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Nelson Chardonnays and Colin Harrison Trophy winner

In June I wrote about why Nelson Chardonnay wines are so good and why they offer different flavours depending on where the fruit is grown, and winemaking techniques used. I also talked about judging the Colin Harrison Memorial Trophy that is awarded to the region’s best chardonnay.

I help judge this competition and this year fellow judge and winemaker Jane Docherty and I tasted our way through 24 Chardonnays entered by wineries in the region, not every winery chose to take part but those who did made sure we had a tough job.

As I have said previously the only real requirements for entry are that the wines need to be made in Nelson from fruit grown in the region and be commercially available. This year’s entries included wines from the 2018 vintage to the recently bottled 2020 vintage and included a big range of styles and price points.

For the last couple of years Old House Vineyards has been placed second in the competition with fruit grown on their vineyard in Old House Road and turned into delicious wine by winemaker Pat Stowe. Owners, Ian Bathgate and his wife Jeanne relocated from the U.K. with their two sons several years ago and bought a former Spencer Hill vineyard.

Old House Vineyards is the realisation of a dream for this family who looked at almost every wine producing country before deciding Upper Moutere is where they wanted to create a future for themselves, and it has turned out to be an exciting future.

James, Jeanne, Ian and John Bathgate in their Old House Vineyard (Photo- Braden Fastier – Stuff & Nelson Mail)

The wines they produce reflect everything that is great about Nelson Chardonnay –full-bodied with wonderful ripe fruit, linear minerality in the background from the Moutere Clay soils and persistent ripe acidity to balance the delicious fruit. The perfect use of oak and malo enhance the flavours of the fruit rather than competing with them.

It is this consistency and attention to detail that saw Chardonnays from Old House Vineyards take out 1st and 3rd spots in this year’s Colin Harrison Memorial Trophy that was presented at the annual Nelson Winegrowers dinner held at Harvest Kitchen at Seifried Estate last Friday evening.

Unfortunately I was unable to attend the dinner this year, but it is one I usually look forward to because winemakers know how to pair wines with food and at this dinner they always strive to provide thought provoking pairings.

For example, after starting with a glass of vibrant yet rich Kahurangi Estate 2017 Blanc de Blanc bubbles on arrival guests got to enjoy an entree of Harvest Chicken Liver Pate with Rose Jelly, Apple Chutney & Toasted Brioche that was paired with a 2018 Chateau de Berne (Southern France), Cotes de Provence Blanc (Rose) and 2019 Sebastiani Zinfandel, from Sonoma County in American.

The top three wines in the competition were served with a choice of three different dishes; Twice Cooked Pork Belly, Apple Sauce & Red Wine Jus or Harvest Hot Smoked Salmon with Herb Crème Fraiche or Harissa Spiced Lamb with preserved Lemon Yoghurt Sauce. To my way of thinking these are all great dishes to serve with Nelson Chardonnay and a little of the Zinfandel on the side.

Dessert of White Chocolate Rosemary Crème Brulèe with Biscotti and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream sounds like a perfect dish to pair with the outstanding Seifried Estate 2019 Sweet Agnes Riesling. Finishing with a Selection of Little River Cheeses served with a decadent Krohn Port sounds like the perfect end to a great night of fine dining. And I’m even more envious of those who got to enjoy this annual dinner without me.

Here’s my thoughts on the top three wines at this year’s Colin Harrison Memorial Trophy for the region’s top Chardonay:

Ian Bathgate from Old House Vineyards and co-judge Jane Docherty with the Colin Harrison Memorial Trophy

The winning wine is the Old House Vineyard 2018 One Tree Chardonnay that has rich, opulent, creamy aromas with a full-bodied, rounded mouthfeel. Lovely intense stone fruit flavours are balanced with the perfect use of new and old oak and some creamy malolactic fermentation. The little extra age on the wine has allowed all the characters of the wine to evolve into a harmonious taste experience.

In second place was the Waimea Estate 2019 Chardonnay. This wine has aromas of fresh lemon/lime and crème brulèe while the flavours are packed with mandarin citrus flavours enhanced by firm oak flavours and malo richness. The wine is seamless in the mouth with nice juicy, ripe acidity in the finish.

Another wine form Old House Vineyards, their 2020 One Tree Chardonnay took third place, a winery taking out the top two places has never happened before in this competition and is a reflection of the dedication to excellence in the vineyard and winemaking. Similar in flavours to the 2018 version the acidity in this wine is a little softer making it perfect drinking right now, it’s a delightfully elegant wine.

With one wine from three different vintages taking out the top three placings this competition shows that without doubt the Nelson region has the perfect blend of soil types and climate to make it one of New Zealand’s consistently top Chardonnay producing regions.

Published in the Nelson Mail 06-10-21

I have been writing a regular wine column for The Nelson Mail newspaper since 2000.

Unfortunately the column space is not big enough to include my thoughts on all of the many wines I taste. Hopefully this blog will fix that. It also gives me somewhere to archive the many columns I write. I will also include some favourite recipes from my dearly beloved who loves cooking and of course because wine and food simply go together. I will also point you in the direction of upcoming events and websites I think are great. Enjoy, Neil

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