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Wine of the Week for week ending 14 December 2003
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Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay 2002
Martinborough, New Zealand

It's time to plan for Christmas Day. Here in New Zealand school is out for the summer and there are reminders everywhere that there are only so many shopping days left 'til Christmas. Before you know it there'll only be a couple of days to go with a last minute panic for presents. I'll probably be one of those while others will be packing their cars for the mad rush to the beach to beat the traffic to the holiday home or the camping ground. Then the big day arrives and youíre woken with the birds as the kiddies excitedly wonder what presents are in store for them. Itís Church for some and then the feasting begins. The traditional ham and the less traditional turkey, new potatoes, loads of salads, pavlova and strawberries, trifle and Christmas Pud. The inevitable afternoon nap then feasting some more.

Christmas is a time for families to be together. I get the gist from the US wine discussion boards that Christmas is not globally politically correct. The folks there politely refer to the season as 'the holidays'. Well, there has to be a reason for the holidays and here in New Zealand Christmas Day is very much a focus of the season.

Our family has traditionally had a low key Christmas, perhaps a picnic at the beach if the weather is kind.

We never drink much on Christmas Day, mainly because we have to drive. So whatever we open will be something a little special, a luxury wine, a Christmas treat. It'll be a lunchtine feast so I donít want anything too red and heavy.

Riesling is super with ham and for my ham with a pineapple juice and brown sugar glaze I'll be taking a Riesling, a low alcohol, sweetish, fruity Riesling like a Pegasus Bay. But I'll also want a glass of a deliciously rich full-bodied Chardonnay. There are so many superb choices from the 2002 vintage, the show results tell the story. But I'm leaning towards one of the classics. I love the Kumeu River Matť's Vineyard Chardonnay 2002, perhaps the best they've ever made but I think Iíll leave that one to mature for a while. And then there's the stunningly fantastic Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay 2002 from Nelson.

But the one that really takes my fancy is the Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay 2002 from Martinborough. I've never been able to understand this wine in the past but the 2002 vintage is different. I smelt it. I tasted it. I wanted more.

Appealing from the outset with its honey gold colour, its creamy caramel aroma of ripe stonefruit and figs, it is rich, mealy, creamy smooth and savoury. There's a funky wild yeast influence with caramel, like caramel corn though nowhere near as sweet and layers of grapefruit, pineapple and melon with smoked savoury meats. A rich wine, a big-full-bodied wine, a mouthfilling wine, a wine you can just about eat. Awe-inspiring stuff, itís very smart indeed.

Delicious to drink now and it will be fantastic with the Christmas Ham - or Turkey -but cellar if you want to; up to 2005 the winery recommends. Ata Rangi have joined the screwcap revolution so there's no fear of cork taint when you open the bottle, just beautiful chardonnay the way winemaker Oliver Masters intended.

The wine is made from Mendoza clone Chardonnay from the Craighall vineyard on the Martinborough Terrace, hand picked and whole bunch pressed into French oak, (35% new), with 100% malolactic fermentation and matured on yeast lees for 9 months. It carries 14% alcohol by volume.

It's simply a gorgeous wine to hunt around and find to serve on Christmas Day. You'll find it in top restaurants - if you see it order it, you wonít be disappointed - and at discerning wine stores.

It costs about $38 on mail order from the winery and I've seen it up to $45 in retail. Is it worth the bucks? Most definitely.

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© Sue Courtney
7 December 2003

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