On the 13th of this month, Sir Lockwood Smith, High Commissioner for New Zealand in the UK was reported lamenting the lack of great chardonnay from our shores being available in shops and restaurants over there.
"Our best chardonnays are stunning and they are not available in London," he stated in a recent article in UK-based www.thedrinksbusiness.com, adding that he now brings them over himself.
He served Kiwi chardonnay to 40 guests at the Vintners Wine Trade lunch on January 10, which went down a treat. I'm not sure exactly which chardonnays he served, but they got me thinking about the ones that have made the biggest impression on me recently and one place kept appearing. Marlborough.
I'm a dyed-in-the-wool lover of chardonnay but, up until about five years ago, Marlborough wasn't really on my radar. I was sure that Hawke's Bay was the high priestess; Gisborne was her second-in-command and Auckland and Waiheke were waiting wistfully in the wings.
Yet there's no denying the improving quality of chardonnay seeping out of Marlborough. Drinks Business magazine awarded gold medals to the 2011 and 2012 vintages of Matua's Single Vineyard Marlborough Chardonnay at last year's Chardonnay Masters event.
The 2011 was also awarded the Champion Chardonnay trophy at last year's Easter Show Wine Awards and the 2012 scored the Supreme Wine of the Show gong at last year's Spiegelau International Wine Competition (where, interestingly, 67 per cent of the gold medals for chardonnay went to Marlborough examples).
And from 119 entries, five of the Top 10 wines in the Dish magazine chardonnay tasting last year were, yes, from Marlborough.
In October, the trophy for Champion Wine of the Show at the NZ International Wine Show went to the jawdroppingly good Nautilus Estate Marlborough Chardonnay 2012, which was selected as the top wine from all 21 gold medal chardonnays (38 per cent of which were from Marlborough) then, after voting by all the senior judges, was declared the supreme winner.
Spy Valley's Marlborough Chardonnay 2012 scored Champion White Wine of the Show at last year's New World Wine Awards - a show that has a price cap of $25 for all entries, meaning it represents incredible value for money. Seven of the 15 gold medals awarded in the chardonnay class at last year's Air NZ Wine awards went to Marlborough chardonnays and, guess what, the Champion Chardonnay trophy at last year's Romeo Bragato Wine Awards went to the Villa Maria Single Vineyard Taylors Pass Marlborough Chardonnay 2011.
How did this happen?
I spoke to Sally Williams, winemaker for Wither Hills, a couple of weeks ago (we were filming a story for my wine show Thirsty Work and she and I were standing in a row of chardonnay at their Benmorven Vineyard waiting for the director to figure out how to make my chins look less chinny) and I asked her where this leap in loveliness came from.
"I think, as a region, we've known for a long time that we can grow good chardonnay here, but we've been so focused on making a name for ourselves, firstly with sauvignon blanc and more recently with pinot noir, that chardonnay really didn't get much of a look in," she said.
"Having now become really confident with sauvignon and pinot, we've been able to devote more time, energy and attention to crafting our chardonnays, and winemakers are getting their heads around actually how great it can be here."
I've selected just three that wowed me this week, yet right across the region, from Waihopai to the Southern Valleys of Wairau to the aromatic aristocrats of Awatere, there are chardonnays for everyone.
Flinty, fresh and citrus-driven or nutty, toasty, creamy and smoky, drink-now styles or age-worthy examples to salivate over in your cellar, Marlborough chardonnay is a force "and long may it be with us".
BLEND YOUR OWN JACOB'S CREEK WINEThanks to whizzy new technology, the wine-curious can, for a fortnight, have a crack at creating their very own version of their favourite Jacob's Creek wine.
Open daily from noon in Takutai Square in Auckland's Britomart is Blend, a system that lets you work with an expert winemaker to taste and combine up to four Jacob's Creek varieties to create your own red or white wine.
Up to 548 possible wines can be created.
Not only is it a really fun concept, but also one in which people can learn so much about their own taste preferences and the whole winemaking process.
Using base wines from cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, grenache, merlot, sauvignon, moscato, chardonnay and pinot gris, your "blend" is mixed in a state-of-the-art machine and bottled on the spot, with a personalised label for you to take home. Brilliant.
WHAT: A pop-up winemaking experience so you can create a bespoke wine to suit your palate. The Blend experience is social, and guests can choose to blend one-on-one with a winemaker, or share the experience with friends.
WHEN: January 29-February 15 from noon daily.
WHERE: Takutai Square, Britomart, Auckland.
COST: $20 and includes a 750ml bottle of your bespoke blend to take away.
Greywacke Marlborough Chardonnay 2011, $36
Prepare for super-concentrated citrus and roast peach edged with toasty, biscuit oak. This is a stunningly rich and lengthy chardonnay, boasting buoyant acidity and layers of luscious, textural tastiness on the finish. Absolutely gorgeous. www.greywacke.com
Terravin Marlborough Chardonnay 2011, $26
Using fruit sourced from the Calrossie vineyard and the Cowley vineyard in the Southern Valleys region, this wine has intensely concentrated grapefruit and peach characters that combine with toasted cashew and grilled lemon notes. Ultra-fresh in the mouth with a lovely mineral tone, this absolutely superb wine builds from beautiful fruit purity into a complex, biscuity texture on the finish.
Haha Marlborough Chardonnay 2013, $18
Having seen this wine on various online retail sites for around $14, it has my vote for the best-value chardonnay on the market right now. Packed with zesty white peach and tangy tropical notes, it's a racy, mineral-edged wine with hints of spice sewn through a spicy, toasty mouthfeel. www.hahawine.com