Pegasus Bay Winery, Waipara. Source: Pegasus Bay
- Pegasus Bay, Waipara, New Zealand, Chardonnay 2012
- Pegasus Bay, Waipara, New Zealand, Chardonnay 2008
As part of our trip home for the Christmas holidays we took the opportunity to drive from my family home in Dunedin, in lower half of the South Island, up the east coast of the country as far north as Hawke’s Bay in the North Island. Needless to say there were a few winery visits along the way!
A number of themes emerged during my conversations with winemakers including a discussion around Chardonnay styles. Unlike their Australian counterparts, New Zealand consumers have taken their time embracing styles other than full-bodied, fruit-driven oaked expressions of Chardonnay. Having lived in Australia for several years prior to moving to Hong Kong I distinctly remember the shift in Chardonnay tastes as being well underway when I arrived in Australia in 2006 – no quite so in New Zealand. As if to confirm this, during a tasting with Vidal Estate the gentleman next to me commented that the Chardonnay in his glass “wasn’t big enough for him”. The good news however, is that a number of producers are starting to see a shift from this singular preference to include more restrained and elegant expressions of the grape.
Chardonnay is New Zealand’s third most widely planted grape, behind the leader Sauvignon Blanc and runner up Pinot Noir. It accounts for just over 3,000 ha of vineyard plantings, which is less than 10% of total plantings in the country. The key areas for production are Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough. In all, Chardonnay represents a fraction of the total wine produced each year – 7% for 2014, of which only 2% is exported. 
In tasting through different portfolios I found a number of seriously elegant wines, made with restraint and carefully crafted to ensure longevity. While Burgundy was the stylistic template for some, all were united in the desire to express terroir and climat, that is, to provide a clear sense of where the wine was made.
Common practices also emerged such as higher solid content in the grape juice for fermentation to enhance complexity, use of indigenous or wild yeasts, fermentation in barrel and time on lees to promote texture in the wine.
In the New Zealand Road Trip series I will take a look at the different regions I visited along with the wines I tasted. First up is Chardonnay and the first leg of our journey was up to Waipara, north of Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand.
Driving north into Waipara you arrive in a valley with the Tivotdale Hills and Mount Cass on your right to the east, sheltering the region from cool easterly winds coming in off Pegasus Bay and the Pacific Ocean. On your left, clearly visible, are the peaks of the Three Deans mountain range with the majestic Southern Alps further afield. Coming from the west is the warm northwesterly winds which ensure the region enjoys warm summer days and long dry autumns – a perfect combination for ripening grapes.
We visited in late December and the days were beautifully sunny and warm with a definite drop off in temperature during the evening – an indication of good diurnal temperature range which helps prevent the grapes from ripening too quickly.
A visit to Waipara wouldn’t be complete without visiting the highly awarded and arguably the most internationally recognised winery of the region, family owned and operated Pegasus Bay. Long involved in the local wine industry Pegasus Bay is also a member of the New Zealand Winegrowers Sustainable Viticulture Programme selecting natural methods to manage pest and disease in the vineyard.
The portfolio is broad with wines made from several different grapes and in different styles running the full gamut from dry to lusciously sweet. Not only did we enjoy a tasting with the highly knowledgeable Sue Laidlaw, we also booked in for lunch at the restaurant – a regular recipient of Cuisine Magazine’s NZ Winery Restaurant of the Year award.
Tasting notes for the Chardonnay are below and stay tuned for a look at some of their other wines in future posts. Next stop – Marlborough …
Pegasus Bay Chardonnay 2008, winemaker Matthew Donaldson
2008 was a warm and dry vintage saved by rain in February bringing much needed refreshment to the vines.
After harvesting and pressing, the juice, which contained solids, was fermented in large French oak barrels, 70% of which were seasoned and chosen for minimal oak flavour. Wild yeasts were used for the fermentation and full or partial malolactic fermentation occurred in each barrel before being transferred to tank for settling and integration in preparation for bottling.
Notes of lemon sherbet, golden delicious apple and some creamy butter led through to a good dose of chalky flavours as the wine opened in the glass. This wine was enjoyed over a lunch of Gnocchi, goats cheese and spring peas, which was the recommended match – and what a successful match it was!
Pegasus Bay Chardonnay 2012
A cooler vintage for the Waipara region the grapes were left on the nearly 30-year-old vines later in the season to ensure full ripeness, with the good diurnal temperature range of the site ensuring acidity levels were maintained.
As with the 2008 and the style of this particular Chardonnay, the juice contained solids and was fermented in large French oak barrels. Wild yeasts were used for the fermentation and the wine spent time on lees and underwent full malolactic fermentation before being bottled.
The wine had a savoury, mineral nose with an elegant mouthfeel. Well-integrated oak and citrus, stone and green fruit notes sat alongside smoky flint notes. Refreshing acidity kept the glass refilled, as did the good length to the finish.
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1. Chardonnay statistics: New Zealand Winegrowers