Oyster Bay Marlborough Chardonnay 2005
Please do not make the mistake of drinking this big Chardonnay too cold. You might not
prefer white wines at room temperature as I do, but anything more than a light chill will tend
to downplay the aromatic fugue inherent in this effort from Marlborough on New Zealand's
South Island. You may need to do some legal research on this, but in the various overlapping
jurisdictions in which I live and work, no law states that white wine must always be
consumed chilled. If you allow this wine to speak without shivering, you will come to
appreciate a basket of fruit, beautifully packaged in a mineral substrate, with a creamy mouth
feel; a good deal of wine for $13.
Oyster Bay ferments half the Chardonnay in stainless steel, the other half in new and one-year-old French oak, with lees contact in both cases. The winemakers avoid malolactic fermentation in an effort to maintain the natural punch of the fruit. These, of course, are stylistic winemaking choices, and they work. You can tell that oak has been at work on this wine, but you cannot taste the oak per se. That is as it should be.
A straw-gold with glints of chartreuse, this Chardonnay has oodles of fruit, but the wine's minerality is first on the nose. I find it difficult to pin the minerality down to a single source, but it seems to at least make me muse back to the days I played with cap guns. The minerality makes way for fruit and texture on nose, palate, and on the crisp finish, but it refuses to retreat entirely. The key fruit on the nose is a ripe peach, with support from mango, lemon, and orange peel.
In the mouth, this dry wine has a lush creamy feel, but taste sensations steal the show. The peach is joined by apricot, the mango by pineapple, the orange peel by a faint touch of caramel. While well concentrated, the fruit flavors are also “horizontal” in that they communicate not just the essence of the fruit, but the fullness of the fruit's pulp. This is the kind of fruit that maintains its unflagging stamina without needing to taste like chewable Vitamin-C tablets.
Despite the forward character of the fruit, the wine has the mouth-filling wholeness I feel is
characteristic of Chardonnay, though the Oyster Bay is unquestionably a New World
manifestation of that grape. While the mineral lasts in every respect, the final word is direct
fruit acidity. You can get all these sensations, and more depending on your mood, if you
resist the urge to put this wine in the refrigerator.
Verdict: A Statement
New Zealanders are out there combining soil, climate and human enterprise, all for the benefit of wine.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman