Peter Ranscombe had a ring-side seat for this afternoon’s virtual clash between two chardonnay giants.
IN THE red corner: all the way from the southern hemisphere, the undefeated heavyweight champion of chardonnay, it’s Australia.
And in the blue corner, from the other side of the Tasman Sea, the upstart challenger looking to land a knock-out blow, it’s New Zealand.
As the contenders limber up in their corners, let’s take a look at the stats behind this epic encounter.
Australia has a clear weight advantage here – 21,442 of its 155,442 hectares of vines are turned over to chardonnay. That’s a whopping 13.8%.
Tiny New Zealand, on the other hand, weighs in with 3,222 of its 39,935 hectares dedicated to the variety, or about 8.1% – a clear reminder of just how important sauvignon blanc is to the Kiwis, up there at 63% of plantings.
What links these two wine-producing nations though is the Southern Ocean, with the cool air and waters of Antarctica sending icy blasts northwards to lengthen the grape-ripening season.
That cooling influence should create a more even playing field for this fight.
Australia will be trying to dispel any lingering memories of its 1980s oak-ladened chardies, with a reminder that fans don’t have to pick the splinters out from between their teeth after enjoying a glass.
New Zealand, meanwhile, will be trying to show it’s more than just a one-sauvignon-trick pony, just like it did with last summer’s pinot punch-up.
This is shaping up to be one mammoth tussle, as the referee checks his watch and dings the bell for the start of this match…
Round one – fight!
Australia lands the first blow with the 2018 Kooyong Wines Clonale Chardonnay (£20, My Somm), a great-value modern chardy from Mornington Peninsula, which sticks out across the mouth of Port Philip Bay, on the opposite shore from Melbourne.
Lemon curd, tinned pineapple, and light wood smoke on the nose give way to leaner green apple, lemon, and fresh pineapple on the palate, along with cream, butter, and a hotter white pepper finish.
New Zealand parries and returns fire with an upper cut featuring the 2018 Villa Maria Estate Single Vineyard Taylors Pass Chardonnay (£18, Wine Direct).
Don’t be put off by Villa Maria’s supermarket credentials – this is a serious, serious chardy from Marlborough in the heart of sauvignon country, with heavy woodsmoke weaving in and out between the lemon and apricot on the nose.
There’s juicy mandarin and well-balanced butter on the palate, plus a chewy, savoury finish.
Looks like it’s first blood to New Zealand.
Two evenly-matched opponents
Australia comes back swinging at the start of the second round though, with the impressive 2019 Bannockburn Vineyards Chardonnay.
It’s the most Bourgogne-like chardy on show, with heavier woodsmoke and cream on the nose, opening up to reveal a touch more peach and lemon curd.
Much more expressive on the palate, with tinned peach, more lemon curd, and plenty of creaminess – it’d be fascinating to see this age.
New Zealand’s final blow is the 2019 Neudorf Vineyards Rosie’s Block Moutere Chardonnay (£66, Specialist Cellars), with its tingling acidity and savoury elegance.
Gentle woodsmoke, lemon, and cream on the nose, with juicy concentrated lemon and apricot on the palate too.
It feels like infanticide to be unscrewing this bottle at such a young age – another one to watch after this bout is over.
And the winner is…
Neither nation has delivered a knock-out punch in this afternoon’s encounter, so let’s turn to the referee for the decision, and…
It looks like it’s a points-win for New Zealand, thanks to the Neudorf’s elegance and Villa Maria’s value for money.
The Aussies aren’t going to like that – but, with chardonnays of this quality, I’m sure they’ll soon be limbering up for the rematch.
Read more of Peter’s wine, beer and spirits reviews on his blog, The Grape & The Grain