For many Chardonnay lovers, fermentation in oak barrels is a large part of the wine's appeal. While the Burgundians have been doing it for centuries, in New Zealand it was only a relatively recent thing, with Paul Mooney's 1983 Mission Estate taking line honours as the first 100% barrel fermented style. It marked the beginning of the belle epoque for New Zealand Chardonnay, with Michael Brajkovich, John Hancock and Tony Bish some of the most celebrated winemakers of this style. Yet for all the benefits and joys of oak as a fermentation vessel, worldwide there has been experimentation with other methods, including larger volume barrels like fuders, as well as non-oak vessels like clay amphora and concrete eggs (where science and pseudo-science often collide). Many purists regard oak flavour in the wine as a necessary evil to reap the benefits of micro-oxygenation and lees aging, and something that should be minimised in the finest wines. But as with all things, there is room for many different opinions and methods, and Tony Bish's portfolio showcases many different points on the spectrum.
These wines we've selected here from Tony Bish represent two very different takes on Chardonnay. Heartwood, where French oak is to the fore and the Golden Egg, where oak is a mere after-thought. Yet both are full-bodied with plenty of creamy, biscuity lees and malo influence… it's a fascinating case study in winemaking that shows off Tony's 30 years' experience. Both wines are sensational – we've found it very hard to pick a favourite!
It's no surprise then that Tony Bish's new company continues to go from strength to strength. While still involved with his old friends the Masons at Sacred Hill, Tony has struck out on his own, creating a range of astonishing wines under his new eponymous label. Fat n Sassy is the best known, a fat, buttery style with mass appeal around $20/bottle, but the latest additions to Tony Bish Wines have stepped things up several notches. The focus of these wines is truly the fine wine market, and there is another Super Premium cuvee in the near future, fermented wholly in the spectacular $55,000 Taransaud Ovum. This mighty acorn-like structure takes pride of place in Tony's new urban winery in Napier, situated in the iconic National Tobacco Company building. Great wines, and a great new business – it's an exciting time for Tony Bish and for Chardonnay lovers. Watch this space… with a glass of Tony Bish Chardonnay in your hand, of course!
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