Sunday, March 10, 2013


We probably all taste things the same, apart from effects of medication, injury, illness or complicating external factors but our interpretation of what we are tasting varies.

I love chardonnay. By far it is my favourite wine varietal and has been for most of my adult life. This doesn't mean that I don't drink and appreciate other varietals and wine styles - I have made my entire career in wine after all - but chardonnay is my favourite followed by pinot noir ( and that usually happens).

I love Marlborough. My father was born there to an old-established family which had owned significant chunks of the region for generations. Some of my fondest memories are of helping out on family farms during my school holidays. I love and am proud of the development of Marlborough as a wine region and feel that in my small way I have helped in this. Marlborough has done more for New Zealand as a significant wine producing country than any other region. Bar none. No argument.

But, I hate Marlborough chardonnay. This isn't a new thing, I have always disliked it as an aberration.

Chardonnay, although growing best in cool climates still needs warmer growing conditions than sauvignon blanc. Chardonnay grows best on clay or limestone soils whereas sauvignon blanc prefers stony soils. Cooler conditions and stony soils give more minerality and herbacioussness to the grapes. Both together provide a perfect storm more suited to sauvignon blanc than chardonnay. Chardonnay grown in clay or limestone in cooler conditions gives a chablis style wine. Chardonnay grown in warmer conditions on gravel or stony soils gives a lean and finely structured wine. If you have a vineyard in a cooler area with stony, gravel soils - plant sauvignon blanc.

Horses for courses

Marlborough provides plenty of sunshine, adequate heat summation, dry growing and harvesting periods and a clean and relatively disease free environment.
It also has a very dominant maritime influence and very cool night-time temperatures making frost a risk.
This happens to be ideal conditions for sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, riesling and even that godawful pinot gris but it is not ideal for chardonnay.

For me, the best New Zealand growing area for chardonnay is in the North Island. Apart from the occasional lovely Martinborough ones the most southerly region to produce excellent chardonnay is Hawkes Bay. Gisborne, further north used to tout itself as 'the chardonnay capital of New Zealand' but recent unfavourable climactic conditions and resultant corporate jitters means that much of what was once great has disappeared and resurfaced in Hawkes Bay.
Further north Auckland, a now extremely small viticultural area can produce excellent chardonnay (Kumeu and Waiheke Island) and Mangawai in Northland shows promise.

So why do I hate Marlborough chardonnay?
It is too acid.
It has a grapefruit-skin character that tends to make it bitter.
It is generally overworked as winemakers try to compensate for the inherent deficiencies with clever winemaking techniques and use of oak.

Now, Marlborough chardonnay producers, don't get upset. As I said in the beginning, tasting is personal. It could well be that when I taste Marlborough chardonnay there is something in my bodily system that reacts unfavourably to it. I do know that as I take a mild form of statin for cholesterol reduction, my doctor has advised against consuming grapefruit juice. This could in some way accentuate the grapefruit/bitter characteristics of the wine.


Richard (of RBB) said...

Interesting, I had quite a 'good' Marlborough chardonnay last night, at a restausant, and it tasted a bit unlike a chardonnay. Ah well, there's always Harvey's.


I thought Williams and Humbert was your favourite.

Richard (of RBB) said...

I started off with WcWilliams Sweet Sherry.