My New Zealand Whites of the Year 2014
2014 was an unusual year for reviewing wines. Being pregnant for the first half of the year and then having a mini person to feed meant large scale tastings were off the cards. However, I’ve still managed to get through a heck of a lot of delicious – and a lot of why did they even bother bottling it – Kiwi wines this year through smaller, daily tastings. While singing nursery rhymes.
Sauvignon Blanc might well be New Zealand’s calling card when it comes to white wines but 2014 was all about drinking delectable Kiwi Chardonnay from as far north as Auckland to Christchurch on the South Island.
It’s a three-way tie for my number one white this year, which all hail from the not-so lauded 2011 vintage: Kumeu River’s flagship Chardonnay shares the plaudits with Hawke’s Bay’s Craggy Range as well as Waipara winery Pegasus Bay, which is perhaps better known for its Rieslings but really impressed me with its taut and flinty Chardonnay style. Peg Bay’s ‘second’ label, Main Divide, also deserves a special mention for consistently offering high quality wines at reasonable prices.
However, when it comes to the single best value white wine of the year, a Sauvignon Blanc from Nelson rather than Marlborough came up trumps, and an Albarino from Gisborne wins alternative white of the year. Well done to Cooper’s Creek for daring to be a bit different.
Next week, my NZ reds of the year…
The top five whites of 2014
Pegasus Bay Chardonnay 2011, Waipara
One of the best NZ Chardonnays I’ve tasted this year. This youthful Chardonnay is taut and linear, focused and elegant. It gives attractive flinty sulphide-derived characters, as well as white stone fruit. New French oak adds a hazelnutty layer. High level of concentration in mouth suggests low yields, and combined with a long finish, this Chardonnay exudes quality. While it’s drinking well now, it is still in its infancy and will continue to evolve for 3-5 years. (Hell, even my mum who “doesn’t normally like Chardonnay” tried it and said it was “very nice” ‘Nuff said.)
Kumeu River Mate’s Vineyard Chardonnay, 2011, Auckland
This manages to combine delicate aromas of flint and flowers with the riper heft of peach flavors and nutty oak. There’s power here but it’s not overwhelming. Lovely linearity and firm acidity on the finish with plenty of grip (tannins?).
Craggy Range Les Beaux Cailloux 2011, Hawke’s Bay
This Chardonnay could give Burgundy’s Cote d’Or producers the collywobbles, achieving power and finesse at the same time. It is still youthful, offering flinty aromas, white peach and a lick of cream. There’s a high level of concentration, pointing to low yields (42hl/ha for the geeks). While there’s 42% new oak, the silver-like fruit shines through. This is a serious wine, showing New Zealand Chardonnay at its best. Unfortunately, this is the last vintage of Beaux Cailloux, as the vines were ripped out soon after the 2011 vintage due to leaf roll virus. Sad faces all round.
Mills Reef Elspeth Chardonnay 2013, Hawke’s Bay
This is a powerful Chardonnay. It’s rich and creamy, almost oily with plenty of toasty oak. While I personally prefer a leaner style of Chardonnay, there’s no doubting the quality here: the intense concentration of white stone and lemon fruit suggests low yields, the integrated hazelnut flavours scream top notch new French oak, all components are in balance, and the finish is looooong. It has undergone just 25 percent malolactic fermentation, leaving a fine line of lemony acidity, providing a fresh, clean end to proceedings. This wine is still a baby with at least 5-8 years in it. But for the more mature drinker (who doesn’t buy green bananas) or those who simply lack patience, you can drink it now. You won’t regret it.
Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay 2013, Waiheke Island
A powerful, high quality. Still a babe in a bottle, the richly aromatic nose is full of attractive and nutty new French oak plus struck match/flinty characters. However, there’s balance here – the rich fruit concentration due to a high incidence of hen and chicken in the vineyard – counterbalances the 45% new oak well. No malolactic fermentation here either so the finish is tight and precise. A very good effort.
Value white of the Year: Waimea Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Nelson
A great value Sauvignon Blanc that offers everything in proportion. It has a bright tropical fruit nose reminiscent of passionfruit, avoiding the sweaty armpits and green notes that many $20 SBs exude. It is ripe, succulent and has an appealing chalk-like acidity on the finish, bringing texture.
Alternative white of the year
Cooper’s Creek The Bellringer Albarino 2014, Gisborne
Following an excellent 2013 effort, the 2014 vintage from Cooper’s Creek continues to impress. Crisp, dry and zesty Albarino, showing pure white peacjh and lemon flavours. It is round and creamy with decent weight in the mouth. Excellent varietal character with intense flavour concentration indicative of low yields. Deee-licious.