Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2021

I do feel privileged that for the past few years the winemakers of the Hawke’s Bay region in New Zealand have sent me the set of wines that have come out top in an annual contest. Local Master Sommelier, Cameron Douglas, chooses his top dozen from the region. I’ve previously reported on the 2019 and 2020 selections. This year it’s the turn of 2021, a small vintage in Hawke’s Bay due to unsettled weather at flowering.

It was a relatively dry season, but moderate heat meant the vines did not suffer from excessive vigour and the harvest conditions were fine. That allowed fruit to be picked at the optimum ripeness desired by each winemaker. The 2021 selection included some familiar names from previous editions, but also some wines being seen for the first time in this always fascinating and always high quality selection.

It’s an extremely impressive selection from a prime Chardonnay territory once again, though sadly for us, not all are currently available in the UK. Then again, some are made in tiny quantities of just a few hundred bottles. Where known, UK stockists are given.

The Wines

(2023) A single vineyard wine from a vineyard that, prior to the 1931 Napier earthquake, was a tidal estuary. Now drained, seashell deposits remain interspersed through maritime clay. Planted in 1998, the vineyard is dry farmed. After fermentation with indigenous yeasts and partial malolactic fermentation, it saw extended ageing in French oak barriques, 35% new. Pale straw/lemon, the nose has flint and iodine aromatics, a Brazil nut, buttery character beneath. In the mouth it is bracing and salt-licked, the fruit lemony and fresh, but there is creaminess to the texture and the plushness of the background oak lends fine support as does crisp, tangy and lightly pithy acidity. Powerful stuff, intense and long.
(2023) Fewer than 600 bottles of this Chardonnay from the gravel soils of the Bridge Pa Triangle where made, the vineyard in conversion to organic farming. Fermented in French oak with wild yeast, it spent nine months on the lees and did not undergo malolactic. Gravelly and creamy at the same time, there's a touch of toasty hazelnut and plenty of ripe stone fruit and apple, and edge of flint. In the mouth there's a breadth and chewiness to the texture, the fruit still in that yellow plum and peach, and ripe juicy red apple spectrum. Good balance here, a lovely cleansing acid core, and a long finish showing just a hint of nuttiness and spice. No UK stockists at time of review.
(2023) Whole bunch pressed, this was part barrel-fermented, followed by barrel maturation in 46% new oak for around one year. There's plenty of toast here, the flinty character is there too, if less overt than some, crunchy and nutty apple blends with that toasty barrel character. In the mouth real sweetness and juiciness of fruit. There's a big and tangy core of orange and lemon/lime acidity that is quite rounded but decisive. Along with that nutty undertow of the toasty oak, it's a textured and full, approachable style. No UK retail stockists listed at time of review.
(2023) From the Terraces vineyard which is clay over an old gravel riverbed, this green-flecked wine is a barrel selection that was whole bunch pressed into French oak barriques (30% new), and matured on lees for 11 months with only occasional stirring. A really inviting nose with plenty of flinty reduction and hazelnut richness, it immediately has a concentrated feel. On the palate that is borne out with zest lemon fruit that fairly skips along, but the flinty, stony edge of precision is there, as is the support of the oak, a touch of phenolic grip, and mouthwatering, pithy acidity. Delicious. No UK retail stockists at time of review.
(2023) A blend clones, including the 'hen and chick' Mendoza clone, some barrels were innoculated and others fermented with wild yeasts. All French oak barriques, 44 % new, and 100% underwent malolactic fermentation. Rich in oatmeal and almond creaminess, there's flint and gravel, as well as lime peel in the aroma. In the mouth it is full, silky and sweet-fruited. The oak is balanced, the citrussy thrust of acidity too, and while it is painted with a slightly broader brush than some here, it is excellent.
(2023) One of the most elegant and well-mannered wines here, not chasing too much 'flint' or sweet fruited ripeness. Interestingly, the only wine under natural cork and sealed with wax. This comes from 25-year-old vines planted on gravel in the Heretaunga Plains. Wild fermentation lasted three weeks and after malolactic fermentation it spent 10 months in mainly old french barrels. Baked apple pie, peach and lime aromas are rounded, clear and crisp. There's a light kaolin earthiness. In the mouth the fruit flits between limey, fat citrus and a more exotic nectarine and mango, but then the core of acid here powers through. The oak plays a very intelligent supporting role, never dominating but coaxing the wine into a lightly grippy, nutty finish.
(2023) Smith & Sheth have undoubtedly hit the ground running since their inauguration less than a decade ago with a formidable and impressive range. This comes from a dry-farmed vineyard of 20-year-old vines in Bridge Pa, with silty loam over gravel and limestone. Fermented in 83% new and older French oak barriques, with wild yeasts and full malolactic. It's a nutty and bold style this, less of the flinty sulphidic influence, and more of the cream and toast of the barrel married to exuberantly ripe fruit. There is precision and a Cru Chablis feel about this. In the mouth the weight and texture are again treading their own path among flintier wines here, though there is a mineral salts character joining the lemon peel zest of the finish. Power and precision.
(2023) Aurulent made the best of Hawke's Bay selection in 2019 and 2020, and I really like the wine both times. This 2021 follows up in style. Aged in French oak barrels for 11 months, 30% new, there's a touch of Brazil nut on the nose, a light yeasty film over ripe, but precise fruit, and yes, a flinty touch of leesy reduction to add some mineral tang. In the mouth there's plenty of flavour here: it's not shy or retiring, having a buttery and peachy sense of lusciousness on the mid-palate, but all the time the gently mealy and nutty oak, the firm citrus pith acid line and touch of grippiness to the texture anchor the wine in savoury style. And it's delicious.  
(2023) Though Trinity Hill is imported into the UK by Liberty Wines, this has no retail stockist listed at time of review. From the Gimblett Gravels, this is fermented in French oak barriques and bigger 500-litre barrels with indigenous yeasts. Nutty, ripe, fruity but with flint and river stones, this is full and succulent on the palate. Lots of nectarine and mango into light smokiness, the nutty background is there, also a fat orange acidity that gives this all the balance it needs, without any astringency. Fine, long and layered.
(2023) Barrel-fermented in 100% French oak barriques. Plenty of everything in this wine, lots of toast and smoky flint, a tangerine-like citrus character. On the palate there's a surge of tropical fruit, notes of mango and pineapple, but then a firmness builds, the acid pithy and dry, the stony, river stone character adding to that. The relatively dry and strict finish prevents any danger of this being cloying.
(2023) From Pahoke soils, a shale-like sedimentary rock, this single vineyard wine is pressed directly to barrel and fermented with wild yeast. It's certainly a wine shaped by its flinty, complex sulphide character, toasty and mineral, nutty oak and juicy yellow apple beneath. The palate is grippy and serious, pithy grapefruit seizing the initiative over the swirl of toast and salty minerals into a long, intense finish.
(2023) This was whole-bunch pressed, then fermented and aged 12 months in French oak, 20% new. Delightful nose, striking the perfect balance between a spangle brightness of fruit, hint of flint and luscious mango in the background. Oak influence is understated. The palate tensions considerably with a taut line of acidity that is all lemons and salts, but it cleaves through those more opulent, juicy, peachy and almost tropical fruit flavours. Lovely. Price and stockist quoted are for a previous vintage at time of review.




Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *