Chardonnay has remained a staple favourite in Asia, enjoyed by the glass and bottle in bars and restaurants and its popularity shows no sign of abating despite New World Sauvignon Blancs gaining traction and with sommeliers increasingly selecting lesser-known varieties to spice up their lists.
The eight judges for the drinks business Hong Kong’s Chardonnay Masters – Asia 2019 were split into two panels. One was led by Master Sommelier Darius Allyn, co-chair of the event, the other, by myself.
In the Unoaked Under HK$200 category Allyn thought South African De Wetshof Estate’s Bronze Medal-winning Limestone Hill 2018 was a fresh entry-level wine “with citrus and creaminess, with some intenseness and a soft and round pleasing style”. Of the Bon Vallon 2018, a Silver medallist from the same producer, Allyn said it had, “more aromatics, higher acidity, and clarity of fruit – I wish it had a little more on the finish”. On the same panel, Ken Man, buyer and fine wine specialist at Ginsberg+Chan said Bon Vallon had, “a decent amount of fruit, a decent wine for that pricing.”
Cavit’s Italian Mastri Vernacoli Chardonnay Trentino DOC 2018 (Silver medal) struck a chord with David Jones, senior account manager at Berry Bros & Rudd: “It built on the palate, with nice balance,” he said. Of Helan Mountain Premium Collection Fruity Chardonnay Wine 2017 (Bronze medal) from Pernod Ricard (Ningxia) Winemakers, Anty Fung, wine pecialist and manager of Hip Cellar, said: “Red apples and green apples and its soil character adds to an interesting balance.”
In the ‘Oaked Under HK$100’ flight, wine columnist Sarah Wong said of Marisco Vineyards’ Leefield Station Chardonnay 2017 (Bronze medal) from New Zealand: “I found citrus on the nose, it was a light and elegant in style, with good balance and finish.”
‘The Ned Chardonnay 2017’, also from Marisco Vineyards was favoured by Jeremy Stockman, general manager at Watsons Wine, who said, “it was a lighter style – crisp, vibrant, with grapefruit and I liked the touch of matchstick from the wood”.
Also taken with this wine was Terry Wong, retail manager and sommelier at Ginsberg+Chan: “There were melon and apple notes and minerality – it seemed good value at this price,” he noted. It bagged a Silver medal.
In the ‘Oaked HK$100-150’ category, of the De Bortoli Wines’ Villages Chardonnay 2017 from Australia, Jones noted its intensity, and said it was in balance.
Again from De Bortoli Wines, The Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2017 Allyn found more aromatic and intense. Fung said it was more extracted as well as lightly spicy. Both wines took Bronze medals.
In my panel, Bronze-winner Australian Vintage’s McGuigan Cellar Select Chardonnay 2017 drew praise from Sarah Wong, who said: “It slowly opened up, it was creamy with a buttery fairly long finish and was elegant.” Stockman most liked the Distell Fleur du Cap Series Privee Chardonnay from South Africa, which also picked up a Bronze; “its notes are on the bigger side with peach and melon rind in there, and a long finish with texture, which in this bracket worked very well,” he said. Terry Wong and myself were quite taken with Australian Vintage’s Silver-Medal Tempus Two Copper Wilde Chardonnay 2015: we both noted its citric and tropical fruit, with good length.
Onto the ‘Oaked HK$150-200’ category, where jones remarked on the “energy” and “lift” of Treasury Wine Estates’ Penfolds Max’s Chardonnay 2017. Allyn liked the “lifted aromatics” of this wine. Alynn’s panel all liked the McGuigan Shortlist Chardonnay 2017 from Australian Vintage – “it shows a lot of purity, structure and balance,” he said. Both wines took Silver medals, as did Distell’s Plaisir De Merle Chardonnay 2018.
Greywacke Chardonnay 2010 from New Zealand picked up a Gold Medal in the ‘Oaked HK$200-300’ flight. Sarah Wong commented: “It had structure, it was powerful and balanced, with struck matchstick and good intensity of fruit on the palate and a very long finish.” Stockman was keen on Vasse Felix Felius 2017 and Voyager Estate Chardonnay 2016 as well, both from Australia, and both of which won Silver medals. “They both had quite subtle complexity, with length on the finish. And I agree with Sarah on the [Greywacke Chardonnay], which I gave 91 points to; big in all aspects, so it remains very balanced.”
Terry Wong and myself were also fond of this robust balance – with him commenting it was made in a Burgundy style, with lots of minerality showing through. Terry Wong was also keen on Australian Vintage’s McGuigan Personal Reserve HR Chardonnay 2018 (Silver Medal), saying it had good length and acidity, with grapefruit and peach notes.
In the penultimate flight, Jones was drawn to Wakefield/ Taylors Wines’ ‘One Giant Leap 2017’, from Australia, which won a Silver. “Good intensity and good richness but balanced,” he opined, “but with some freshness to it.”
Man’s top wine from this grouping was La Motte Wine Estate’s ‘La Motte Chardonnay 2017’ – it took a Silver; “lovely citrus fruits, very good acidity, and very nice balance and finish,” he said. This was also Allyn’s flight-favourite – which he said was quite delicate, and he found One Giant Leap the most complex aromatically. Fang most preferred Wakefield/ Taylors Wines’ Jaraman Chardonnay 2019, a Bronze medallist. “It shows clarity, and fine citric fruit character with oak that’s not overpowering the fruit,” she said.
The judging concluded with wines above HK$500. The star of this group was Gold Medal-winning Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay 2017. My panel was unanimous on its notable high points. “It was elegant, tight, had good acidity, very restrained good fruit and a very long finish,” said Sarah Wong, who could have been speaking for us all.
“I thought the oak was extremely well handled,” added Stockman, “there was a nice cashew note to it and it was very well balanced with serious layers to it. It’s also still very tight and will improve with age.” Besides this wine, Terry Wong also praised Wakefield/ Taylors Wines’ St Andrews Chardonnay 2017, on its hints of “guava, lime and jasmine, with good acidity.”
Overall, with two Gold Medals awarded, 18 Silvers and 36 Bronzes at the end of the day, many at the long tasting table were looking forward to seeing more of these wines in the market.
Full results can be found on the following page.