Bottle Rockets: New Releases from New Zealand’s Cloudy Bay Winery Include a Killer Chardonnay

“I’m surprised,” says sommelier and EscapeHatch wine editor Jason Hisaw as he tastes the 2007 Cloudy Bay Chardonnay. “I know New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc well, but this Chardonnay caught me off guard. It reminds me of a good village Puligny Montrachet with a rich, creamy finish.”

“Wow,” I hear master sommelier Barb Werley say to herself, nosing then tasting the Chardonnay. (Werley is also a Hatch wine contributor.) “A lot of complexity here, with a bit of a Burgundy edge.”

The three of us are sitting across from Tim Heath, the lead winemaker at New Zealand’s Cloudy Bay winery. Heath was in town to introduce his newly released line-up.

You probably know Cloudy Bay and their bracingly tart Sauvignon Blancs. Maybe you’ve had a bottle or two of their Pinot Noirs, too. Heath wants you and me to know that Cloudy Bay is more than a one (or two) trick pony.

Their 2007 Chardonnay, for example, tastes surprisingly youthful and hits all the right notes: fresh yet restrained acidity, rocky minerality, lots of fleshy, perfectly ripe green and yellow apples, lemon, lime and a bit of citrus zing.

It’s easy to like this wine, even easier when paired with oysters, roasted chicken or shellfish. I loved its toasty, savory notes, which are partially the result of Heath’s use of wild yeasts and aging in old oak barrels. Heath’s also employed enough malolactic fermentation to wrap all that complexity inside a lovely creamy texture thats more refreshing than bracing or buttery.

In fact, there wasn’t a single wine in the half-dozen we tried that wasn’t surprisingly well-made. I’ve already written about Cloudy Bay’s Te Koko, a soft, creamy, off-dry Sauvignon Blanc — crafted with wild yeasts then aged in oak barrels for 18 months — that will turn your idea of kiwi Sauv Blanc upside-down. The 2009 Te Koko is no different.

“Where typical New Zealand Sauv Blanc is linear and a straight line” says Heath, ” Te Koko is all about curves and finesse.”

Cloudy Bay’s pretty, aromatic 2008 Late Harvest Riesling, a boytritized wine that reminded me of juicy apricot marmalade, and their 2010 Pinot Noir, crafted in a Burgundian style with ripe fruit and nice minerality, will find a place in my cellar.

Heath echos other Kiwi winemakers I’ve met recently who say the current darling of Down Under isn’t Sauv Blanc but rather Pinot Noir, a varietal that many predict will eventually replace SB as NZ’s star, though it will not come cheap.

Given New Zealand’s short growing seasons and high production costs, Heath says,  NZ wines “will never be able to compete on price. The yield is low and costs are high, so we have to keep our focus on quality.”

You’ll find a wide selection of Cloudy Bay’s wines at area Sigel’s stores.