Mofo guide to chardonnay | New Zealand

By Vinomofo
about 1 year ago
3 min read

Ladies and gentlemen, let's talk about one of the best kept secrets in wine today - New Zealand chardonnay. It’s something our Kiwi cousins have been trying to keep to themselves - representing 6% of plantings, but only 2% of exports. A unique climate and soil conditions have combined to produce some of the most exciting and vibrant wines that rival those from the more “traditional” regions where you’ll find chardy (hello Burgundy). And they’re downright delicious too.

How it began

Chardonnay first started to gain a footing in New Zealand in the 70s - but the early years saw a lot of big, flabby, tired chardonnays that fell out of favour and that played into the “ABC - anything but chardy” crowd. The good thing about chardonnay though? It’s the winemaker’s grape - capable of wearing many hats. Nowadays, Kiwi winemakers have experimented with different styles and techniques, producing chardonnays with varying levels of oak, fruitiness, and acidity, and leaning into exciting winemaking that emphasises what’s uniquely great about the terroir in each region. Yum.

Where to head to

And where will you find those vineyards? All over, really - chardy is nothing if not an adaptable mofo. Marlborough, famed for its world-renowned savvy b, also produces some damn fine chardonnays loaded with citrus. Hawke's Bay, on the other hand, with its slightly warmer climate, produces fuller-bodied chards that are richer and more complex. Gisborne, the country's easternmost region, produces chardy that’s typically rated for its ripe tropical fruits. And let's not forget Central Otago, noted for its pinot noirs, but also producing chardonnays with minerality and bright acidity. If you want range, you’ve got it.

How it’s growing

The relatively cool climate (but long hours of sunshine in the growing season) means that the grapes can fully ripen whilst retaining a tell-tale racy acidity that you’ll be all too familiar with if you’ve sipped on a savvy b. New Zealand also has a longstanding relationship with sustainable winemaking - 96% of vineyards are certified sustainable - with organic and biodynamic agriculture on the rise too. 

What to expect

Oftenly compared favourably against Burgundy but without the eye-watering price tag (Kiwi chardys even beat out some of the best white Burgundies in a blind taste test held by the UK’s Farr Vintners in 2015), in general you’ll find all that’s great about chard in your typical drop; medium-bodied with crisp acidity, bursting with notes of citrus, stone fruit, and tropical fruit. Some may have a subtle hint of toast or vanilla depending on the oak profile and MLF giving slight butter notes (without overdoing it), but by and large it's all about that natural acidity and fruit profile - and what the winemaker is looking to create.

And now’s the time to load up on NZ’s best kept secret before the rest of the market catches up. So, what are you waiting for? Grab a bottle of New Zealand chardy, kick back, and embrace the magic.

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