Chardonnay hitting new highs in Marlborough

The name Marfell is a little like wine royalty in Marlborough where Sauvignon Blanc rules the roost, Chardonnay lags way behind and the Marfell family name is never far from a winery.

Meet one of the best known family members – Jamie Marfell, chief winemaker for Stoneleigh and a man who began as a trainee there in 1989.

His working life may have been spent pumping out ever growing volumes of Sauvignon Blanc but Chardonnay is the topic of our conversation when we do lunch in downtown Auckland one sunny summer day. Why? Because he is launching the third wine in the newish Stoneleigh Wild Valley wine brand.

Like the other wines in the range, machine harvesting is the order of the day when it comes to the grapes used to make most Stoneleigh Wild Valley Chardonnay, which we are tasting, and, yes, drinking and enjoying, too.

There are 3,200 hectares of Chardonnay producing grapes for wine  in New Zealand today compared to 21,011 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc. The vast majority of both are grown in Marlborough, despite the highlights of both wines from many other places, most notably Auckland (Chardonnay), Hawke’s Bay (both), Martinborough (both) and North Canterbury (both but also outstanding Rieslings and Pinot Noirs).
And so to these new wines.

The 2015 Stoneleigh Wild Valley Chardonnay is, in my view, a steal when discounted to $14.99 and, even at its full recommended retail of $18.99 (which most supermarket wine aisles seem to ignore completely these days), it represents extremely good value for money.
Why ‘extremely good value’?

Because the quality of this wine outstrips its relatively low price tag. This wine was 100% fermented in oak and in two different types of oak – 31% in French oak with the remainder being in a mix of French and Hungarian oak barrels.

The aim was to tighten up this Chardonnay by harvesting slightly earlier than usual – in a bid to ensure there was more acidity in the grapes (and therefore more freshness in the wine) than in many other Marlborough Chardonnays previously produced. For this reason, the wine was made from grapes that were harvested earlier but matured for longer and therefore the wine was launched six months later than the first Stoneleigh Wild Valley wines – Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

By way of contrast, the 2015 Stoneleigh Latitude Chardonnay was  100% fermented in oak but 45% of it was new oak, so the bells and whistles are bigger and more out there in this full bodied, flinty Chardonnay.

It may be the last thing you expect to hear from anyone working for a large global company, but the word freedom is never far from Jamie Marfell’s discussion of his role at Pernod Ricard NZ. It may sound nice, but it tastes even better, as these interesting new wave New Zealand Chardonnays show.

The numbers

The statistics quoted above come from NZ Winegrowers’ annual survey 2016.

2015 Stoneleigh Latitude Marlborough Chardonnay RRP $22.59

2015 Stoneleigh Wild Valley Marlborough Chardonnay RRP $18.99

Author: Joelle Thomson

I am a wine writer, author and educator... first bitten by a big buttery Chardonnay on a dark and stormy night in the 1980s and there was no turning back... Follow my tastings and join some too on this new site.

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