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Wine of the Week for week ending 3 November 2002
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Tiritiri Reserve Chardonnay 2001
Gisborne, New Zealand

When I first heard of Tiritiri Chardonnay I immediately thought of Tiritiri Island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf. I'm an Auckland girl, you see. But I was way off the beaten track for Tiritiri is also the name of a limestone hill about 18 kilometres up the Waimata Valley in Gisborne. This seems to be no beaten track either although the Waimata Valley was popular with UFO spotters about 25 years ago.

Here in the natural amphitheatre of the peaceful valley with the peak of Tiritiri watching over them, organic farmers Judy and Duncan Smith (pictured) nurture their tiny vineyard of chardonnay vines along with their pecans, olives and sustainable vegetable crops. With just 0.27 hectares of their 9.2 hectare property in vines, they are one of the smallest vineyards in New Zealand.

I had my first taste of a Tiritiri Chardonnay earlier this year when a student bought a bottle of the 1999 vintage wine along to my chardonnay wine class. It was indeed impressive.

Then just this weekend, while in Gisborne to experience the ups and downs of the Gisborne Wine and Food Festival, I came across the Tiritiri Chardonnay again. This time it was the Tiritiri Reserve Chardonnay 2001 and I was impressed. It is a wine that boasts about the quality of chardonnay from this region that the locals call the 'Chardonnay Capital of New Zealand'.

2001 turned out to be a difficult season for Gisborne chardonnay in general. Just as the vines were nearing ripening the warm humid rains came - and stayed and stayed and stayed. In many cases the early ripening chardonnay grapes were panic picked - must earlier than they should have been.

But with a small vineyard like Tiritiri and with their open canopy that allows the air to circulate, panic picking was not on the agenda. The Tiritiri Chardonnay shows no signs of being affected by the weather. The hand picked grapes were handed to winemaker John Thorpe for whole bunch pressing and barrique fermentation. The wine spent 10 months on yeast lees.

The result is a wine that is lemon gold in colour. Attractive grapefruit leesy scents are accentuated with lemon-scented oak. There's a myriad of fruit flavours in the mouth, from citrus to stone fruits with apricot and nectarine while tropical fruit flavours topped off with grilled pineapple, linger. There's plenty of spicy oak that is beautifully balanced to the fruit and the mealy richness of the finish is long and satisfying. With just 12 % of alcohol by volume, this is a refreshing and delicious chardonnay that will please many lovers of this grape variety. I think it is ready to drink now - over the months of summer 2002/2003.

Tiritiri Reserve Chardonnay may be hard to find but not impossible. Find out more about Tiritiri Estate and where to buy from their website.

© Sue Courtney

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