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


Judging for the 450 wines entered in the 2005 International Chardonnay Challenge took place in Gisborne on the 19th and 20th of October.  Details and results were formerly available at a site named www.internationalchardonnaychallenge.com [ amended,  2019] .  That was followed on the Friday by a Chardonnay Forum and tasting,  titled: Wineshows – an International Perspective,  to which overseas judges brought wines which had received gold medals in their own countries.  The reviews below give a New Zealand impression of these wines,  plus reviews of the top two Challenge chardonnays,  noting that the 9 wines were not seen together.

Chardonnay at 3731 ha is 18.7% of the New Zealand vineyard.  It comes second in the export stakes at nearly 4.6 million litres (8.9%),  well behind sauvignon blanc at 71%.  A considerable volume also goes out incognito in sparkling wine blends (5%),  the third-ranked.

Californian judge,  Wilfred Wong,  outlined the three-tier Californian system of wine shows,  in which the top three,  the Los Angeles County Fair,  the San Francisco International Wine Competition,  and the Monterey County Fair,  were seen as judging to an international standard.  These commonly awarded gold medals at a ratio of 2 – 5% of entries.  Another three were seen as national shows,  awarding 5 – 10% of entries gold medals.  Another nine regional shows had easier standards.  He felt that our International Chardonnay Challenge is indeed operating at the level of California's top three (5.1% of entries awarded gold medals),  and that as the Challenge developed,  it could "put New Zealand on the map" for chardonnay.  He also felt that wine shows would inevitably become more important in the market place,  particularly for the volume end where consumers are looking for guidance and reassurance.

He made the comment that in California,  chardonnay is "the truck that runs the industry".  He went on to say that "Burgundy is the apex of chardonnay,  you can't deny it,  and wise New Zealand winemakers will be familiar with those wines".  He pointed out that the premium chardonnay market started around 1972 in California,  and at first the goal was to make big rich powerful and oaky wines.  Each newly-developing chardonnay region has followed the same pattern.  He felt that in general,  New Zealand chardonnay is showing 15 – 20% more oak than was optimal,  and that the next 10 years would be exciting for the variety in New Zealand.  He also commented that in California,  many commercial chardonnays contained residual sugar up to 6 g / L,  and that while marketers defined the parameters for bulk and commercial wines,  it was artisan winemakers who determined the breed.

Viticulturist Nick Hoskins later presented a tasting of the four chardonnay clones most widely grown in New Zealand.  These were barrel or tank samples from the current vintage,  so it was difficult to reach firm conclusions on them.  There was however little doubt that our mendoza clone was the most deeply flavoured,  with real stonefruit flavours inclining to the golden queen peach style,  but also a tendency to be more phenolic.  The predominance of this variety in our country offers the prospect of New Zealand chardonnay being a little different,  on the world stage  (though this clone is grown in Western Australia too).  Clone 15 also showed good stonefruit qualities,  though paler than mendoza.  The youthful nature of the clone 95 and 6 samples made them harder to assess,  but the flavours were lighter and paler again,  reminiscent of the pearflesh qualities of overripe pinot gris.

Chairman of Judges,  Larry McKenna,  expressed pleasure in the top two wines showing such contrast in style,  the top one a little more oaky,  the other subtler,  but both built on beautiful fruit.  They showed the diversity chardonnay could deliver.  He had commented last year on excess oak,  and felt this year's wines showed improvement.  The principal concern this year was too many wines showing herbal,  green or stalky characters,  vaguely reminiscent of sauvignon blanc,  and suggesting under-ripeness,  over-cropping,  or both.

Tasting of Gold Medal wines

In the Forum tasting,  the two champagnes and the Eileen Hardy showed to perfection the beauty and subtlety of chardonnay the grape.  The chablis was similar,  at a lower level.  The two Californian wines were almost caricatures of the rich fruity style we associate with that country,  with the cheaper one showing a wondrous number of grapes per bottle,  for the price.  Both the Australian wines were understated in comparison,  showing beautiful fruit and oak interaction and balance.  The champion New Zealand wine fell between these two approaches.

The Forum wines were served in the order:  2003 la Chablisienne Chablis;  1998 Lemaire Champagne;  2003 Bogle;  2001 Kendall-Jackson;  2003 Plantagenet;  2002 Eileen Hardy;  1996 Deutz Champagne.  The Trophy wines from the Challenge were re-tasted separately,  on the same day.


2003  Bogle Vineyards Chardonnay
1996  Deutz Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut
2003  Domaines la Chablisienne Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu
2004  Gunn Estate Chardonnay Skeetfield
2002  Hardys Chardonnay Eileen Hardy
  2001  Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Stature Limited Release
2003  Plantagenet Chardonnay
1998  R Lemaire & Fils Champagne Premier Cru Chardonnay Brut Hautvillers
2003  Wise Wines Chardonnay Pemberton Reserve

1996  Deutz Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut   19  ()
Ay,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $115   [ Champion wine of the 2004 Challenge;  Ch 100%;  MLF 100%;  perhaps a little BF in older oak;  www.champagne-deutz.com ]
Lemon,  a little deeper than the Lemaire.  The comparison of these two wines is fascinating,  and wonderfully instructive.  They are both beautiful,  first of all,  but in its two years’ extra age,  and it's MLF component,  the Deutz shows a softer and even more intense baguette-crust complexity,   producing a great bouquet with tremendous character.  Palate is pure chardonnay,  plus equally pure autolysis,  a little drier on dosage than the Lemaire.  Even moreso than that wine,  it epitomises the flavour of a chardonnay blanc de blancs,  yet it is not fruity.  Great champagne.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 10/05

2002  Hardys Chardonnay Eileen Hardy   19  ()
Multi-region:  Tasmania,  Yarra Valley,  Tumbarumba,  Adelaide Hills,  Australia:  12.8%;  $55   [ Ch 100%:  hand-picked,  whole-bunch pressed:  BF in new and one-year French oak;  barrel-selection for freshness and tight acid etc;  RS 2.9 g/L;  www.hardywines.com.au ]
Lemon with a green wash,  sensational for the year.  Bouquet is total chardonnay,  delightful  purity,  nearly floral,  classical white stonefruits and custard-apple augmented but not dominated by barrel-ferment and lees autolysis,  infinitely appealing.  Palate is magical,  not only for its concentration and length of fruit and varietal flavours,  but also for its low alcohol,  restraint with oak,  and richness,  combined with youthful poise and finesse.  This is great Australian chardonnay,  which will cellar 5 – 12 years.  It is in the same class as fine examples of the Leeuwin Art Chardonnay,  and is another wine pointing to the future of this variety in Australasia.  GK 10/05

2003  Wise Wines Chardonnay Pemberton Reserve   18 ½ +  ()
Pemberton,  West Australia,  Australia:   – %;  $40   [ 2003 not on website,  2002 17 year-old vines hand-picked,  whole-bunch pressed,  BF in new and old oak 12 months;  www.wisewine.com.au ]
Lemon,  a flush of green.  Bouquet is beautifully varietal,  but relatively light and understated:  white stone fruits plus mealy barrel-ferment and lees autolysis,  in which the mealyness is almost stronger than the oak.  Presumably most of the oak is older.  Palate is much richer than the bouquet suggests,  mealy like a young Meursault,  tactile palate richness,  lovely pale fruit flavours in a wine which will cellar 5 – 10 years.  It is understated alongside the Gunn wine,  and is for those seeking top-notch chardonnay without obvious oak.  Like the Eileen Hardy wine,  it is a pointer to the chardonnay styles of the future.  The Pemberton is softer than the Hardy wine,  though.  GK 10/05

2004  Gunn Estate Chardonnay Skeetfield   18 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $27   [ Champion wine of the 2005 Challenge;  screwcap;  hand-harvested,  whole-bunch pressed.  BF with wild yeast in new French oak,  10 month LA and batonnage,  MLF 100%,  RS <2 g/L;  www.gunnestate.co.nz ]
Lemon,  a suggestion of straw.  Bouquet on this wine is in a distinctively New Zealand style of chardonnay,  and specifically a classical Hawkes Bay chardonnay.  There is tight golden queen peachy fruit complexed by barrel-ferment,  MLF and lees autolysis.  Compared with the Pemberton Reserve wine,  bouquet is more aromatic from barrel-ferment in a higher percentage of newer and fragrant oak.  Palate develops the golden peachy fruit to a well textured richness,  but with the oak at a maximum.  Flavour has something in common with the big Californian,  but with the lower alcohol it shows much more restraint and finesse.  This will cellar well for 5 – 10 years,  in which time the oak should marry away.  GK 10/05

1998  R Lemaire & Fils Champagne Premier Cru Chardonnay Brut Hautvillers   18 ½  ()
Marne Valley,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $ –    [ cork;  BF in older oak;  no MLF ]
Lemongreen.  This bubbly shows a beautifully clean and fragrant bouquet epitomising the white florals,  white stonefruits and faintly mineral qualities of fine chardonnay.  They are augmented in a champagne presentation by exquisite lees autolysis,  leading to light baguette-crust complexity on chardonnay fruit uncomplicated by MLF.  This is a textbook example of what chardonnay should smell and taste like – one could smell this all day.  Palate and mouthfeel is initially very crisp on acid,  yet one quickly adjusts to the superb varietal fruit,  with a dry extract and texture in mouth which is excellent.  Residual sugar might be in the 10 – 12 g/L area,  with a long aftertaste in which white mushrooms are apparent.  Unlike many New Zealand blanc de blanc sparklings,  this wine is not ‘fruity’ or ‘sparkling chardonnay’,  yet it has body.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 10/05

2003  Bogle Vineyards Chardonnay   18  ()
Clarksburg and Monterey County,  California:  13.5%;  $ –    [ $US10.  BF and LA in American oak 60% new for 9 months (doubtfully for all the wine),  plus MLF 10 - 20%;  www.boglewinery.com ]
Lemon,  a little more depth than the Eileen Hardy.  In this flight,  this is immediately bigger chardonnay,  with a ‘yellow' kind of stonefruits,  some grapefruit,  some rock-melon,  very rich in fruit generally,  and not oaky.  Palate continues that trend,  with an almost tropical and apricot quality as if there were some viognier in the wine,  very rich,  soft and ample,  like peaches and custard,  possibly not bone dry,  lightly oaked.  A fleshy and caricature (+ve) Californian chardonnay,  very likeable,  and great value at the domestic price.  Cellar 3 – 5 years.  GK 10/05

2003  Domaines la Chablisienne Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu   17 ½  ()
Chablis,  France:  13%;  $ –    [ from 25 year-old vines @ 6000/ha on limestone;  BF 50% in old oak (none new),  50% s/s;  LA  9 months for both,  MLF 100%;  la Chablisienne a co-op comprising 200 growers,  1100 ha,  a quarter of the vineyards in Chablis,  from Grand Cru down;  www.chablisienne.com ]
Lemongreen.  Bouquet is white flowers and pale stonefruits,  plus white pear flesh.  It is still youthful,  with a slight estery scent yet to marry in.  In mouth,  immediately the MLF component becomes noticeable,  very like some Marlborough chardonnays in New Zealand,  on a pure exposition of chardonnay fruit,  little affected by winemaking.  Flavour is relatively one-dimensional,  apple and pear flesh,  a little lactic,  good dry extract,  not as acid as many New Zealand scarcely-oaked chardonnays,  good chablis but not great.  Cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 10/05

2003  Plantagenet Chardonnay   17 +  ()
Mount Barker,  West Australia,  Australia:  13.5%;  $25   [ c. 2 t/ac;  BF in French oak 50% new,  LA and batonnage 10 months;  www.plantagenetwines.com ]
Lemongreen,  as pale as the chablis.  And on bouquet freshly opened,  the reason is immediately apparent,  with a gunpowder quality more accurately referred to as a reduced sulphur note hinting at mercaptan.  This does breathe off,  but the wine acutely needs splashy decanting,  to optimise it.  Breathed it reveals a mineral Puligny-Montrachet style of chardonnay,  with barrel-ferment and lees autolysis components reminiscent of some of the earlier Corban's Cottage Block wines.   Palate is firm,  clearly varietal,  white stonefruits,  some oak,  and mineral.  With its higher total sulphur,  this will cellar 5 – 15 years,  and stay fresh for longer than many.  GK 10/05

2001  Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Stature Limited Release   17  ()
Santa Maria Valley and Monterey County,  California:  14.9%;  $ –    [ $US65;  'Stature' the top tier at K-J;  BF and LA in French oak 66% new for 14 months,  80 – 90% MLF;  www.kj.com ]
Deeper lemon,  just a hint of brass.  First sniff,  this is a monster.  Oak dominates the bouquet,  then varnishy spirit.  After that comes golden peachy and rock-melon fruit,  plus a lot of winemaker artefact:  barrel-ferment,  lees autolysis,  and MLF etc.  The combination of high spirit,  yeast autolysis and oak gives a bouquet quite reminiscent of good fino sherry.  Palate follows pro rata:  oily-rich golden peach fruit,  good baguette flavours,  but excessive oak exacerbated by the spirit,  so it burns the tongue.  The whole thing is delicious in one large-scale sense,  but overblown in another.  Not a long-term cellar wine,  but should be OK in its style for 3 – 5 years.  GK 10/05