Nick Stock, www.jamessuckling.com Tasting Report FXII – 17th February 2015

2.03.2015

TASTING REPORT: CHARDONNAY RENAISSANCE – NEW ZEALAND’S FAMILY OF XII
February 17th, 2015

What makes a great chardonnay? Well, New Zealand’s Family of XII, a collective of the country’s most prestigious family-owned wineries, recently asked me to host a powerful tasting designed to investigate this very topic. The selection drew on each of the dozen members of the Family of XII, calling for their finest chardonnay and pitching six impressive Burgundian benchmarks in amongst them.

It was a true New Zealand moment. The braveness and willingness to stand up against the best is a part of the Kiwi psyche – it’s something that underpins their success in many areas on a global stage, not least of all when it comes to wine.

Now as a group, this Family of XII are scattered right throughout New Zealand from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South. So it meant that a very diverse set of terroirs came together; in fact, with this chardonnay line-up, they managed to cover every winegrowing region in New Zealand.

Interestingly, chardonnay is the only wine style that the group are able to present in this way. Sure, they each make pinot noir, but the wines wouldn’t all come from each winery’s regional base camp.

All the chardonnay during the gathering was tasted blind, and in all its guises, it impressed in very different ways, from the 2013 vintage back to 2006. The influence of winemaking, vintage and terroir all added up to wonderfully eclectic possibilities, but some universals also came into play. The most discussed common element of the tasting was the role of acidity in delivering balance, life, length, freshness and (my chardonnay Holy Grail) tension.

Oak played greater and lesser roles, and even the wines with the most oak were not overdone or unbalanced. Flavors worked well across riper, almost tropical styles through to refined, cooler wines showing floral character, fennel and citrus.

Titled “Chardonnay Renaissance”, this tasting showed that the best Burgundian examples are still in very good shape, but that New Zealand chardonnay is showing admirably within the high-quality, global chardonnay scene.

It also served to illustrate that, even as far north as Chablis, the Burgundian wines are much more tightly bound by specific terroirs and soils. The diversity represented by the Family of XII delivered a tangible point of difference, where terroirs underpin a broader range of stylistic options in a true moment of Brave New World spirit.

Contributing Editor Nick Stock is a renowned Australian wine writer, author, presenter and filmmaker who reports on his worldwide wine tasting experiences for JamesSuckling.com.

DOMAINE HENRI BOILLOT CORTON-CHARLEMAGNE
COUNTRY: France
REGION: Burgundy
VINTAGE: 2011
SCORE: 96
TASTING NOTES:
A ripe and rich nose with a flinty edge, gently savory nuances, plenty of fine stone fruits and citrus. This offers some real depth, richness and power with stylish and assertive oak. It really charges along. The tightest wine of the tasting: an essay in core strength!

KUMEU RIVER CHARDONNAY KUMEU MATE’S VINEYARD
COUNTRY: New Zealand
REGION: North Island
VINTAGE: 2010
SCORE: 96
TASTING NOTES:
With bright lemon and peach fruits on the nose, this is very pure and elemental. There are also some crushed rocky notes and a flinty edge to be found here. A compose and discreetly complex chardonnay that really chisels with air. The palate has a very assertive core of acidity, the fruit remains fleshy and supple, the power and elegance are impressive and the citrus and cool stone fruit flavors close things off.

DOMAINE LEFLAIVE PULIGNY-MONTRACHET LES PUCELLES
COUNTRY: France
REGION: Burgundy
VINTAGE: 2010
SCORE: 95
TASTING NOTES:
Attractive floral elements, some honeysuckle, grilled nuts and fine citrusy notes. This is really elegant. The palate has terrific clarity, finesse and elegance, is sleek and even, shows great depth and drive and holds long.

DOMAINE ROULOT MEURSAULT CÔTE DE BEAUNE LES LUCHETS
COUNTRY: France
REGION: Burgundy
VINTAGE: 2011
SCORE: 95
TASTING NOTES:
A cooler floral style to a wine that has a fine, taut, citrusy note pith. The oak is nicely integrated and the mealy elements add savory interest. The palate has terrific layering and is smooth and supple; it shows yellow citrus fruits, pith and is bold with some very nicely layered and textural moments. Terrific.

FELTON ROAD CHARDONNAY CENTRAL OTAGO BLOCK 2
COUNTRY: New Zealand
REGION: South Island
VINTAGE: 2013
SCORE: 95
TASTING NOTES:
Bold and attractive stony fruits as well as some tropical elements, hints of citrus and well-placed oak. The acidity really rounds up the complex texture and this draws succulent through the finish; nectarine and peach flavors sit deep and long.

NEUDORF CHARDONNAY NELSON MOUTERE
COUNTRY: New Zealand
REGION: South Island
VINTAGE: 2013
SCORE: 95
TASTING NOTES:
A more savory wine with wet chalk, grilled hazelnuts and spices ahead of some stone fruits and very fine citrus. This really whips into shape with air. The palate has impressive, fleshy-fruit appeal and some creamy, white-stone fruit flavors as well as peaches and nectarines. Solid acidity really focuses the finish.

DOMAINE ETIENNE SAUZET CÔTE DE BEAUNE BATARD-MONTRACHET
COUNTRY: France
REGION: Burgundy
VINTAGE: 2008
SCORE: 94
TASTING NOTES:
A rich wine needing air to open up with impressive power and deep fleshy fruit appeal. This has a slightly pulpy note with a long, powerful and dense core of stone fruit. The acidity and phenolics are very nicely integrated, and this breathes up brilliantly.

FROMM CHARDONNAY MARLBOROUGH CLAYVIN VINEYARD
COUNTRY: New Zealand
REGION: South Island
VINTAGE: 2011
SCORE: 94
TASTING NOTES:
With an attractive flinty nose and a slightly stony edge, this also features a cool set of fruity aromas, some gently nutty notes a fine, smooth palate, good balance and great depth. A sweet, stony, fruit finish. A very refined chardonnay.

ATA RANGI CHARDONNAY MARTINBOROUGH CRAIGHALL VINEYARD
COUNTRY: New Zealand
REGION: North Island
VINTAGE: 2012
SCORE: 93
TASTING NOTES:
This smells more ripe with an almost candied set of fruit aromas on offer combined with a citrusy edge and oak that is fresh and wound in tight. The palate is super succulent, the acidity really taut, and this harnesses rich flavors and draws them long and deep. Delivers plenty of flavor with balance.

DOMAINE BLAIN-GAGNARD CHASSAGNE-MONTRACHET CAILLERETS
COUNTRY: France
REGION: Burgundy
VINTAGE: 2010
SCORE: 93
TASTING NOTES:
More savory flavors and more oak register here along with a slight almond edge, some chalky elements and citrusy, flinty nuances. The palate has a smooth, layered texture and a slightly meaty, spicy thread. The acid sits in nicely, making this finish clean.

DOMAINE VINCENT DAUVISSAT CHABLIS LE FOREST
COUNTRY: France
REGION: Burgundy
VINTAGE: 2011
SCORE: 93
TASTING NOTES:
A much more cryptic and savory wine, this has a little grapefruit and some flinty elements, too. The palate’s taut, integrated and fluid; the phenolics have a nice role to play; the acidity is high; and the chalky, white-peach finish is long and even.

NAUTILUS ESTATE MARLBOROUGH CHARDONNAY
COUNTRY: New Zealand
REGION: South Island
VINTAGE: 2012
SCORE: 93
TASTING NOTES:
With a beautifully struck reductive edge, this has a very composed and elegant shape, plenty of citrus and white peach fruit on offer plus some terrific acidity – not to mention a fine fleshy presence, too. Very complete and convincing.

VILLA MARIA CHARDONNAY HAWKE’S BAY KELTERN
COUNTRY: New Zealand
REGION: North Island
VINTAGE: 2010
SCORE :93
TASTING NOTES:
A complex, flinty nose with an edgy sheen of reduction but featuring a wealth of citrus fruit aromas and savory nutty complexity. The solids and lees work to deliver complexity here. The palate has impressive depth and drive, the fleshy stone fruits really flow with weight and smooth power, the acidity cleanses the finish, and some smoky grilled hazelnuts come at the close.

CRAGGY RANGE CHARDONNAY HAWKES BAY LES BEAUX CAILLOUX
COUNTRY: New Zealand
REGION: North Island
VINTAGE: 2011
SCORE: 92
TASTING NOTES:
Super floral nose here that is really bright and pristine showing gentle almond blossom and a mandarin edge. The palate is smooth and deep and has a full, rich, ripe and mouth-filling texture.

LAWSON’S DRY HILLS CHARDONNAY MARLBOROUGH THE PIONEER
COUNTRY: New Zealand
REGION: South Island
VINTAGE: 2011
SCORE: 92
TASTING NOTES:
This has an oxidative savory edge about it, plenty of wood, some edgy citrus fruit and nutty notes, good acidity and a nicely honed, gently creamy texture that holds the finish. It’s the acidity here that cleans everything up.

MILLTON CHARDONNAY GISBORNE CLOS DE ST. ANNE NABOTH’S VINEYARD
COUNTRY: New Zealand
REGION: North Island
VINTAGE: 2013
SCORE: 91
TASTING NOTES:
A creamy edge to the wine suggests a warmer climate, and there are some banana and tropical notes. This is stony too, and nice work on the lees adds complexity. The palate is supple, very smooth and fleshy, delivering a nicely weighted, balanced impression.

PALLISER ESTATE CHARDONNAY MARTINBOROUGH
COUNTRY: New Zealand
REGION: North Island
VINTAGE: 2011
SCORE: 91
TASTING NOTES:
Ripe tropical and stone fruit aromas, rich and very up-front fruit, some mangoes and a little oak. The palate has abundant, ripe peachy flavors and nice acidity below all the flesh.

PEGASUS BAY CHARDONNAY VIRTUOSO
COUNTRY: New Zealand
REGION: North Island
VINTAGE: 2006
SCORE: 90
TASTING NOTES:
An older wine of deeper colour with a slightly glossy, toasty style to it, oranges, some flinty elements and an almost waxy edge. The palate has deep flavor, and is really concentrated and long.

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