It seems to rather befit an outfit with a slightly dualistic nature (think hedonistic party boys who also happen to produce some of the country’s finest wines) that their flagship chardonnays present a study of an almost Jekyll and Hyde nature. On one hand is the suave complexity that is the Riflemans, on the other is The Virgin which is… something else. The 2013 Sacred Hill Riflemans Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay (13.5%, $75) builds upon its already impressive pedigree; deceptively shy initially, its tightly wound core of ripe fruit opens up to reveal delicious layers of white peach, golden apple, bran biscuit, roasted cashew with a lovely lick of flint and citrus on the finish. Polished but with real character too, its richness and elegantly unfolding complexity also suggest great things still to come. Its fellow traveller in the Special Selection range is the 2013 Sacred Hill The Virgin Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay (12.5%, $30), which provides a fascinating contrast given its fruit also hails from the hallowed Rifleman’s Vineyard. A tight, fresh nose of rockmelon, white flowers and a hint of wet wool starts well, aligned nicely with the stated intent of delivering a ‘delicate, pristine style’ and of course we’re always keen indeed on the intellectual minerally approach, but in this instance have to take issue with the uh, firmness of the acidity on the palate which seems to depart from dry delicacy all the way on to austerity instead. Certainly, there’s a happy degree of fruit intensity there (citrus tones, natch) but it pulls up short and is just not quite a satisfying whole. I really like the idea, and granted it’s only half the price of the Rifleman’s but if you’re going to put a wine in your ‘super premuim Special Selection range’ then you really do need to make sure it’s more of the Jekyll, not the Hyde.
(photo = view from Rifleman’s Vineyard to Tutaekuri River)