Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay (1) six top wines tasted

January 6, 2021 – I received the same wines as Goode, a few weeks later, and thought it would be useful to taste solo and without viewing his reviews, and post my notes alongside in this two-part series. Like Goode, I was impressed with the collection of 2019s, reinforcing my belief that New Zealand Chardonnay is greatly underrated. Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay, in particular, has a lovely hallmark of fruit intensity and acidity, allowing the wines to easily absorb ample wood and reduction, and present with freshness and clarity ~ TR

Located on the east coast of North Island, Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s second largest wine region. Historically, it was the most significant until the emergence of Marlborough, and vines were first planted here in 1851.

In the past, one problem faced by Hawke’s Bay is that it has done lots of different varieties quite well, but hasn’t had just one or two to hang its hat on. But it’s increasingly looking that Chardonnay will become the region’s star. New Zealand Chardonnay is rather underrated globally, but the top examples are world class. With growing recognition, for Kiwi interpretations of this variety, Hawke’s Bay is well placed to lead the field.

Of the 5034 hectares of Hawke’s Bay vineyard area, Chardonnay represents just over a fifth of the region, and is the second most widely planted variety (you’ll be a little surprised to find out that Sauvignon Blanc is the most prevalent variety with 1300 hectares, and Merlot is in third place with 980).

This tasting involved 6 top Hawke’s Bay Chardonnays, and in a couple of weeks I’ll look at another six. The 12 wines are the inaugural Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay selection, made by Cameron Douglas. Tentative conclusion from part 1 is that these are lovely wines and the excitement in the region about the performance and potential for Chardonnay is justified. Part 2 is here.

Here’s a film of me tasting the wines:


Collaboration Wines Aurulent Chardonnay 2019 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol. From Jules Brogden. This is lovely. Concentrated and beautifully balanced with good acidity and some hazelnut and meal notes adding a savoury complexity to the pear and citrus fruit. There’s also just a hint of really nice matchstick reduction. Concentrated, rounded, mealy and spicy, this is delicious. Lots of potential for further development. 94/100 ($35) (JG)

Aurulent is named after the colour gold. This is 70% clone 15, and 30% Mendoza clone, from Kokako Vineyard in Ohiti Valley (old riverbed) and Askerene Vineyard, in Havelock North (clay, silt, loams). This was whole bunch pressed to 30% new French oak for a native ferment and full MLF. The wine aged there on lees for 11 months with regular bâtonnage before a light filtration and bottling. Bright lemon and hazelnut drives this direct, shining wine, backed by alluring flicks of reduction and a shimmer of minerality. There’s a swirl of white florals seasoning the slender 13% palate to the wood spiced finish. Lovely energy throughout, this is drinking beautifully now, and with capacity for aging. 93/100 (TR)

Villa Maria Keltern Chardonnay 2019 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. Vines planted in 1999. This is a complex, concentrated Chardonnay with some meal and spice notes under the concentrated citrus and pear fruit. There are some hints of tropical richness, and there’s a lively spicy framing with good acidity. Quite primary but with great concentration and intensity, which makes me think it will age beautifully. 95/100 ($80) (JG)

This is a single vineyard chardonnay, planted in 1999 on the western edge of the Bridge Pa Triangle and the Ngaruroro river, on an ancient riverbed with silt loams over red metals and gravels. Clones 115 and 548 were native fermented in French barrique (40% new), with partial MLF and 11 months in wood with weekly bâtonnage. Reductive led, this powerful wine drives with salt and broken stones, and follows with pear, lemon and kisses of white blossoms, all seasoned with well integrated toasty wood spice. Quite complex and powerful, this will reward with cellaring. 94/100 (TR)

Askerne The Archer Chardonnay 2019 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. This is a new producer for me, and the wine is really appealing, with ripe pear, apple and melon notes. It’s sweetly fruited with good concentration, backed up by some spicy oak character. There’s an is some richness to this wine, but there’s also balance. I love the rich mid-palate here. 92/100 ($50) (JG)

This is the first Archer Chardonnay and this wine represents the pinnacle of this variety from Askerne. Predominantly Mendoza (55%), this blends in 27% Clone 95 and 18% Clone 15, grown on the stony sands of the lower terrace. After a whole bunch press, this was partial native fermented, with partial MLF, in French oak (45% new) and aged on lees for 11 months with occasional bâtonnage. Full and rich, with a vanilla undercurrent filling the mouth, and wood spice framing baked pear, lemon curd on a viscous palate. A sharp cut of lemon pith acidity driving this big wine through a wood spiced finish. Very much in youth, this should settle with time in bottle. 90/100 (TR)

Elephant Hill Salomé Chardonnay 2019 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. 28% new oak. From three vineyards in Te Awanga and the Bridge Pa triangle. This is a really exotic, rich, ripe expression of Chardonnay with pineapple, spice, mandarin and some melon richness. Nice intensity here, with good acidity under the rich fruity character. 92/100 ($75) (JG)

From Te Awanga and Bridge Pa, this was aged for one year in French oak (28% new), and tightened by 4 months on lees in tank prior to bottling. Power driven, with toasted popcorn, frizzed lemon, mandarin, and layers of reduction and oak spice driving through a mineral-driven core. There’s a brace of acidity that drives this to the finish. A lot of intensity for 13.5%, this will reward with some cellaring. 92/100 (TR)

Bilancia Triatore Chardonnay 2019 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. From the lower part of La Collina vineyard. This is very stylish. There’s a concentration and ease to this wine, with sweet pear, apple and white peach fruit. It’s rich but also has freshness. There’s a breadth here, with a smooth texture in the mouth. It’s not overly showy or intense, but there’s a wonderful harmony, and it has massive potential for development. 94/100 ($90) (JG)

Tiratore is Italian for hunter, or marksman. When they were planting these vines, old spent bullets were found in almost every hole dug on the famed slope of La Collina, most likely from years of use as a target practice. This single vineyard chardy comes from 2001 vines planted on the lower slopes of an old river bed. Quite direct, with notes of earl grey tea intertwined with lemon, meringue, pear on a creamy, slippery, lengthy palate, finishing with a twist of Yuzu. Quite a stylish wine in every way. 92/100 (TR)

Tony Bish Heartwood Chardonnay 2019 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. Hand-picked Mendoza clone Chardonnay. This is smooth, rich and textural with white peach and melon notes, as well as some crystalline citrus fruit. Concentrated, with some oak notes adding spice and nuts. Lovely balance between the richness and the freshness with some mineral and spice notes on the finish. 94/100 ($35) (JG)

Mendoza clone, this was whole bunch pressed and fermented in new and used French barriques, with partial native ferment. This remained in barrel for 11 months. Lemon verbena, yellow apple, pear fill a spiced palate, scented with a heady pear perfume on the creamy, buttery palate. Medicinal white cherry lingers on the silken finish. The wood, while evident, is very well integrated into this stylish wine. 90/100 (TR)

See part 2 here

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