Chardonnay & Chardonnay Blends Hawkes Bay New Zealand
Known commonly as the great white grape of the Burgundy region of France, Chardonnay has become the most popular white wine in America, if not the world. Chardonnay is by nature a rich, full-bodied wine that grows at its best in a relatively cool climate. It is grown in virtually every growing region in the U.S. and is made in a myriad styles. Most Champagne and methode champenoise sparkling wine has Chardonnay in its blend. At one extreme, it can be elegantly floral and forward in the nose, with lovely fruit of pears and melons and a clean green apple acidity with a certain flinty or chalky mineral quality. It often has a full almost "oily" mouthfeel that lasts seemingly forever on the palate, with a perfect balance of fruit, acid and alcohol. Despite the long, complex finish, Chardonnay makes you hungry for food and thirsty for more wine all at the same time. At the other extreme, the first inhalation fills your nostrils with the sweet vanilla of new French oak and the creamy, buttery complexity that only Chardonnay can embody. Butterscotch, hazelnuts, toasted almonds all might come to mind, and the fruit might be tropical in nature, perhaps pineapples or coconuts, with more grapefruit-like acidity. This is truly a chameleon grape, and it can be altered as much by the climate and soil as by the winemaker's hand. In this country, it has found its best representations in Monterey and the Central Coast, Santa Barbara County, Carneros, Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, Willamette Valley (Oregon), Yakima Valley (Washington), Virginia and Long Island.
Hawke's Bay, a historic wine-producing area near the eastern center of the North Island with 28% of the country's vineyards, frequently records some of the country's sunniest weather. Chardonnay is its most important varietal, followed by the declining historic variety Muller-Thurgau, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. Hawke's Bay Chardonnay is less forward than the Gisborne wines, but at its best exhibits strong citrus flavors and great elegance. The area's Sauvignon Blanc often has nectarine or stone fruit character, and is softer and less pungent than the better-known Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
The Hawke's Bay reds are produced in a Bordeaux style. The Cabernet Sauvignons, sometimes blended with Cabernet Franc or Merlot, have intense berry, sometimes cassis flavors; they often have a slightly herbaceous character and show strong oak from barrel age. Hawke's Bay is widely considered to be the Merlot Capital of New Zealand, and though Merlot is produced in smaller quantities than Cabernet Sauvignon, these wines are also oak-aged and known for firm structure, as well as herbal, red berry and earthy flavors.
As with nearby Australia, New Zealand has over the past century proven itself to be a superb location for producing high quality wines in vast amounts, with much of the cooler regions of both islands being used primarily for vine cultivation. New Zealand wineries are notable for their enthusiasm in regards to experimentation, and for utilizing modern technologies and methods to make the most of the imported grape varietals which flourish in the rich, fertile soils and oceanic climate. In recent years, it has been the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wines which have gained the most attention, as a result of their smoky character and ability to carry the mineral rich nature of the terroir they grow in. Changing consumer interests have brought about a considerable rise in the production of organic and sustainable wines in New Zealand, of which again, the Sauvignon Blanc varietals are leading the way in regards to excellence, flavor and overall character.