Wednesday Wines – Episode 40 – The 2020 Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay Collection

Episode 40 – 30th December 2020

The 2020 Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay Collection

A few weeks ago, Hawke’s Bay Wine sent me a mixed case of Chardonnays from the 2019 vintage.  This fascinating selection of wines is the very first white wine initiative compiled by the region.  For the last eleven years, the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowers Association, also in Hawke’s Bay, has curated an annual mixed case of 12 red wines entitled the Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection and I think that it is a marvellous communication device.  Judging by the stand out wines in the Chardonnay case I hope that this annual snapshot of the best wines of the region manages to roll forwards and enjoy the same coverage and adulation as its red wine cousin!

Hawke’s Bay winemakers were invited to submit Chardonnays from the 2019 vintage for consideration by Cameron Douglas MS and he conducted a blind tasting of the wines in order to determine his favourites.  Cameron has done a good job, too, because among the wines were two world-class stunners!  Sadly, neither wine is currently available in the UK, but I have asked the organisers for more details and I will let my readers know of any updates.  My NZ Friends and Members are certainly the luckiest souls around this week because they will be able to snap up these wines with ease, although don’t delay because production is rather scarce for both wines!

2019 Collaboration Wines, Aurulent Chardonnay, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand (NZ$38, www.collaborationwines.co.nz)

Proprietor and winemaker Julianne Brogden started her small-parcel wine business in 2010 and she is the one-woman driving force behind Collaboration Wines.  While her portfolio has grown she makes no more than 2000 cases annually.  Julz works exclusively with growers who share her dedication and commitment to high-quality winegrowing and making hence the name of her business – Collaboration Wines.

Named after the colour of gold, Aurulent Chardonnay is a blend of two parcels of grapes – 70% clone 15 from Kokako Vineyard in Ohiti and 30% Mendoza clone from Askerne Vineyard in Havelock North.  It was hand-picked and chilled overnight with no SO2.  The grapes were whole-bunch-pressed into 30% new French oak and 70% matured French oak barrels and aged on lees for 11 months.

This is one of the most resonant and lip-smackingly delicious New Zealand Chardonnays I have ever tasted.  While this wine envelops the palate and gives the illusion of richness and lushness it is a precious-made Chardonnay with epic balance and freshness.  It teeters on edge of exotic indulgence and indulgent flamboyance but always stays on right side of the tracks and it is this dramatic stance and uplifting freshness makes it nothing short of irresistible. Given the price tag, this is also one of the most impressive Chardonnays, from anywhere in the world, which I have tasted in 2020.  19/20 (Drink now – 2023)

2019 Bilancia, Tiratore Chardonnay, la collina, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand (NZ$90 www.bilancia.co.nz)

Tiratore is Italian for hunter or marksman and, when these vines were planted, spent bullets were found in almost every hole dug on the slope of la collina.  Winemakers Lorraine Leheny and Warren Gibson established Bilancia in 1997 when they returned to New Zealand from winemaking overseas.  I have long been a fan of their wines and la collina Syrah is a wine I have poured at more events than I can remember in order to show guests just how sensational New Zealand Syrah can be!  While this vineyard might have been used as a firing range for target practice I prefer the slightly more archaic image of an archer hitting the bull’s eye because this is what Tiratore did on my palate.  The la collina vineyard is planted to several different clones of Chardonnay, predominantly B95 and UCD15 with a smaller contribution from 548, 809 and Mendoza. These clones and the rows are represented by the stylised artwork on the label.  The fruit is 100% hand-picked, whole-bunch-pressed into French oak puncheons and barriques for fermentation.  The wine spent 11 months in oak prior to bottling and there was no fining or cold stabilisation.

This is the first time that I have tasted this wine and it took my breath away. Unlike Aurulent, this wine majors on what I call anti-fruit as opposed to ripe Chardonnay notes.  It is drenched in stony minerality, lime pith and bitterness with a keen ozone tang on the finish which makes your hairs stand on edge.  It is barely out of the blocks and I don’t doubt it will make a decade if it is cellared correctly.  This is a remarkable creation and one which shows amazing definition, extraordinary site-specificity (I have walked this vineyard and tasting it prompts remarkable flashbacks) and inspirational winemaking – but this is no surprise because this couples’ reputation precedes them. While this is a young wine, the flavour is already electrifying and I don’t doubt that if you are lucky enough to secure some stock you will be tempted to open a bottle and I know that you will love the flavour.  But please do keep the others in the case for the future because the acidity will gradually senesce and I bet that an even more extraordinary wine will eventually blossom in the glass.  19+/20 (Drink now – 2030)