Each year at the Nelson Winegrowers annual dinner The Colin Harrison Memorial Trophy is presented to the producer of the region’s top Chardonnay. I have had the pleasure of being one of the trophy’s judges for many years, it is something I look forward to each year because I get to try beautiful Chardonnay wines produced in this region.
The only criteria for entry are that the wines have to be made from fruit grown in Nelson and they have to be commercially available, so we had several vintages entered in this year’s competition.
This year’s judging ended with one of the toughest decisions we judges have had to make for many years, probably the toughest in the time I have been judging this small competition; deciding a winner between the final two wines took almost half an hour of backwards and forwards discussion.
Both wines are fantastic in their own way but we had to make a decision so it was the tiniest difference in taste that was the deciding factor. One wine simply had slightly more fruit flavour in the very long finish, and by a tiny margin.
The late Colin Harrison was a real character who loved Nelson and, in particular, Nelson Chardonnay so when he died far too young this trophy was created in his honour.
The Nelson Winegrowers Association also appreciates the support restaurants in the region give them by having many local wines on their beverage lists so they like to have their annual dinner in a different restaurant each year, supporting the restaurants that support them. This year’s dinner was held at Forsters at Moutere Hills.
If you tried the food created by Alistair Forster when he and his wife Fiona ran the restaurant at the old Mahana winery you will know the quality they deliver in every little morsel of food, Alistair extracts beautiful flavours from wonderful local ingredients and delivers dishes that are simply works of art on plates made by local artist Royce McGlashen.
Moving their restaurant to the Moutere Hills Winery when Mahana Wines failed was a blessing in disguise, it may have been tough at the time but, with Lisa and Rusty from Moutere Hills, they have created a beautiful vineyard restaurant. They have created a premium restaurant facility that is a star on the Nelson wine trail.
At this year’s dinner organiser Patrick Stowe from Rimu Wine Bar wrangled old vintage wines from some of the region’s outstanding producers to serve with Forsters’ beautiful food. For example the first of four courses was Little River Cumulus cheese, smoked goats cheese, beetroot, olive crumble and a fennel croquette and it was paired with two Rieslings from the outstanding 2012 vintage – Greenhough Hope Vineyard Riesling and Rimu Grove Riesling.
Both are outstanding five-star wines that have matured nicely and developed a beautiful texture while still retaining fresh acidity. Both wines were perfect with the food.
The third course of Angus beef fillet, Riwaka truffle oatmeal, pulled brisket, bacon jam and charred broccolini was paired with 2006 Neudorf Home Vineyard Pinot Noir and 2010 Resurgence Pinot Noir. These are both stunning wines, the Neudorf has layers of complexity, delicate sweet fruit, soft toasty characters and fine tannins while the Resurgence is remarkable for the intensity of the fresh fruit flavours.
Again both are five-star wines and both were perfect with the beef in their own way.
The final course of Lemon curd, white chocolate, damson sorbet, flap jack and rose jelly was served with the 2008 Seifried Estate Sweet Agnes Riesling. While the dessert sounds incredible sweet and rich it wasn’t, the balance of flavours was perfect and the multi-award winning (including Best Sweet Wine in the world at the Decanter World Wine Competition) Sweet Agnes Riesling supplied the richness and acidity to make this another perfect pairing.
You may have noticed I missed the third course, that’s because it was Ora King salmon marinated in soy, meringue, cucumber and green tea gel and was served with the Colin Harrison Memorial Trophy-winning Chardonnay and of course I’m keeping that ‘til last.
When fellow judge Glen Cormier from Casa del Vino and I tasted through three flights of chardonnay we selected our top two from each flight for a final taste-off, we both thought we would be happy if any of the final six wines came out on top but we were surprised at just how difficult the final choice was, particularly between the final two wines – Old House Vineyards 2018 One Tree Chardonnay and Kahurangi Estates Mt Arthur 2018 Chardonnay – either would have been a very worthy winner.
Both of these producers have interesting little twists in their stories, Old House Vineyards is the new player on the block, the 2018 One Tree Chardonnay came from only their second vintage, so their label is off to a flying start.
On the other hand, Greg and Amanda Day recently sold the Kahurangi brand to four of their staff and their respective partners making this is a great start to this new venture.
It was the smallest difference that gave the Kahurangi Estate Mt Arthur Chardonnay 2018 the win for the Colin Harrison Memorial Trophy in 2019.
In recent years winemaking conditions have been challenging for Nelson wine producers, vintages have been mainly impacted by wet weather during harvest but despite the challenges thrown up by Mother Nature some exceptional wines have been produced in this region; and I’m really looking forward to tasting the finished products from the 2019 vintage because it has been a cracker vintage in the Nelson region.
I can highly recommend a visit to Forsters at Moutere Hills (www.forsters.co.nz) for stunning food in a beautifully relaxing vineyard environment and of course I can highly recommend you stop in at Tasteology at Kahurangi and check out the award winning Chardonnay, both are located in Upper Moutere.