresher Wine Shops/Wine Rack/Bottoms Up, Waitrose; Nobilo's is pounds 4.99 at Tesco; Montana is pounds 4.99, Thresher and Davisons.

Jackson Estate 1991 Chardonnay is pounds 7.49, and Morton Estate 1991 Chardonnay is pounds 6.99, both at Wine Rack and Bottoms Up.

Redwood Valley 1991 Chardonnay is pounds 8.99- pounds 9.95 from Wine Rack, Justerini & Brooks, London SW1 (071-493 8721); Lea & Sandeman, SW10 (071- 376 4767); Reid Wines, Bristol (07614 52645).

Among some top NZ reds, the 1991 Cabernet/ Merlot from C J Pask is pounds 8.30 at Lay & Wheeler. Morton Estate's Black Label Cabernet Merlot 1990 is pounds 9.49 from Majestic Wine Warehouses.

Ata Rangi's 1991 Pinot Noir, pounds 15.40, and Celebre (cabernet/merlot/syrah blend), pounds 12.95, are at Kiwifruits, London WC2 (071-240 1423).

Suggested Topics
News
people Biographer says cinema’s enduring sex symbol led a secret troubled life
News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

News
In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet'
scienceBut will it be reinstated?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
people
News
Researchers say a diet of fatty foods could impede smell abilities
scienceMeasuring the sense may predict a person's lifespan
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Life and Style
fashionThe Secret Angels all take home huge sums - but who earns the most?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Service Charge Accountant

    30,000 to 35,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: We are currently recruiting on...

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    Day In a Page

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?