NZ Chardonnay storm on the horizon

August 07, 2019

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We'd highly recommend you read the full article, here's a highlight reel of some great commentary by Master of Wine, Tim Jackson.

‘A wonderful storm of great Chardonnays is about to hit the shelves, because we’ve worked out how we can do this well’. So said Rudi Bauer, winemaker at Quartz Reef and Central Otago legend, towards the end of a 10-day tour across New Zealand’s wine regions by a group of 40 of us Masters of Wine. In a seminar ostensibly discussing trends in Pinot in Central Otago, this was Rudi’s immediate response when I asked about other varieties there.


What really made me sit up and take notice was the fact that, domestically, Chardonnay has overtaken Sauvignon Blanc. It is now the second-most-offered variety, which is a hugely important step for its rehabilitation. A burgeoning local market is a strong base from which to build into export markets and is also likely to be felt directly by producers, resulting in fast, positive feedback that will encourage wineries to push ahead with Chardonnay.

Given that Chardonnay locally suffered from the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) movement, I was intrigued to know what’s changed to reverse that decline. Tony Bish, who left Sacred Hill in Hawke’s Bay to establish his eponymous label, is focusing exclusively on Chardonnay.

For him, a new generation of consumers is appraising the variety without the baggage of a previous generation’s prejudices. His successful launch of ‘Fat and Sassy’ Chardonnay (shown above at London Wine Fair 2019), made in a full, classic style (though with older oak) and priced at a reasonable NZ$22.99 (£11.92, $15.74), seems to have hit the mark, especially with young women, apparently.

The very fact that someone like Tony is prepared to place all their bets on this single grape variety is encouraging. It is unlikely to be just a vanity project and instead suggests that demand for premium Chardonnays is now strong enough to make such a venture commercially viable.


Oak use has generally moved on since the 2000s, to better integration and balance, with less new oak and more use of larger barrels. In the case of Tony Bish’s excellent Zen Chardonnay 2017, that involves one of Taransaud’s new, 2,000-litre Ovum oak eggs for fermentation and maturation, adding an extra dimension to fruit from their Skeetfield vineyard. His Golden Egg Chardonnay 2017, this time fermented in a concrete egg, was also very attractive and illustrates innovation in Kiwi Chardonnay.


Overall, then, there some very fine wines to be had from a range of producers. The likes of Neudorf, Kumeu River, Dog Point, Greywacke and Pegasus Bay have been leading the way in export markets for several years, with Villa Maria offering options in larger volumes too. But it is my hope that we will see more of Tony Bish, Bell Hill, The Boneline, Clearview and others in export markets.

As my colleague and author of Wines of NZ Rebecca Gibb MW said to me, ‘Kiwi Chardonnay is underrated, and there is more to New Zealand than just Sauvignon Blanc. Consumers need to have the courage to experiment and look beyond their norms’.

I hope that the coming storm of great Kiwi Chardonnay will give readers exactly that encouragement.

My top-scoring wines achieving 17.5–18/20 were:

  • Kumeu River, Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2014/2016 Kumeu
  • Clearview, Endeavour Chardonnay 2015 Hawke’s Bay
  • Tony Bish, Zen Chardonnay 2017 Hawke’s Bay
  • Dog Point Chardonnay 2006 Marlborough
  • Giesen, Clayvin Chardonnay 2015 Marlborough
  • Bell Hill Chardonnay 2014 North Canterbury
  • The Boneline, Sharkstone Chardonnay 2014/2016 North Canterbury
  • Kumeu River, Maté’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2016 Kumeu
  • Clearview, Reserve Chardonnay 2016 Hawke’s Bay
  • Neudorf, Moutere Chardonnay 2016 Nelson
  • No. 1 Family, Réserve Blanc de Blancs NV Marlborough
  • Fromm, Clayvin Vineyard Chardonnay 2016 Marlborough
  • Aurum, Organic Chardonnay 2017 Central Otago


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Antony Bish
Antony Bish