New Zealand Chardonnay – Jewel of the South Pacific

March 9, 2021 - Updated on April 4th, 2021

When you think of New Zealand wine, does lip smacking Sauvignon Blanc come to mind? Brace yourself, Chardonnay is the island nation’s best kept secret.

New Zealand Chardonnay is generally characterized by an elegant balance of minerality, fruit purity and crisp acidity. Due to to the varietal’s shapeshifter ability, however, there are plenty of stylistic and regional differences.

Let’s take a look at what places New Zealand Chardonnay among the world’s finest.

New Zealand Chardonnay – Jewel of the South Pacific

Across New Zealand, the ultimate aim is to make Chardonnays with minimal intervention that express place, vintage and a harmonious balance of fruit, acidity and oak. New Zealand’s Chardonnay artisans look to express subtlety and elegance with fruit purity and lingering textures.

Chardonnay comes in three general styles, all of which find expression in New Zealand.

  1. Lean, crisp, mineral-driven. Minimal or no oak contact allows delicate fruit and elegant textures to shine. Typically made in cooler regions, like Marlborough and Central Otago (Chablis is the benchmark).
  2. Stone, citrus and tropical fruits, complemented by oak-influenced vanilla, butter and toasty notes. Medium-bodied, produced in moderately moderate to warm climates like Hawkes Bay.
  3. Big, bold and buttery. Ripe peach and melon folded into vanilla, nut and butterscotch flavours and a rich creamy texture thanks to heavy oak influence. Warm, sunny Gisborne makes some classic examples. Signs of a minor revival, the style’s glory days were California and Australia in the 80s-90s.

There’s so much to discover in New Zealand wine. The country’s 10 major regions specialize in cool-climate varieties, with a focus on sustainable and organic production from Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris to Chardonnay and Riesling – grab the Wine Folly New Zealand Wine Map and learn about your next favorite wine!

Regions

It may only represent 6% of New Zealand’s wine industry, but Chardonnay punches above its weight!

It’s the one varietal that flourishes in every major grape-growing region in New Zealand, with world-class examples coming from all of them. Beginning in the far north, let’s look at the regional expressions (with the proviso that stylistic diversity exist within regions).

 

Northland’s long summers, drying sea breezes and clay and sandstone soils produce elegant Chardonnays marked by tropical fruit notes and complex mineral characteristics.

Image: The Landing

Northland/Bay of Islands

Chardonnays from the subtropical north are full-bodied, ripe and relaxed. Vibrant peach, citrus and some tropical fruits, rich, mouth filling texture that is kept tight by cooling maritime acidity.

The region has been experiencing a vinous rebirth since the 1990s, driven by Chardonnay. Local winemaker Ben Byrne of The Landing observes a refining in Chardonnay styles.
Tapping more into site, indigenous yeasts, and less malolactic fermentation, the aim of Northland winemakers like Ben is to allow Chardonnay to express land and sea.

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