Morning Story: Secret blonde steals the crown

By Mark Story

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In the capital, Mark Story always drunk sauvignon blanc.
In the capital, Mark Story always drunk sauvignon blanc.

My tenure working in corporate Wellington was awash with sauvignon blanc.

Its acidity (the wine's - not Wellington's) did its best to burn a hole through the back of my throat every Friday night. Okay, Saturday nights too, most Thursdays, St Patrick's Day, Christmas, every birthday or anniversary, the odd Tuesday, rare Wednesday and any given Sunday.

But never Mondays.

Monday was a 24-hour detox - a lay day for steeling oneself for the next five days of retox. Of course, if anniversaries, St Patrick's Day, Christmas or birthdays fell on a Monday, it qualified. In that case retox wasn't needed as you were already on track.

In the capital, it was always sauvignon.

No one would dare ask for anything else. To order chardonnay was a social faux pas.

A decade ago, like muller thurgau before it, chardonnay copped a public towelling. They were calling it white's "blonde slapper".

But I covertly coveted the varietal. I sunk it at home in shame like I was secretly dating the new muller thurgau.

Some of us never lost hope. Oily, and a more viscous drop than sauvignon, it was a pleasure to quaff. Chardonnay was the balm to sauvignon's burn. My younger brother, who subscribes to the varietal like me, once quite aptly captured it as "the whisky of wines".

I wasn't, and am not, a connoisseur. But I knew what I liked. Moving back to Hawke's Bay the general wine IQ was appreciably higher.

I noted it was impossible to live in the country's second largest wine producing region and not upskill in matters of the grape.

Most of us live not too far from a set of vines, which means even if only by osmosis, we glean knowledge.

People here were refreshingly quaffing what they liked. To its credit, the drinking public was less worried about what others were pouring, less self-conscious.

The watershed moment for me came while lunching at Clearview Estate.

A colleague asked for a bottle of the estate's chardonnay. I was stoked, but balked at the audacity.

When splashed it behaved like a light olive oil. Having bought only cheap plonk in the past, this was the Ferrari of chardonnays. It glowed like someone had back-lit a honey-filled glass with a torch. Its alluring bouquet beckoned, even from across the table. It became all consuming.

Paired with a crayfish and rabbit stew, therein lay the most sacrosanct of marriages.

That's why as a guest at last week's Hawke's Bay A&P Bayleys Wine Awards I was delighted to hear chardonnay announced as the prom queen. Lazarus, the rising phoenix, call it what you will. I was silently chuffed. This award was a triumphant riposte after years of querying the sanity of my palette courting the blonde slapper.

To adopt the more technical vernacular, I'm talking Vidal Estate's Champion Wine of Show Reserve Series Chardonnay 2012.

In a region known more for its skill with claret, I say kudos to this estate for nurturing and producing wine of this calibre, wine of this understated, undervalued varietal.

Fifteen-odd years ago in Wellington bars and dinner parties we were being told it wouldn't be on supermarket shelves for much longer - let alone top the billing at a prestigious awards.

Considering the company it was in, that's some accomplishment.

All this talk of the magic green-skin berry has left me somewhat thirsty. Shame it's a Monday.

Mark Story is deputy editor at Hawke's Bay Today. Linda Hall is on leave. Her column will resume next week.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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