Unoaked Chardonnay: a New Zealand rarity
Tuesday 17 April
When New Zealand makes an unoaked Macon-like wine with 12 percent alcohol, which is cheaper than most Chardonnays in the country, it’s time to sit up and take notice.
Sacred Hill’s recently released Virgin Chardonnay is unoaked with no malolactic fermentation, creating a crisp clean wine with pure white stone fruit and citrus flavours. Having been disappointed all too often with expensive, buttery and oaky New Zealand Chardonnays (Villa Maria’s Keltern Chardonnay and Kumeu River excepting), I wondered why aren’t there more unoaked Chardonnays in New Zealand?
Australia is way ahead of its Tasman neighbour, making a host of earlier picked “unwooded” Chardonnays to satiate an ever-growing appetite for refreshing, crisp white wines.
Bish thinks the unoaked Kiwi Chardonnay has an undeserved reputation from the late ‘90s and early 2000s, when unoaked Chardy sales were going well. “I think the whole genre got a bit overplayed. It ended up being a not-very-flash vinous grocery wine selling under $15 and that tainted the category,” he says.
Then there’s the competition circuit, where delicate, understated wines get overwhelmed by the fruit and oak bombs. “Oaky Chardonnay wins awards. It [the Virgin Chardonnay] has not got a shitshow of winning a gold medal in a line up of Chardonnays,” says Bish.
Bish has been pestering his team to do a Chablis-like style for some time. “I have been nagging people to do it for years.” With the winery looking for something new to celebrate its 25th anniversary, Bish got his opening and the Virgin Chardonnay was born.
Unfortunately, the cool summer and all-round crappy weather in New Zealand’s north island means there won’t be any Chardonnay from the block used to produce Rifleman’s and the Virgin this year, so the 250 cases produced last year will have to last us until 2013.
In the meantime, I shall be on the lookout for more Virgins in New Zealand and leave you with a classic bit of Madonna…