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Pegasus Bay, Waipara Valley ChardonnayNorth Canterbury, New Zealand 2012 (750mL)

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Pegasus Bay, Waipara Valley Chardonnay North Canterbury, New Zealand 2012 (750mL)

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The world’s most compelling and age-worthy Chardonnays have hailed from the exclusive sphere of Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune and Chablis for centuries. Even with a recent burst of winemaking talent and breakout regions, it’s still tough to argue against that point, but a horde of “New World” examples are nipping at their heels and the very best are poised to outpace them.


That said, when today’s nine-year-old Chardonnay from New Zealand’s Waipara Valley hit our table, I’ll admit keeping an open mind wasn’t easy. After all, Waipara’s bone-chilling climate is most recognized for its vividly perfumed, laser-like Riesling. But with one taste, today’s 2012 Pegasus Bay Chardonnay promptly flipped that script and proceeded to blow our minds. Loaded with Sonoma-scale richness and Chassagne-style tension, this fully integrated, well-cellared gem comes deeply layered with exotic fruit spun around a salty, mineral core. At a dazzling $35 value, it begs the question: What other high-wire Chardonnay gems might be lurking in the wilds of Waipara?



Ivan Donaldson was 50 years ahead of us asking these very questions. In 1975, Ivan, a practicing neurologist, had fallen into a group of “nutters,” as he called them. This curious handful of medical colleagues, like-minded in their wine-hobbyist spirit, decided to plant a one-acre vineyard in Donaldson's backyard. It would become the first vineyard planted in modern-era Canterbury, located on the central east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Because of his amateur experience, Donaldson became the project’s winemaker and remained operating out of his home’s garage winery for 15 years. After several years of experimental production, he realized these environs were too consistently cold to fully ripen fruit, so in 1984 Ivan headed northbound 45 miles to the Waipara Valley in search of a vineyard site. 


Thanks to the coastal Teviotdale Hills range, the Waipara Valley is protected from the coast’s fierce winds and heavy rains and remains significantly warmer than the Canterbury plains. With this ideal combination, Donaldson eventually found and purchased a lower hillside property based in clay-limestone soils. Using plant material from the nursery of legendary Waipara viticulturist, Danny Schuster, Donaldson installed 50 acres of own-rooted vines and the Pegasus Bay estate was born in 1986. A small amount of wine was produced from young vine fruit in 1990 and the first official Pegasus Bay release was the 1991 vintage. Matt Donaldson, Ivan’s eldest son, produced his first vintage in 1992 at their newly built winery. It remains family operated to this day, and he’s been the winemaker at Pegasus Bay ever since.  
  
Today’s wine was made from the estate’s original ungrafted Chardonnay parcels, nearly 30 years old at the time of harvest. The vines are planted to well-drained, stony soils loaded with clay and limestone on a series of north-facing terraces. A warm-days, cool-nights site, it produces Chardonnay with profound concentration and depth. All the fruit was hand-picked in stages from late April to early May. Once sorted at the winery, the grapes were gently pressed and the juice was put into large, mostly older French oak puncheons where the wine underwent a natural primary fermentation. The wine remained in barrels on fine lees through malolactic fermentation. Once all completed, the wine was removed from its fine less and returned to barrels for additional aging prior to bottling.


In the glass, this 2012 displays a rich golden color with pale greenish yellow reflections. Enticing aromas of creamy yellow apple, brioche, lemon tart, smoked almonds, crushed stones and nougat create a complex bouquet. Despite nine years of evolution, the medium-bodied palate still exudes a taut character: Flavors of lemon peel, apricot, ripe nectarine and rich lees are bound to a still-fresh core of flinty, crushed-stone minerality. More Burgundian in its focus than New World in style, the wine’s well-integrated spicy oak element perfectly frames the multi-layered finish with a persistence that brings you back for more. To fully experience the wine’s savory nuances, enjoy it in your spacious Burgundy stems around 50 degrees after a 15-minute decant. A wine this balanced, fresh and flavorful is a rare occurrence, but one at this price is a shooting star you don’t want to miss.




Pegasus Bay, Waipara Valley Chardonnay North Canterbury, New Zealand 2012 - SommSelect

  • CountryNew Zealand
  • RegionNorth Canterbury
  • Sub-RegionWaipara Valley
  • SoilClay-Limestone
  • FarmingSustainable
  • BlendChardonnay
  • Alcohol13.5%
  • Oak30% New French

  • CountryNew Zealand
  • RegionNorth Canterbury
  • Sub-RegionWaipara Valley
  • SoilClay-Limestone
  • FarmingSustainable
  • BlendChardonnay
  • Alcohol13.5%
  • Oak30% New French
  • Temp.Serve at 50-55° F
  • GlasswareBurgundy Stem
  • DrinkingNow-2023
  • Decanting15 Minutes
  • PairingPan Roasted Bay Scallops