Felton Road: It Ain’t Just Pinot
Chardonnay isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when it comes to Central Otago.
Indeed, it plays a bit part: just 47 of the region’s 1795 hectares (or a measly 2.6%) of vines are planted to Chardonnay.
No prizes for guessing the region’s most planted variety: Pinot Noir vineyards cover 1,356 hectares or 75% of all plantings.
Burgundy has clearly shown that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay can thrive alongside one another and with Pinot experiencing such success in Central Otago, you might expect there to be more Chardonnay in the ground.
And if Felton Road’s Chardonnays are anything to go by, there ought to be more.
We expect Felton Road’s Pinot Noirs to be excellent and when they are, we’re not surprised. But I had no expectation when it came to its Chardonnays. They turned out to be a revelation. Felton jumps straight into my top ten NZ Chardonnay producers, joining the likes of Kumeu River, Ata Rangi and friends.
What I like most about their Chardonnays is the vibrancy of the fruit, which is allowed to shine by relatively little new oak, and their dart-like acidity. Winemaker Blair Walter believes that Central Otago Chardonnay can easily be overpowered with new oak and has settled on using a maximum of 10-15 percent.
He explains that oak flavour and oak tannins are exacerbated by the higher acidity found in Central Otago Chardonnay and excessive new oak use can easily mask the more subtle fruit characters. “Oak also suppresses the opportunity to express the more desirable and complexing characters such as minerality,” he added.
In 2013, the Block 2 Chardonnay was not allocated any new barrels. Older oak is the order from now on. “We have sufficient Chardonnay barrel stocks to be able to do that now,” he says.
However, the wines are now staying in old oak longer. “We started experimenting with leaving the older vines and more powerful Block 2 Chardonnay in barrel for 17 months – we used to put them in tank after 12 months to free them [the barrels] up [for the new vintage].”
Walter found that the oak was better integrated and less obvious with the five extra months in oak and, from 2010 the wines have seen 17 months in oak.
2012 Chardonnay Bannockburn
A fine, pure and linear Chardonnay. On the nose, crisp green apple and lemon combines with a hint of complex sulphides. There’s only 10 percent new oak and it’s nice to see the purity of fruit unruffled. Textural mouthfeel but not overtly creamy nor fat thanks to minimal lees stirring. While it went through full malolactic fermentation, the acidity remains firm and as precise as Phil ‘the Power’ Taylor. 18.5/20 or 92/100
2011 Chardonnay Block 2
A vibrant Chardonnay showing Macon-like weight on the mid palate. Expect purity of fruit, a lovely bright lemony character, dash of complex sulphides and ‘mineral’ drive on the finish. Elegant and zingy. 18/20 or 90/100