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Wine of the Week for week ending 9 December 2001
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Wither Hills Chardonnay 2000
Marlborough, New Zealand

Once upon a time the chardonnays of Delegats Estate were taking the world by storm. As well as the late Delegats Proprietors Reserve Chardonnay that tasted just superb, there was the marketing success of the Oyster Bay label used for Delegats Marlborough-sourced wines label. And one of the key reasons for success was that the wines tasted good, a success bought about largely by one man, Brent Marris.

Now this young Marlborough born and raised winemaker is doing it again, and this time it is with his very own brand, Wither Hills.

Wither Hills has been around for quite a while if anyone follows competition results they will know of the success that Brent has realised since his first wines were released in 1994. And since he left Delegats in 1997, he has been able to direct his pursuit of perfection entirely towards his own label.

In 1999 he won the Champion Wine of the Show at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards for his Wither Hills Pinot Noir 1998.

Then followed the unprecedented success of the Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2000. With a total of 10 trophies to date, it is New Zealand's most awarded Sauvignon Blanc ever.

There have been no trophies for the Wither Hills Chardonnay so far, but watch this space, if the Wither Hills Chardonnay 2000 is anything to go by.

Now I'm fussy about chardonnay, as anyone who knows me knows. I don't like wines too oaky, nor do I like wines too milky or insipid. But when I tasted the Wither Hills Chardonnay from the vintage of 2000, I knew I was onto something special.

It is quite well coloured for such a young wine, possibly due to the use of new oak and lees stirring. But shut your eyes and take in those attractive aromas of spicy, 'vanilla custard' oak.

Then taste the wine and you are in for a treat. The flavours are beautifully ripe with peach and melon at first, then a mealy, biscuity richness and classy honeyed oak. The wine is full and long with a creamy softness on the palate. I imagine vanilla custard with canned apricots and their juice. Or perhaps it's a caramel creme brulee? Then those stonefruit characters take over and linger for ages.

This is definitely a wine of that's full of flavour and later as I sip, I taste citrus and a lingering flavour reminiscent of dried fruits like pineapple and papaya. Then later still, a couple of days later that is, the wine is warm, lemony and leesy with the lift of ripe grapefruit and the lingering taste of baked apricot.

It is simply a lovely integration of ripe fruit, classy French oak and winemaking wizardry.

I wonder about the long-term age-ability of this wine, however the winemaker says the wine will be stable even though the colour is dark. As it tastes so delicious now, I would suggest to enjoy now and over the next two or three years.

Now for the technical stuff -

The wine is made from 100% estate grown, Mendoza chardonnay grapes picked at 24 Brix from the base of Marlborough's Wither Hills. The hand picked fruit underwent 100% barrel fermentation and 20% malolactic fermentation and matured for 12 months in French oak with 100% lees stirring. It contains 14.0% alcohol, 7.2 grams per litre of acid and 2.4 grams per litre of residual sugar.

It should be fairly widely available in New Zealand and if you are choosing a Chardonnay for Christmas Day, this is one you should consider. It costs about the NZ$28.95 mark.

Check out the Wither Hills website for more information.

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