Wednesday Wines – Episode 178 – Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay Collection

Last month, Hawke’s Bay Wine sent me a dozen Chardonnays from the 2021 vintage.  This fascinating selection is the third vintage in which they have kindly sent the very best wines from the region to international wine writers to assess.

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 for getting on for 15 years, and I think that it, too, is a marvellous communication device.  It is clear that this part of the world does all it can to keep line of communication as well as great wines flowing around the world.

Judging by the standout wines in the Chardonnay case, this is a very worthwhile venture, and the only downside is that only a couple of these wines will be available in the UK.

Earlier in the year, Hawke’s Bay winemakers were invited to submit Chardonnays from the 2021 vintage for consideration by Cameron Douglas MS, and he conducted a blind tasting of the wines to determine his favourites.  As always, Cameron has done an excellent job because, among the wines, I have found five that I, too, think are sensational.

Here is a quote from Cameron: “I’m just going to say it: New Zealand and Hawke’s Bay, in particular, make some of the best Chardonnay in the world; in fact, it’s better than many white Burgundies, more accessible, more affordable, and more consistent. If our Chardonnay continues to be mistaken for high-quality white Burgundy in blind tastings, then that alone says something important and special about what we produce.” 

The five wines listed below all managed to exhibit sublime balance. This is the Holy Grail of Chardonnay production, and, interestingly, the other seven wines in the mix that do not appear below are all noteworthy for one or another reason, but they lacked true balance. The guilty party was always oak because the precise level of oak seasoning is critical when you have fruit as direct and lovely as was found in 2021 in Hawke’s Bay.

2021 Trinity Hill, 125 Single Vineyard Gimblett Chardonnay, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand (£50.32, www.thefinewinecompany.co.uk)

Sublime in every respect, this is the most rounded and complete of the range in that it has the most globally appealing flavour, and it is technically stunning.  As Cameron noted above, the best of Hawke’s Bay can sit next to any Chardonnay on earth, and this cuvée demonstrates his point perfectly.  18.5/20 (Drink now – 2029)

2021 CRU, Howell Vineyard Chardonnay, Smith & Sheth, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand (NZD60, www.smithandsheth.com)

This is a staggeringly well-balanced wine despite the 83% new oak recipe. With structure, presence and impact, this is a richer wine than the others, but it manages to keep every element in equilibrium because the acidity is terrific, and the synergy between oak and fruit is complete. The only bummer is that only 294 six-packs were produced!  18.5/20 (Drink 2024 – 2029)

2021 Helio, Chardonnay, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand (NZD40, www.helio.wine)

Helio has appeared in my top picks two years in a row, and while last year this wine gained an honourable mention, this year it is firmly in my top five!  Like the other wines, it is a tiny production wine (4600 bottles), and with a serious attitude coming from the acid profile and minerality, the fruit flows seamlessly over the palate with little oak troubling it.  This wine is a joy, showing that, in the right hands, gorgeous, classy, silky-smooth Chardonnay can drink extremely well in its youth, sacrificing nothing by way of elegance or sophistication.  18/20 (Drink now – 2026)

2021 Bilancia, Kaikora Vineyard Chardonnay, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand (NZD50, various New Zealand independent wine merchants)

Bilancia has appeared in my top collection every one of the three years that this initiative has been up and running.  I have been banging on about balance in this review, and this wine’s brand name means ‘balance and harmony’!  The most tense and backward of the quintet, this is a stellar creation and a wine that will open over the next few years to show even more complexity.  This is elite NZ Chardonnay and I hope it manages to find its way onto the best wine lists worldwide.  19+/20 (Drink 2024 – 2032) 

2021 Aurulent, Chardonnay, Collaboration Wines, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand (NZD40, www.collaborationwines.co.nz

This is the second three-in-a-row-wine, and I take my hat off to Collaboration Wines because this is not a brand we see in the UK, and it would be adored by all if it ever made the trip over!  28% new oak is just the right amount to hint at exoticism, allowing the fruit to show luxurious, near-tropical notes while embracing its steely, citrusy acidity.  19/20 (Drink now – 2029)