Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.


An opportunity to taste all the 2002 Villa Maria Group Single Vineyard and Reserve Chardonnays arose in February,  at a tasting organised by Raymond Chan at Regional Wines & Spirits,  Wellington.  The wines were presented blind.  They proved to be one of the definitive statements thus far on New Zealand chardonnay,  showing wonderful concentration and varietal character,  their richness bespeaking a 'grand cru' cropping rate.  Having written up and published an account of several of these wines late in 2003,  for a winewriter such a tasting presents the added edge of seeing how one's ratings now compare with the previous ones.  This is particularly the case when the wines are sealed by screwcap,  which should greatly reduce variation from bottle to bottle,  and tasting to tasting.  The best of the wines are certainly amongst New Zealand's finest chardonnays,  and of international quality.  If the alcohols could be reined in,  they would be tops.

To have some 2002 William Fevre chablis to taste more or less alongside the Villa Group set certainly reinforced what a ripe year 2002 was near Burgundy.  From this maker at least,  several of the wines had good varietal character,  but little chablis style.  The arrival of chardonnays from Babich, Palliser and Te Mata fitted in well,  the Palliser in particular showing some very beautiful qualities reminiscent more of grand cru chablis than white burgundy.

The range of wine styles presenting themselves as chardonnays to be judged in this batch is enchanting.  Such diversity makes a nonsense of the affected view that chardonnay is boring,  with its associated claptrap slogans.  


2001  Babich Chardonnay Irongate
2004  Babich Chardonnay Unoaked East Coast
2002  Esk Valley Chardonnay Hawkes Bay Reserve
2003  Fevre Chablis Champs Royaux
2002  Fevre Chablis Champs Royaux
2002  Fevre Chablis Fourchaume Premier Cru
2002  Fevre Chablis les Bougros 'Cote Bouguerots' Grand Cru
2002  Fevre Chablis les Clos Grand Cru
2002  Fevre Chablis Montée Tonnerre Premier Cru
2002  Fevre Chablis Mont de Milieu Premier Cru
2002  Fevre Chablis Valmur
2002  Fevre Chablis Vaudesir Grand Cru
2003  Fevre Petit Chablis
2001  Jadot Meursault les Genevrieres
2001  Jadot Puligny-Montrachet Clos de la Garenne
  2003  Palliser Estate Chardonnay
2004  Pencarrow Chardonnay
2003  Te Kairanga Chardonnay Reserve
2004  Te Mata Chardonnay Elston
2004  Te Mata Woodthorpe Chardonnay
2002  Vidal Chardonnay Reserve
2004  Vidal Chardonnay Unwooded
2002  Villa Maria Chardonnay Fletcher Single Vineyard
2002  Villa Maria Chardonnay Gisborne Reserve
2002  Villa Maria Chardonnay Hawkes Bay Reserve
2002  Villa Maria Chardonnay Keltern Single Vineyard
2002  Villa Maria Chardonnay Marlborough Reserve
2002  Villa Maria Chardonnay Taylors Pass Single Vineyard
2002  Villa Maria Chardonnay Waikahu Single Vineyard
2002  Villa Maria Chardonnay Waldron Single Vineyard

2002  Villa Maria Chardonnay Waikahu Single Vineyard   19  ()
Maraekakaho,   Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $34   [ screwcap;  clones 95 and 15,  100% wild yeast fermentation,  45% MLF,  9 months BF and LA in 75% new French oak;  1.8 g/L RS;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Lemongreen,  a super colour.  This is the consistently outstanding wine of the set for me,  in 2003 and now,  the bouquet showing a wonderful acacia floral lift on baguette crust and golden peach fruit,  epitomising new world chardonnay.  I have seen similar bouquets from both Grgich in the Napa Valley,  and Gaja in Italy.  Palate is mealy and complex,  great body,  the baguette and potentially nutty flavours reminiscent of Bollinger RD,  but bigger,  fleshier,  all now beautifully integrated.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 02/05

2002  Villa Maria Chardonnay Marlborough Reserve   19  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $34   [ screwcap;  clones 95,  15 and others;  40% MLF;  1 g/L RS;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Lemon.  A softer mealier bouquet on this wine,  with distinct reminders of Meursault in its splendid complexity.  Palate is velvety,  the alcohol well-absorbed,  the flavours akin to pure peaches and cream and lightly toasted oatmeal,  all lingering deliciously.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 02/05

2002  Fevre Chablis Montée Tonnerre Premier Cru   19  ()
Chablis,  France:  13%;  $67   [ cork ]
Brilliant lemongreen.  This wine shows the most perfect and classical chablis bouquet in this set of 2002 Fevre chablis.  It smells of pure white florals of an English garden kind,  subtle like linden blossom,  plus a fresh-cracked shell-limestone quality,  and subtle white stonefruits below.  Palate is all the bouquet promises,  beautiful fruit and finegrain acid,  scarcely new-oaked,  subtly flavoured,  lingering on the absolute purity of fruit and florals and minerality.  Exquisite chardonnay,  which will cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 02/05

2004  Te Mata Chardonnay Elston   18 ½  ()
Havelock Hills,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $39   [ cork;  100% BF and MLF in 33% new French oak,  10 months LA;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw,  a little deeper than expected.  Bouquet on this wine is much more complex than Woodthorpe Chardonnay,  with a much greater winemaker input adding smells and flavours.  To first impression,  oatmeal and potential toasted nuttiness dominates,  but the underlying peaches and custard,  with aromatic but well-hidden oak,  is great too.  Palate takes all these and adds a subtle fine butter component from the MLF contribution,  rich golden queen peaches,  and long flavours on quite firm acid.   As the wine lingers in mouth,  fruit and mealy nuttiness become inseparable,  and the aftertaste is gorgeous.  Not quite as rich as I was expecting,  maybe – certainly leaner (and oakier) than the Villas.  The winemaker says cellar 2 – 6 years,  and it is more developed than some Elstons have been at release.  But 5 – 8 years should be safe, at least in Wellington and south.  GK 03/05

2002  Villa Maria Chardonnay Keltern Single Vineyard   18 ½  ()
Maraekakaho,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $34   [ screwcap;  clone 15,   100% MLF,  9 months BF and LA in 45% new French oak;  2 g/L RS;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Lemon.  This too is fragrant chardonnay,  more focussed on the purity of fruit than the other top wines.  There is a floral and grapefruit zest lift which is enchanting.  Grapefruit zest continues on palate,  and adds an interesting edge to the rich peachy fruit.  Oak and alcohol are miraculously absorbed in this wine.  Cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 02/05

2002  Villa Maria Chardonnay Waldron Single Vineyard   18 ½  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $34   [ screwcap;  clones 15 and another,  100% wild yeast ferment,  50% MLF,  9 months BF and LA  in 100% new French oak;  1 g/L RS;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Lemon with a suggestion of straw,  relative to the top wines.  Bouquet here is more complex,  with mealy and slightly smoky / bacony barrel char characters showing on rich fruit.  Palate is rich,  already some hazelnutty suggestions in the mealy complexity,  all on succulent stonefruits.  Wines like these really do show the dry extract which is the key to greatness.  Cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 02/05

2002  Fevre Chablis Vaudesir Grand Cru   18 ½  ()
Chablis,  France:  13%;  $95   [ cork;  Fevre domaine-holdings wine ]
Lemongreen.  Bouquet here is pure chardonnay,  with suggestions of the white florals the grape can display (as in the '03 Palliser),  but oak is surprisingly noticeable for chablis.  Palate is wonderful white stonefruits plus some mealy / potentially nutty complexity making one think of white burgundy more than chablis,  richer than the Montée Tonnerre,  gentler acid than the Bougros but still enough for reasonable longevity,  and a long lingering aftertaste.  Just all a bit soft and ample for chablis:  a globally-warmed chablis,  I guess,  but pretty lovely.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 02/05

2003  Palliser Estate Chardonnay   18 ½  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $33   [ cork;  BF French oak,  9 months LA;  www.palliser.co.nz ]
Brilliant lemongreen.  This is a remarkable chardonnay bouquet,  with similar complex acacia florals and vanillin to the '02 Villa Waikahu,  but fresher and lighter.  Palate sustains the florals right through,  like a fine Mosel of a good year,  but here dry and combined with chardonnay fruit weight,  supremely subtle barrel fermentation and lees autolysis,  and much lighter alcohol than the Villa wines.  This is a glorious new world chardonnay,  but not a big one.  The British market should love it,  for it is comparable with (but different from) grand cru chablis.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 03/05

2001  Jadot Meursault les Genevrieres   18  ()
Meursault Premier Cru,  Cote de Beaune,  Burgundy,  France:   – %;  $134   [ cork ]
Lemonstraw.  Intriguing having two white burgundies amongst the New Zealand chardonnays,  in the subsequent blind tasting.  The smells and flavours are a little different in style,  but are they any better in terms of achievement ?  The key thing is the French wines do not have the glorious golden queen peachy fruit so many of the mendoza-influenced New Zealand wines show – their fruit is more white peach and nectarine.  And the better French wines have this crushed limestone minerality on bouquet and palate which is very attractive,  and is not to be confused with the so-called minerality of old-fashioned sulphurs.   This is where the new world has so profoundly influenced old world wine-making.  These Jadot examples are every bit as clean as the Villa wines,  unlike a generation ago.  The Genevrieres shows white nectarine fruit and oatmealy texture,  with the mineral thread interacting with the oak.  There is the same chardonnay texture and viscosity on tongue,  but the wine is not as big as the Villa Group wines,  and is certainly less alcoholic.  This subtlety makes it more versatile with food.  Cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 02/05

2002  Fevre Chablis les Bougros 'Cote Bouguerots' Grand Cru   18  ()
Chablis,  France:  13%;  $122   [ cork;  Fevre domaine-holdings wine ]
Lemongreen.  This is the subtlest of the grands crus,  but they all smell rich and more variants on white burgundy rather than chablis.  Bouquet shows white stonefruits,  subtle new oak and more obvious MLF complexity,  a hint of mealiness,  attractive wine.  Palate is pure too,  acid strangely noticeable as if touched up a la mode australienne,  long white stonefruits,  quite new world on the oak.  Several tasters commented on the similarity to Marlborough chardonnay.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 02/05

2002  Villa Maria Chardonnay Gisborne Reserve   18  ()
Gisborne,  New Zealand:  14%;  $34   [ screwcap;  100% clone 95;  French oak;  2 g/L RS;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Lemongreen.  This is a pure and subtle chardonnay,  more in the white nectarine than the golden queen spectrum of fruit.  Later checking reveals it is in fact all Clone 95.  Fruit richness persists right through the palate,  with great viscosity but less mealy complexity,  the oak seeming simpler but integrating attractively.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 02/05

2002  Esk Valley Chardonnay Hawkes Bay Reserve   18  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $36   [ screwcap;  French oak,  25% MLF;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Lemon.  Bouquet on this wine is slightly more European than the top wines in the Villa Group set,  showing a charry and faintly sacky suggestion in the big fruit.  The charry quality extends into the rich peachy palate,  adding a slightly bitey walnut-like character which adds complexity,  in comparison with,  for example,  the pure-fruit Gisborne Reserve.   Another variation on good chardonnay.  Cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 02/05

2003  Te Kairanga Chardonnay Reserve   18  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $34   [ screwcap;  90%  mendoza;  yield < 1 t/ac;  BF in French oak 20% new,  8 months LA ,  20% MLF;  RS 2.6 g/L;  www.tkwine.co.nz ]
Lemon.  This is straight up and down New Zealand chardonnay,  totally clean,  pure peachy stonefruit,  clean oak a little noticeable at this stage,  potential cashew complexity.  In mouth the balance of fruit to oak is more favourable,  the flavours lightly mealy,  excellent acid balance,  a wine which will be refreshing with food.  The delicacy of these two Martinborough wines is very apparent,  against the Hawkes Bay and Marlborough examples which happen to be available on the day.  The '04 Chardonnay Reserve from a barrel sample looks to be every bit as good,  slightly more acid and aromatic.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 03/05

2002  Vidal Chardonnay Reserve   18  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $34   [ screwcap;  BF in French oak and 11 months LA,  part MLF;  2.6 g/L RS;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
The most lemongreen and youthful-looking of the Villa Group set of chardonnays.  Bouquet on this one is not quite as fruit-dominant as the other top wines,  with smoky and oaky qualities noticeable.  They breathe off,  to reveal good rich stonefruits more apparent than any mealiness,  though the smoky note on the oak persists.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 02/05

2002  Fevre Chablis les Clos Grand Cru   17 ½ +  ()
Chablis,  France:  13%;  $119   [ cork;  Fevre domaine-holdings wine ]
Pale lemon.  Bouquet here is more new world chardonnay,  slightly veiled at first but clearing reasonably well to be clearly varietal,  suggestions of charry oak,  more chardonnay than classical chablis.  Palate includes white stonefruits,  hints of new oak,  some mealy MLF complexity,  quite a big wine which could be modern Puligny,  the acid a bit odd here,  too.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 02/05

2002  Fevre Chablis Valmur   17 ½  ()
Chablis,  France:  13%;  $107   [ cork;  Fevre domaine-holdings wine ]
Lemon.  This wine is even more new world in style than les Clos,  showing nearly pineappley fruit and a touch of VA,  plus some oak.  Palate is similar,  fruity and flavoursome for chablis,  the acid tending coarse and suggesting touching up,  oak noticeable.  Attractive modern chardonnay,  but a long way from classical chablis,  so therefore expensive.  Cellar 3 – 5 years.  GK 02/05

2001  Jadot Puligny-Montrachet Clos de la Garenne   17 ½  ()
Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru,  Cote de Beaune,  France:   – %;  $110   [ cork ]
Lemonstraw.  The most understated of the wines on the day,  and thus easy to underestimate in a blind tasting.  Bouquet is subtle white stonefruits with light baguette complexity,  and a clearcut crushed oystershell mineral note.  Palate follows exactly,  comparable with the Genevrieres but less mealy,  more flinty,  slightly citric,  classic lightish Puligny-Montrachet.  Cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 02/05

2002  Villa Maria Chardonnay Fletcher Single Vineyard   17 ½  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $34   [ screwcap;  clones 6 and mendoza,  50% MLF,   9 months BF and LA  in 75% new French oak;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
This was one I rated more highly 18 months ago,  than now.  Colour is lemonstraw,  more straw than most.  On bouquet the wine is big,  with intrusive oak and big spirity fruit,  but all less integrated and beguiling than the top ones.  More a big new-world chardonnay.  One is temped to say that this is the obvious effects of excessive new oak (75%),  but then one notices the silky and elegant Waikahu is the same.  So it ain't easy to generalise.  Cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 02/05

2004  Te Mata Woodthorpe Chardonnay   17 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $23   [ screwcap;  50% of the wine BF in French oak 50% new,  50% s/s,  some LA,  some MLF,  all the wine sees oak at some stage;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Lemon with a touch of straw.  The first impression is of a clean and at this stage austere bouquet of ripe stonefruits,  complexed by mealy and hessian components from the barrel ferment and lees autolysis components.  The MLF part is totally hidden.  Palate is fresh,  long,  with attractive balance of fruit and stonefruits to oak and winemaking inputs.  Tasting very youthful at this stage (colour apart),  and not as integrated as the more serious Elston,  naturally enough,  but Woodthorpe Chardonnay itself is becoming a good example of the grape.  Cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 03/05

2004  Vidal Chardonnay Unwooded   17 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $20   [ screwcap;  some LA in tank,  some MLF;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Lemongreen,  richer than the Pencarrow.  A big bouquet for an unoaked chardonnay – in fact one would swear there is a touch of oak in it,  which would be sensible in building complexity into what can be a sterile class of wines – with pearflesh and canned Indonesian pineapple in profusion.  Mouth impression is of canned fruit salad,  with lots of flavour,  some phenolics whether from skins or stalks to firm the wine up,  reasonable acid,  not bone dry.  This is a juicy,  flavoursome rendering of straightforward chardonnay,  which should be popular.  Scoring is a difficulty here:  this is 17.5 as an un-oaked chardonnay,  which is different from 'serious' chardonnay.  The classes have to be seen in parallel.  Cellar 3 – 5 years.  GK 03/05

2002  Villa Maria Chardonnay Hawkes Bay Reserve   17 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $34   [ screwcap;  Keltern & Waikahu vineyards;  clones 15, 95 and mendoza;  French oak,  30% MLF;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Light straw,  the most straw-hued of the group.  Bouquet seems mendoza-influenced now,  with big golden queen peach fruit,  more developed than the other chardonnays.  Flavours are clearly mealy,  almost peaches and weetbix and cream,  rich,  but this bottle seeming spirity and approaching full maturity.  Cellar 3 – 5 years.  GK 02/05

2002  Villa Maria Chardonnay Taylors Pass Single Vineyard   17 ½  ()
Awatere Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $34   [ screwcap;  clone 95,  45% MLF,  9 months BF and LA in 60% new French oak;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Lemongreen,  one of the palest.  This is the most different of the Villa Group wines,  on this showing.  Bouquet is lightly floral,  even a suggestion of Christmas lily,  palest peach,  light and pure.  Palate is pure fruit,  rich,  subtle,  silky,  mild and scarcely oaked,  the wine showing the least winemaker input.  Hard to score – I have an uneasy feeling I could score this more highly on another day.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 02/05

2003  Fevre Chablis Champs Royaux   17 +  ()
Chablis,  France:  12.5%;  $43   [ cork ]
Deeper lemon,  the darkest of the nine Fevres.  Initially a suggestion of S02 (which doesn't correlate with the colour),  clearing to straight ripe chardonnay.  In mouth a little more complexity emerges,  a suggestion of flintiness despite the ripeness,  a trace of oak,  an attractive accessible wine which in one sense is more attractive than the grands crus,  because it is more obvious.  Cellar 3 – 5 years.  GK 02/05

2004  Pencarrow Chardonnay   17 +  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $18   [ screwcap;  10% wild yeast ferment,  BF in US > French oak,  LA  7 months;  www.palliser.co.nz ]
Lemongreen,  very pale,  as if unoaked.  Bouquet here is infantile,  white stonefruits and grapefruit,  and unintegrated hessian oak.  Palate is clean,  citric,  an attractive floral suggestion,  so lightly oaked as to be confuseable with the unoaked wines,  not totally dry,  and again,  infantile.  Looks promising in its subtle way,  but a pity it has to be released so soon.  Cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 03/05

2002  Fevre Chablis Champs Royaux   17  ()
Chablis,  France:  12.5%;  $34   [ cork ]
Two bottles of this,  illustrating the fallibility of traditional cork.  The better of the two lemongreen in colour,  the other lemonstraw and the wine more developed all through,  a little oxidation.  Both bottles showed a touch of wet-wool complexity on quite strong,  slightly mineral,  chardonnay fruit.  The intriguing facet was the long aftertaste,  tapering out to a white truffles finish. Good sound chardonnay,  a hint of oak,  not very clearly chablis though.  Cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 02/05

2002  Fevre Chablis Fourchaume Premier Cru   17  ()
Chablis,  France:  13%;  $73   [ cork;  Fevre domaine-holdings wine ]
Lemon.  Clean youthful chardonnay,  in a slightly tropical (hints of canned pineapple) and new world style,  pleasantly varietal as such,  but not classical chablis.  Palate shows fair fruit,  clean oak,  attractive balance,  slightly gritty acid as if touched up.  Like many wines from Chablis these days,  this attractive but straightforward wine looks expensive,  when compared with many new world chardonnays of essentially similar quality.  Cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 02/05

2001  Babich Chardonnay Irongate   16 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $33   [ cork;  BF in French oak,  some new,  10 months LA and batonnage,  no MLF;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Brilliant brassy straw,  looking strange in the blind line-up.  Bouquet is very developed,  with light wet-wool complexities on golden queen peachy fruit,  plus wine biscuits.  Palate is firm,  crisp to slightly too acid,  the flavours of peach tart (cooked),  fully mature,  shortening a little.  Good drinking,  but if this bottle is representative,  the wine would have been better released a year or more ago.  Will hold,  but on this showing,  the 2001 is not a cellar wine,  unlike Irongate generally.  GK 03/05

2002  Fevre Chablis Mont de Milieu Premier Cru   16 ½  ()
Chablis,  France:  13%;  $67   [ cork ]
Lemon.  A big bouquet,  lifted by VA,  on peachy fruit and subsidiary MLF and oak.  One would never know this to be chablis,  though it is clearly chardonnay.  Palate is quite fleshy,  another one in a Marlborough style.  Palate is awkward,  the acid and VA seeming unintegrated.  Straightforward chardonnay,  pleasant drinking,  which will cellar 2 – 5 years.  GK 02/05

2003  Fevre Petit Chablis   15 ½  ()
Chablis,  France:  12%;  $30   [ cork ]
Lemon.  This smells like straightforward,  light,  unoaked chardonnay from any number of countries,  except for a slight hint of wet-wool / sulphur-related complexity,  tipping it towards Europe.  Palate is clean,  crisp,  citric flavoured,  light but not weak,  a straightforward stainless steel wine perfectly defining the basic chablis style.  A wine to go with oysters.  Cellar 3 – 5 years,  to improve a little.  GK 02/05

2004  Babich Chardonnay Unoaked East Coast   13  ()
Gisborne / Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $15   [ screwcap;  no MLF;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Brilliant light lemongreen.  Initially opened,  some old-fashioned sulphur congestion,  both S02 and tanky / reduced,  drowning all else.  Needs to be poured from jug to jug,  from a great height.  Thus aerated,  it is short,  tart,  varietal wine,  which though only QDW level,  will be much better in two years,  for the body is quite good.  GK 03/05