Producer: Lake Chalice Wines
Country Hierarchy: New Zealand
Food Suggestion: Chicken and Turkey
Wine Style: White – Tropical and Balanced
Alcohol Content: 13%
Marlborough is by far New Zealand’s most important wine region. Situated at the northeastern tip of the South Island, this dry, sunny region produces around three-quarters of all New Zealand wine. It is particularly famous for its pungent, zesty Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
The region consists of two parallel valleys, the Wairau and the Awatere. It stretches up the Pacific coast from Kaikoura to Picton, a small port town in the Marlborough Sounds. The long, straight Wairau Valley is slightly longer-established than the Awatere and has a greater share of Marlborough’s 58,300 acres (23,600ha) of vineyards.
River terraces in the Awatere Valley ©NZWA/Babich Wines
Although some vines were planted by settlers in the 1870s, commercial scale viticulture did not begin in Marlborough until the 1970s, when the Auckland-based wine producer Montana (now Brancott Estate) surveyed the area and bought its first land there. The first large-scale vineyards were planted in 1973 and, despite early challenges with the region’s dry soils and strong winds, Marlborough wines were already making a name for themselves by the early 1980s. Rapid expansion followed and, by 1985, Marlborough was awash in a sea of average-quality wines. A government vine-pull scheme helped to re-establish balance somewhat, during which the high-yielding Muller-Thurgau vines that once dominated the region were replaced with the now-iconic Sauvignon Blanc. Such was the success of Sauvignon Blanc here that Marlborough is widely regarded as the variety’s New World home.
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc exploded onto the world wine scene in the 1980s and 1990s, to the rapture of wine critics and consumers around the globe. It is noted for its complete lack of subtlety, its intense flavors of green pepper and gooseberry and a sweaty character that has been famously described as “cat’s pee on a gooseberry bush”. There are few New World wine regions so closely associated with a single grape variety as Marlborough is with Sauvignon Blanc (with the possible exception of Mendoza and its Malbec).
Marlborough’s valleys were created millions of years ago by a large glacier. The Wairau Valley, home to the region’s main center, Blenheim, and the Rapaura and Renwick sub-regions, has a warm, sunny climate cooled by winds from the Pacific Ocean. The Awatere Valley, just to the southeast, has a slightly cooler climate due to its added proximity to the ocean on both northern and eastern sides. Sea breezes are a vital part of the Marlborough terroir. Sunshine during the day is tempered by the wind, leading to a substantial diurnal temperature variation. This, along with a sunny, dry autumn, creates a long growing season, which gives the grapes times to develop full, expressive varietal character without losing their characteristic acidity.
The region’s soils are geologically young and largely alluvial, having been distributed around the two valley floors by the Wairau and Awatere rivers. Gravelly soils are common on the river terraces, while silty loams can be found in the hills. These soils are excellent for viticulture because of their rapid drainage and low fertility. The vines are forced to work hard for hydration and nutrients, meaning that they focus their energy on the production of small, concentrated grapes, which translates into intensity of flavor in the finished wines.
Although Sauvignon Blanc dominates the Marlborough vineyards, several other varieties also perform well here. Among the white-wine grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Rieslingare the most common. In recent years, the region’s earliest Pinot Noir vines have come of age, and are now producing some first-class wines. Marlborough Pinot Noirs are lighter and fruitier than those from Otago and Martinborough. Marlborough is also an important producer of quality sparkling wine made in the methode traditionnelle.
Chardonnay is the world’s most famous white-wine grape and also one of the most widely planted. Although the most highly regarded expressions of the variety are those from Burgundy and California, many high-quality examples are made in Italy, Australia, New Zealand and parts of South America.
Describing the flavors of Chardonnay is no easy task. While many Chardonnay wines have high aromatic complexity, this is usually due to winemaking techniques (particularly the use of oak) rather than the variety’s intrinsic qualities. Malolactic fermentation gives distinctive buttery aromas. Fermentation and/or maturation in oak barrels contributes notes of vanilla, smoke and hints of sweet spices such as clove and cinnamon. Extended lees contact while in barrel imparts biscuity, doughy flavors. Because of this high level of winemaker involvement, Chardonnay has become known as the “winemaker’s wine”.
The variety itself (although often said to be relatively flavor-neutral) is responsible for most of the fruity flavors found in Chardonnay wines. These range from the tropical (banana, melon, pineapple and guava) to stonefruits (peach, nectarine and apricot), citrus and apples.
Climate plays a major role in dictating which fruit flavors a Chardonnay will have. Broadly speaking, warm regions such as California, Chile and much of Australia tend to give more tropical styles. Temperate zones such as southern Burgundy or northern New Zealand create wines marked out by stonefruit notes. The very coolest Chardonnay vineyards (those in Chablis, Champagne and Germany) lean towards green-apple aromas.
Mineral descriptors such as chalk, wet stones and crushed seashells also find their way into Chardonnay tasting notes. These are sometimes attributed to the soils in the vineyard, although the relationship between soil and wine flavor has become widely exaggerated. The most famously minerally Chardonnay wines are those of Chablis, one of the very few wine regions to focus on a largely unoaked style of Chardonnay.
Although most famous for its still, dry wines, Chardonnay is used to produce an impressively diverse range of wine styles. The variety is put to use in sparkling wines all over the world (most famously Champagne), when it is usually paired with Pinot Noir. Canada even produces sweet Chardonnay ice wines.
Chardonnay is particularly popular with wine producers, not least because it has a reliable market of keen consumers. The variety produces relatively high yields, will grow in a broad spectrum of climates and can be made into wine of acceptable quality with relative ease. In poor vintages, deficiencies can be covered up with oak flavors, reducing the financial impact of a bad harvest.
In the vineyard, Chardonnay presents a few viticultural challenges, but none that can’t be solved with age-old techniques or a little help from technology. (Were this not the case, the variety would certainly not be as successful as it is.) In very warm climates, Chardonnay grapes tend to lose their natural acidity, resulting in flat, overblown wines. This can be partially corrected with a simple addition of acid, or by harvesting early and compensating for lack of flavor by using oak and malolactic fermentation. Vignerons in cooler climates have a quite different problem with the variety, as the vines bud and flower early in the season, making them susceptible to spring frosts. Vignerons in Burgundy (particularly in Chablis) have traditionally mitigated this with braziers between the vine rows. These are not just for warmth – they also create frost-preventing air currents.
Synonyms include: Morillon, Pinot Chardonnay, Feiner Weisser Burgunder.
Food matches for Chardonnay include:
- Butternut squash risotto (risotto alla zucca)
- Japanese-style pork belly
- Roast chicken with honey-sesame carrots
(sources : wine-searcher)