When you think of New Zealand wine, does a hint of Sauvignon Blanc come to mind? Prepare yourself, Chardonnay is the best kept secret on the island.

New Zealand Chardonnay is generally characterized by an elegant balance of minerality, pure fruit and bright acidity. However, there are many stylistic and regional differences due to the breed’s ability to reform.

Let’s take a look at some of the best Chardonnay locations in New Zealand.

Chardonnay heaven at the end of the world. Carrick Vineyards, Central Otago. Image: Carrick

New Zealand Chardonnay – South Pacific Gem

Across New Zealand, the ultimate goal is to produce Chardonnays with minimal intervention that express the site, vintage and a harmonious balance of fruit, acidity and oak. New Zealand Chardonnay strives for subtlety and elegance with pure fruit and lasting texture.

Chardonnay comes in three general styles, all of which find expression in New Zealand.

  1. Deep, crisp, mineral. Minimal or no contact with the oak allows the delicate fruit and elegant textures to shine. Generally made in cooler regions such as Marlborough and Central Otago (Shablish is the benchmark).
  2. Stone, citrus and tropical fruit complemented by creamy, toasty, vanilla oak notes. Medium warm, produced in moderate to warm climates such as Hawkes Bay.
  3. Big, fat, greasy. Peach and melon integrated with vanilla, nut and caramel flavors and a rich, creamy texture thanks to a strong oak influence. The warm and sunny town of Gisborne offers some classic examples. Signs of a minor revival, the glory days of this style were in California and Australia in the 1980s and 1990s.

Michael BrajkovicsThe Kumeu River, from Auckland, justifies the confidence that NZ chardonnay will conquer the world stage. Image: Kumeu River

There is so much to see in New Zealand wine. The country’s top ten regions specialize in cool-climate varieties and focus on sustainable and organic production, from pinot noir and pinot gris to chardonnay and riesling. Browse the list of New Zealand wines and find your next favorite!

Regions

It may only make up 6% of the entire New Zealand wine industry, but Chardonnay is fighting back!

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It is the only grape variety that thrives in all of New Zealand’s major wine regions, and from all of them come world-class examples. Let’s start with the far north and look at the regional manifestations (without losing sight of the fact that there are stylistic differences within the regions).

Long SummerNorthland, dry sea breezes, clay and sandy soils produce elegant Chardonnays characterised by tropical fruit notes and complex mineral features. Image: Landing

Northern part of the country/Isles basin

Chardonnays from the subtropical north are rich, ripe and relaxed. Lively peach, citrus and some tropical fruit, a rich, full texture held together by refreshing sea acidity.

Since the 1990s, there has been a revival of Chardonnay wine in the region. Local winemaker Ben Bryne of Landing is improving the style of Chardonnay.
With more native yeast and less malolactic fermentation, Northland winemakers like Ben want to express Chardonnay on land and sea.

Kumeu River Vineyard west of Auckland, named after a Croatian immigrant who helped birth New Zealand viticulture. The winery is a dry farm, ten kilometres from the Tasman Sea, and produces a world-class Chardonnay. Image: Kumeu River

Oakland

Pure aromas of peach, nectarine, citrus and apple thanks to the volcanic clay soil and a temperate maritime climate. Creamy textures and complex layers of toasted brioche, cashew and flint are harmoniously intertwined with fresh acidity for a long, bright finish.

Waiheke Island produces powerful, aromatic Chardonnays, while West Oakland produces elegant styles that rival the best white Burgundies. Auckland is one of New Zealand’s oldest wine regions, founded in the early 1900s by hard-working Croatian, Lebanese and English winemakers.

NZ Chardonnay can generally be described as fresher and livelier. This is not to say that they are not sometimes rich and luscious, but the higher acidity plays an important role in the balance of the wines. They show more liveliness and minerality than overripe fruit and secondary aromas.
– Adam Hazeldine, Babich Wines…

The fruit basket of New Zealand, the relatively warm maritime climate and the clay soil of Gisborne yield a powerful and complex South Pacific Chardonnay. Image: Vineyard NZ

Gisborne

Gisborne Chardonnays are highly aromatic, with a rich, lush palate bursting with stone fruit, citrus and tropical fruit.

Due to the warm climate, abundant rainfall and predominantly clayey soil, agriculture on dry land is the norm. This results in concentrated flavors and wines that reflect the location and vintage.

Chardonnay is the king of this relatively remote region where Captain Cook first landed in the Northwest.

Chardonnay land in Hawkes Bay. Image: Holy Hill

Hawkes Bay

Hawkes Bay Chardonnay borders on luxurious, but precisely calibrated acidity and minerality balance the rich potential of the variety.

A flagship of the region, good examples show great drive and concentration on the palate, medium to full body and elegant structure.

The pure fruit flavors lean toward peach, nectarine and grapefruit, while the barrel-aged characters offer cashew and brioche.

The creamy, softening effect of malolactic fermentation is a stylistic choice, and there is increasing emphasis on not overusing oak. The refreshing ocean influence provides a crisp, acidic backbone that keeps the body lean and mean and allows the syrupy minerality to shine. The upper sub-regions are coastal regions: At Awanga, Tukituki Valley and Esk Valley.

Chardonnay is the most difficult and useful white grape to work with. Sensitive to the soil, the climate, the hand of the vine, its expressiveness is unlimited, its ability to harmonize with a well-chosen oak legendary. I truly believe that NZ Chardonnay has the integrity, depth, power and finesse to delight wine lovers around the world.
– Tony Bish, Tony Bish’s Wine…

Dry River Organic Vineyards and Winery in Martinborough, produces super elegant and ripe Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Aromas. Image: Dry river

Martinborough/Wairapa

Martinborough Chardonnay is characterized by bright stone fruit aromas (white peach, nectarine), medium-bodied wines, but with a deep texture and an underlying mineral component. A delicate balance of weight, lift and acidity tension keeps the palate long and lean for a superior food blend.

The best Martinborough Chardonnays are elegant wines rather than blockbusters. They are excellent candidates for the cellar and always get better as they age.

The Martenborough Chardonnay stands alongside world-class Pinot Noir and reflects in its character and style the cooler climate and free-flowing soil.

Sunny days and cool coastal nights make Marlborough the ideal growing region for ripe Chardonnay. Image: Jules Taylor.

Marlborough

Cool Climate Chardonnay Marlborough is concentrated, complex and lightly balanced. More citrus than big tropical fruit, the pristine fruit shines through the careful use of oak. To some extent malolactic fermentation is necessary to temper the acidity characteristic of Marlborough.

The mild maritime climate, long sunny days and daily temperature variations allow the Chardonnay to mature slowly, concentrating the aromas while maintaining a lively acidity. Sauvignon Blanc has put Marlborough on the map, but Chardonnay is on the rise.

Nelson, rustic yet refined, produces some of New Zealand’s finest chardonnays. Image: Rome Grove

Nelson

Nelson Chardonnays have a distinct minerality and texture. Growing conditions are similar to those in neighbouring Marlborough, resulting in pure fruit for elegant wines.

The glacial clay soils contribute to the pure stone fruit and citrus character, the minerality of the wet rock and the high acidity that lingers and develops on the palate.

Despite these regional characteristics, the reality with Chardonnay is that there is a lot of influence on its production.

I think New Zealand produces some of the best Chardonnays in the world, largely due to the climate, soil and creative nature of the Kiwis.
– Patrick Stowe, Rimu Grove Winery.

Soil, climate and environment to produce a Chardonnay that rivals the best in the world. Image: Greystone

North Canterbury

Kiwis don’t brag, but they are right when they say that North Canterbury is one of the best regions in the world for premium, very fresh Chardonnay.

The impeccably clean, ripe fruit is partly due to the long, dry summer and persistent north-westerly winds (New Zealand’s version of the mistral). Thanks to the cool nights and proximity to the Pacific Ocean, the purity of the fruit is preserved and balanced by fresh acidity.

These conditions make the Chardonnay extremely balanced, generous and structured, but never bloated.

Moreover, North Canterbury has the most desirable soil of all – limestone – and the region’s best wines are heavily influenced by it, with great elegance and minerality. It’s deep.

Exceptional terroir and traditional, artisan winemaking are synonymous with superior Chardonnay. Image: Carrick

Central Otago

Central Otago is the world’s southernmost wine region and is best known for its Pinot Noir. But where the quality of Pinot increases, so does that of Chardonnay!

This is especially true in the south, where the dry mountainous terrain provides a unique climate, aspect and elevation for variations in the cool climate. Central Otago Chardonnays are well-structured, with bright citrus and mineral characters.

Jenn Parr of Wild Earth Wines points out that with our cool nights and long hours of sunshine, it’s easy to age a Chardonnay with a lower brix (sugar content), while maintaining its natural freshness through higher acidity. Most producers are very careful to use new oak to allow the beautiful purity of the fruit to shine through. Central Otago Chardonnay tends to be balanced, long and mature, but is also very enjoyable as a young wine.

Veteran New Zealand winemakerTony Bish is so passionate about chardonnay that he has dedicated his entire Naples city winery to the quirky quest for it, eggs and all. Image: The wines of Tony Bish

to and from New Zealand

New Zealand winemakers are clearly passionate about finding the ideal Chardonnay. An investment of time, money, generations and wine philosophy in its creation. The land itself is their best tool, and they let it express an amazing range of statements in the bottle.

Chardonnay is one of the best known and most widely distributed wines, but with all the options available, a dip in New Zealand’s waters offers a fresh and unique perspective.

frequently asked questions

What is the best white wine in New Zealand?

The best white wines of New Zealand | Wine Enthusiasts

Where does the best Chardonnay come from?

Although chardonnay is grown all over the world, it is best known in the wines of its native Burgundy and the iconic vineyards of California. Burgundy Chardonnay can range from Chablis du Nord to Pouilly-Fuissé.

What is the best wine in New Zealand?

9 great New Zealand wines that aren’t Sauvignon Blanc.

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