This was a case of History that will Never Repeat. Cooks Wine Co. was the darling of the new age of wine in Kiwiland. This 'corporate' winemaker had a space-age winery at, of all places, Te Kauwhata, south of Auckland. The first releases buzzed the industry and the keen wine drinker with odd and new varietals, and in 1980 released a stunningly different, ground-breaking oak-aged Chardonnay using voluptuous fruit from Gisborne. The wine went on a gold and trophy winning spree, and came to rival the McWilliams version of that grape.
I drank the last of the 1980 long ago, watching a case develop over the years. Of course, we've all moved on to tighter fruit, barrel-ferment, whole bunch press, wild yeasts, MLF and lees. But at least oak aging was a step in the right direction.
This little vertical was thus a piece of history, that will never be repeated. Well, Cooks is long gone - swallowed up by Corbans, which in turn was acquired by Montana, whch was taken by Allied Domecq, which was bought by Pernod Ricard. What next?
The 1982 Cooks Premium Varietal Chardonnay came from Gisborne fruit too. 12.1 alc, and cost $12.88. Now a little grubby, but with cool, melon notes and savoury oak dominating. Identifiably Chardonnay. So too was the 1983. This went gold at the 1983 National Wine Competition. Fruit dried out, leaving sweet, coconutty, new American oak. Almost modern and fresh in an old-fashioned way. This reflected the warmer vintage at 13.5% alc. The 1984 took gold at the 1984 NWC. Fruit all gone dry and toasty, more like an aged Riesling, but sweetened by oak too. High acid and rather sour. Reflecting the cool vintage. Then a change of tack with the 1985 Cooks 'Private Bin' Hawke's Bay Chardonnay. Obviously looking for elegance and a finer fruit source. But that more delicate fruit could not have handled the US oak as well. Hotter year too. Oxidised, VA lift and barley sugar. Botrytis? It went gold at the 1986 Easter Wine Show. Surprisingly, as the wines got younger, they appeared more golden.
What of the best Kiwi Chardonnays made now? Will they last over 25 years like these? This sort of history won't be repeated for sure!