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Cuisine’s Chardonnay Tasting Confirms Climbing Confidence

By April 16, 2012No Comments

The results of the New Zealand Chardonnay tasting in Cuisine magazine No.152 for May 2012 confirm the growing confidence among this country’s winemakers in making diverse styles with the variety. Panel chair John Belsham reports “The diversity of styles is a fantastic development…this year we were…comparing the merits of various styles.” This parallels the trend for greater elegance as rewarded in the wine shows of late where tighter and more refined wines, no less powerful or complex, but much more capable of aging well are being recognised. Also, 49 of the 153 wines judged were rated 4-stars or higher, indicating the greater availability of high quality Chardonnay.

While the Cuisine panel celebrated Chardonnay diversity, it is interesting to note that almost all of the ‘Top 10′ wines, all awarded 5-stars, are in the bigger, strong oak influenced and complex style. Where were the unoaked, lighter and more pure styles? I venture to say that the Cuisine results reflect those seen at wine shows. In competitions with any substantial numbers to judge, the larger, more oaky wines tend to come through, regardless of how hard the judges look for the lighter, fruit-driven styles. The Cuisine 5-star wines are all excellent in any case.

The top wine was the Corbans ‘Cottage Block’ Hawke’s Bay 2009, followed by Villa Maria ‘SV Ihumato’ 2010, Villa Maria ‘Reserve Barrique Fermented’ Gisborne 2010, Man O’ War ‘Valhalla’ 2010, Giesen ‘The Brothers’ Marlborough 2010, Black Barn Hawke’s Bay 2010, Craggy Range ‘Gimblett Gravels Vineyard’ 2010, Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Hawke’s Bay 2010, Vidal ‘Legacy’ 2010 and John Forrest ‘Collection’ 2007. Among these, noteworthy is the spread of regions, from Auckland to Marlborough, with a strong showing of 2010 Hawke’s Bay wines, and a wine with some bottle-age. The wines rated 4 ½ and 4-star demonstrate the range of styles and regions better.
 
When does Funkiness turn to Fault?
It is indeed pleasing to see these trends, but there are some cautionary thoughts, aired by the more veteran critics and judges who are wary of the fine line between funkiness and faultiness. One could question where does reductive interest and complexity turn to reduction and sulphide? A similar question about the tipping point from oxidative expression to oxidation also applies. The current thinking seems to allow a little more lee-way on such matters, but purists are less forgiving.
 
It is often argued that reductive and oxidative complexities are also found in great examples of white burgundy, the ultimate models for Chardonnay producers throughout the world. Yet superb white burgundy need not show these components to the degree that many trophy winning Chardonnays in Australasia do. This topic is applicable to all wine styles and varieties, and leads to the wider question of what constitutes great wine. It has been noted that while New Zealand wines are consistently more successful than those of other countries in international judgings, with often the highest proportion of medals, this is not translated to the very top level when looking at ‘champion’ or ‘best in class’. More often than not, the wines that take these spots are European wines which show near subliminal corruption which is interpreted as an extra edge of complexity. This begs the question: Are we trying too hard to build complexity into our wines?
 
Viognier Tasting Results
The Viogniers judged and reported in this issue of Cuisine were also seen to be of a high standard, with 9 out of 28 wines judged rated 4-stars or more. Clearly, winemakers are beginning to come to grips with the Viognier variety. Panel chair John Belsham states: “The trick with Viognier is to allow it be itself”. Coopers Creek winemaker Simon Nunns was highlighted as a top producer of Viognier, with two of his wines in the ‘Top 5′. His advice is: “A lot of winemakers misunderstand Viognier. It’s a low acid variety. The key is not acid framework, but phenolic framework…”. The top five wines were, in order: Coopers Creek Gisborne 2010, Villa Maria ‘Private Bin’ East Coast 2010, Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ Hawke’s Bay 2010, these three awarded 5-stars, plus Harwood Hall Marlborough 2010 and Coopers Creek ‘SV Chalk Ridge’ Hawke’s Bay 2011, awarded 4 ½ .

This issue of Cuisine also judged ‘Emerging Whites’ to cover innovative varieties and styles. Continuing the Viognier and Coopers Creek success, the top wine here was the Coopers Creek Gisborne ‘Cee Vee’ 2010, a blend of Chardonnay and Viognier. www.cuisine.co.nz

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