The best wines from the Chardonnay Masters 2020

Despite being a grape that is grown in all of the globe’s major winemaking areas, our judges tasted some pleasantly surprising examples from countries less known for their Chardonnay prowess. Read on for the results in full, including top medallists from California and the Western Cape, as well as Romania and Greece.

In the many years we’ve run the Chardonnay Masters, this year’s results were the best. Such a high tally of topscoring wines is testament to better winemaking, along with an improved decision making when it comes to picking times, ensuring grapes are harvested when neither under- or over-ripe. After all, Chardonnay can, easily it seems, veer into two extremes – it can be picked early to create something that lacks the juiciness that comes with fully ripe berries, or it’s harvested late to yield a wine with high sugars, and therefore burning alcohol levels, coupled with dried fruit flavours and a lack of freshness. In between such opposites there’s quite a wide spectrum of appealing Chardonnay styles, providing diversity to the varietally defined category. Add to this the influence of source area, and you have a complex selection of wines, even though they are all made with the same grape.

Not only was the quality this year higher than ever, but the range of regions broader than in the past, with countries making delicious Chardonnays including Mexico, Turkey and Greece – none of which are traditionally associated with fine examples of the grape.

As for the overall stylistic success of the Chardonnay being made in 2020, that comes down to more than picking times. This is a grape where practices in the cellar are key to the resulting wine’s quality, expression, and overall level of interest.

This concerns techniques to augment texture and flavour in Chardonnays through lees contact and management, and oak influence, along with the common practice of malolactic conversion, which sees the tart-tasting malic acids transformed into softer lactic ones under the action of bacteria.

Not all Chardonnays that eschew this latter process are unpleasantly acidic: some that undergo it can become unpalatable if, rather than taking on a creamy taste, they develop one that’s overtly buttery.

What about oak and lees? In both cases, these should impart an additional richness to the wine’s texture, and some complementary flavours, from nuts to toast, matchstick and vanilla. The wood influence in particular should be in harmony with the base wine; it should not mask the characters of the Chardonnay, and, in general terms, a stronger, juicier wine can handle a more powerful influence from barrels – or more new oak.

Then there are the lees to consider, a byproduct of the winemaking process that can be stirred to bring a nutty richness or left undisturbed to scavenge oxygen from the wine, and bring about ‘reductive’ flavours, which can be pleasingly, gently sulphuric – like a freshly struck match – or, if not managed properly, turn nasty, adding aromas similar to rotten eggs.

TEXTURE AND FRESHNESS

In 2020 the top-scorers managed to achieve something important for Chardonnay – a wine with texture and freshness. This is a grape that’s capable of producing white wines with a certain weight, along with cleansing natural acidity.

Neither I nor my fellow tasters rated the bony samples, even if they offered high levels of refreshment. There are plenty of grapes grown worldwide that suit a linear, taut wine style. To try and create such a wine type with Chardonnay not only means missing out on its capability to turn out something more generous, but also risks disappointing the consumer, who generally opts for this grape when seeking a textural style of white (Chablis being the exception, but chosen for its unique style, which is based on this region’s site and climate specifics, rather than the base variety).

Now, let’s consider the outstanding samples. With so many Golds this year, I’ve picked out some personal favourites and unusual discoveries from the tasting, but all of those listed in the tables will satisfy the Chardonnay lover.

In the sparkling category, a mention has to go to Kent producer Gusbourne, whose blanc de blancs really was a brilliant example of pure Chardonnay traditional method fizz, with a bit more fruit than you might find in the equivalent from Champagne, such as the excellent example we had from Ayala, but with no less freshness, or biscuity complexity.

Moving on to the still wines, and dropping down to sub-£10 Chardonnay, I was delighted to taste a really delicious, fruity, gently creamy sample in the unoaked category, which hailed from Casablanca in Chile, made by Morandé.

We also tasted a rare example of an outstanding (if pricy) unoaked Chardonnay, which was the Acero – meaning ‘steel’ in Spanish – from the Marimar Estate in Russian River Valley, a property owned by Torres.

Back to sub-£10, but in the oaked sector, it turned out we had awarded Jacob’s Creek Classic Chardonnay a Gold medal, confirming this really is a great big-brand bottle of Chardonnay for a bargain price.

Moving a little further up cost-wise, but not much, was a lovely cream, cashew and peach-flavoured Chardonnay from Romania, called Sole, and made by the reliable Cramele Recas.

Between £20 and £30, judging by the number of Golds awarded, this is a sweet spot price wise for fine Chardonnay, with the standout sample coming from Tempus Two in Australia’s Hunter Valley.

But the top scorers here were mostly from Australia, or California, although there were a few rivals from rather less likely sources, such as great bottles from Mexico (Vinicola San Lorenzo), and Turkey (Chamlija). Furthermore, there was a wonderful find from Alpha Estate in Greece, which was bright, toasty, textured and affordable.

Another source of excitement in this price band was a Gold medallist from pop star Kylie Minogue. Made for her by the first-rate Howard Park in Margaret River, this was the first time Kylie’s new-launch wine had been taste tested blind against its peers. Those who are sceptical about celebrity-backed wines should be reassured – this is a great glass of Chardonnay.

Chardonnay Master: Capensis from the Western Cape

BEAUTIFUL AND TEXTURED

Over £30 and we tasted a beautiful and textured Chardonnay from Daou in Paso Robles, and a more smoky, toasty type from Marisco in Marlborough. And at the very top end, over £50, the wow factor was certainly evident, in particular among the Californian Chardonnays of Stonestreet (Alexander Valley), Marimar (Green Valley) and The Barn (Sonoma County).

My highest scorer, however, hailed from South Africa. Capensis is a relatively new top-end white from the Western Cape, made by California’s Chardonnay experts, Jackson Family Wines. It’s outstanding, mixing creamy, toasty oak, and peach and apple fruit with the perfect Chardonnay texture: it’s soft and rich as it hits the tongue, zesty and bright as it slips down the throat, with a lovely lingering note of freshly roasted nuts.

It’s not cheap, at close to £100, but when viewed relative to the price of grand cru white Burgundy, which Capensis would rival for quality, it’s doesn’t seem so expensive either.

Please see the tables below, which feature all the medallists from this year’s competition.

Sparkling Chardonnay

Winery Name Region Country Vintage Medal
£30-£50
Centre Vinicole –
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte
Cuvée Spéciale Blanc de Blancs Champagne France NV Silver
Centre Vinicole –
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte
Collection Vintage Blanc de Blancs Champagne France 2014 Silver
£50+
Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs Kent UK 2015 Master
Champagne Ayala Le Blanc de Blancs Champagne France 2014 Gold

Unoaked Still Chardonnay

Winery Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
Viña Morandé Morandé Estate Reserve Chardonnay Casablanca Valley Chile 2019 Gold
Cono Sur Organic Chardonnay San Antonio Valley Chile 2019 Gold
Cramele Recas Paparuda Chardonnay Banat Romania 2019 Silver
Cramele Recas Umbrele Chardonnay Banat Romania 2019 Silver
Cramele Recas Brindle Ridge Chardonnay Banat Romania 2019 Silver
Mas la Chevalière L Chardonnay Languedoc-
Roussillon
France 2020 Silver
Vistamar Reserva Chardonnay Maule Valley Chile 2020 Silver
Mancura Etnia Chardonnay Central Valley Chile 2020 Silver
Mancura Guardian Chardonnay Maule Valley Chile 2019 Silver
Mancura Mito Chardonnay – Viognier Casablanca Valley Chile 2018 Silver
Barton & Guestier B&G Réserve Chardonnay Pays d’Oc France 2019 Silver
Globus Wine King’s Parrot Chardonnay SE Australia Australia 2019 Bronze
Santa Helena Varietal Chardonnay Central Valley Chile 2020 Bronze
Vistamar Brisa Chardonnay Central Valley Chile 2020 Bronze
£10-£15
Santa Helena Santa Helena Reserva Central Valley Chile 2020 Gold
Cramele Recas Sole Chardonnay Timis Romania 2019 Gold
Maso Grener Vigna Tratta Chardonnay Trentino DOC Trentino Alto-Adige Italy 2019 Silver
Viñedos Emiliana Adobe Chardonnay Casablanca Valley Chile 2020 Silver
Vignobles Bonfils Domaine de Cibadiès – West Side Languedoc Roussillon France 2020 Silver
Viña Morandé Morandé Gran Reserva Chardonnay Casablanca Valley Chile 2019 Silver
Vistamar Gran Reserva Chardonnay Casablanca Valley Chile 2019 Silver
Vistamar Corte de Campo Coastal White Casablanca Valley Chile 2018 Silver
Yedi Bilgeler Winery Anaxagoras Denizli Turkey 2020 Silver
Yedi Bilgeler Winery Anaxagoras Denizli Turkey 2019 Bronze
£15-£20
Bouchard Finlayson Sans Barrique Chardonnay Walker Bay South Africa 2018 Silver
Vinicola San Lorenzo Casa Madero Chardonnay Parras Valley Mexico 2019 Silver
Laroche L Chablis Burgundy France 2019 Silver
The Lane Vineyard The Lane Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Australia 2019 Silver
£20-£30
Giusti Wine Chardonnay IGT Trevenezie Dei Carni Veneto Italy 2019 Silver
Jean Leon Jean Leon 3055 Penedès Spain 2019 Silver
£50+
Viña Chocalan Chardonnay Reserva Maipo Valley Chile 2019 Gold
Marimar Estate Acero Russian River Valley USA 2018 Gold

Oaked Still Chardonnay

Winery Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
Viña Luis Felipe Edwards Luis Felipe Edwards Gran Reserva Leyda Valley Chile 2020 Gold
Jacob’s Creek Jacob’s Creek Classic Chardonnay SE Australia Australia 2019 Gold
Bodega Estancia Mendoza Chardonnay Oak Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Bronze
£10-£15
te Pa Family Vineyards Montford Estate Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Gold
Finca Albret Albret El Alba Navarra Spain 2019 Gold
Cono Sur 20 Barrels Chardonnay Casablanca Valley Chile 2019 Gold
te Pa Family Vineyards Pa Road Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Gold
L’Ecole No 41 Chardonnay Walla Walla Valley United States 2019 Gold
Doña Paula Winery Doña Paula Estate Chardonnay Uco Valley Argentina 2018 Silver
Marisco Vineyards The Ned Chardonnay Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Silver
Wakefield/Taylors Wines Wakefield Taylors Chardonnay Clare Valley/Padthaway Australia 2019 Silver
Glen Carlou Vineyards Glen Carlou Chardonnay Paarl-Simonsberg South Africa 2019 Silver
Jacob’s Creek Double Barrel Chardonnay Barossa Valley Australia 2019 Silver
Three Thieves Three Thieves Chardonnay California USA 2017 Silver
McGuigan Cellar Select Chardonnay Tumbarumba Australia 2019 Silver
Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva Chardonnay Limarí Valley Chile 2020 Silver
Cavit Bottega Vinai Chardonnay Trentino DOC Trentino Alto Adige Italy 2019 Bronze
Terrazas De Los Andes Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Chardonnay Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Bronze
Nepenthe Altitude Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Australia 2018 Bronze
£15-£20
te Pa Family Vineyards te Pa Chardonnay Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Gold
Santolin Wines Santolin Family Reserve Chardonnay Yarra Valley Australia 2019 Gold
Marisco Vineyards The King’s Legacy Chardonnay Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Gold
Domaine La Louviere La Souveraine Languedoc France 2019 Gold
Napa Cellars Napa Cellars Chardonnay California USA 2018 Gold
Bird in Hand Two in the Bush Chardonnay South Australia Australia 2019 Silver
Cavit Maso Toresella Chardonnay Trentino DOC Trentino Alto Adige Italy 2017 Silver
Matahiwi Estate Holly by Matahiwi Estate Chardonnay Hawke’s Bay New Zealand 2019 Silver
Matahiwi Estate Holly South Series Chardonnay Wairarapa New Zealand 2019 Silver
Marisco Vineyards Leefield Station Chardonnay Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Silver
Viña Luis Felipe Edwards Marea Chardonnay Leyda Valley Chile 2020 Silver
Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay California USA 2018 Silver
Vignobles Bonfils Domaine de Cibadiès – Le Jardin Languedoc Roussillon France 2019 Silver
The Lane Vineyard The Lane Beginning Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Australia 2019 Silver
McGuigan McGuigan Shortlist Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Australia 2018 Silver
Nepenthe Pinnacle Ithaca Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Australia 2018 Silver
Tempus Two Tempus Two Copper Chardonnay Hunter Valley Australia 2019 Silver
Bouchard Finlayson Kaaimansgat Crocodile’s Lair Chardonnay Walker Bay South Africa 2018 Bronze
Viña Aresti Trisquel Series – Vichuquén Curicó Valley Chile 2019 Bronze
Bodega Los Helechos Los Helechos Chardonnay Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Bronze
Viñedos Emiliana Signos de Origen La Vinilla Casablanca Valley Chile 2019 Bronze
Joel Gott Joel Gott California Chardonnay California USA 2018 Bronze
Tempus Two Tempus Two Copper Chardonnay Hunter Valley Australia 2018 Bronze
£20-£30
Tempus Two Tempus Two Pewter Chardonnay Hunter Valley Australia 2018 Master
Bird in Hand Bird in Hand Chardonnay South Australia Australia 2019 Gold
Vasse Felix Premier Chardonnay Margaret River Australia 2018 Gold
Uva Mira Moutain Vineyards The Mira Chardonnay Stellenbosch South Africa 2018 Gold
Cambria Estate Winery Cambria Katherine’s Chardonnay California USA 2018 Gold
Alpha Estate Ecosystem Chardonnay Single Block Tramonto Florina Greece 2018 Gold
Vinicola San Lorenzo Gran Reserva Chardonnay Parras Valley Mexico 2019 Gold
La Crema La Crema Monterey Chardonnay Monterey USA 2018 Gold
Hahn Family Wines Hahn Chardonnay Monterey USA 2018 Gold
Chamlija Felix Culpa Strandja Mountains Turkey 2019 Gold
Wakefield/Taylors Wines Jaraman Chardonnay Clare Valley & Margaret River Australia 2019 Gold
Howard Park Kylie Minogue Chardonnay Margaret River Australia 2019 Gold
te Pa Family Vineyards te Pa Reserve St Leonards Chardonnay Marlborough New Zealand 2018 Silver
Wakefield/Taylors Wines St Andrews Chardonnay Clare Valley Australia 2019 Silver
Wakefield/Taylors Wines Taylor Made Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Australia 2019 Silver
Azienda Vinicola Castelfeder Chardonnay Riserva Burgum Novum Alto Adige Italy 2017 Silver
Miguel Torres Chile Cordillera Limarí Valley Chile 2019 Silver
Tempus Two Tempus Two Pewter Chardonnay Hunter Valley Australia 2017 Silver
Tempus Two Tempus Two Pewter Chardonnay Hunter Valley Australia 2019 Silver
McGuigan Personal Reserve HR Chardonnay Hunter Ridge Australia 2018 Silver
Santa Rita Santa Rita Floresta Chardonnay Limarí Valley Chile 2019 Silver
Bouchard Finlayson Missionvale Chardonnay Hemel-en-Aarde Valley South Africa 2018 Silver
Sur Andino Altaluvia Chardonnay Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Bronze
£30-£50
Bird in Hand Nest Egg Chardonnay South Australia Australia 2019 Gold
Marisco Vineyards Craft Series The Pioneer Chardonnay Marlborough New Zealand 2015 Gold
DAOU Family Estates DAOU Family Estates Reserve Chardonnay Willow Creek USA 2019 Gold
Penfolds Chardonnay Bin 311 SE Australia Australia 2019 Gold
Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay Margaret River Australia 2018 Silver
Masciarelli Chardonnay Colline Teatine IGT Marina Cvetic Abruzzo Italy 2018 Silver
Chamlija Thracian Strandja Mountains Turkey 2018 Silver
Hahn Family Wines Hahn SLH Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands USA 2018 Silver
Familia Torres Sons de Prades Conca de Barberà Spain 2018 Silver
Nals Margreid Baron Salvadori Chardonnay Riserva Alto Adige Italy 2017 Silver
Penfolds Reserve Bin Chardonnay SE Australia Australia 2019 Silver
Jean Leon Jean Leon Gigi Penedès Spain 2017 Bronze
£50+
Capensis Capensis Western Cape South Africa 2016 Master
Stonestreet Winery Stonestreet Estate Chardonnay Alexander Valley USA 2016 Master
Marimar Estate Marimar La Masia Chardonnay Green Valley USA 2017 Master
Kenwood Vineyards The Barn Chardonnay Sonoma County USA 2018 Master
Tapanappa Wines Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Adelaide Hills Australia 2019 Gold
Bird in Hand Ted South Australia Australia 2018 Gold
Uva Mira Moutain Vineyards Uva Mira Chardonnay Stellenbosch South Africa 2018 Gold
Uva Mira Moutain Vineyards The Single Tree Chardonnay Stellenbosch South Africa 2018 Gold
Terrazas De Los Andes Terrazas de los Andes Grand Chardonnay Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Gold
Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay SE Australia Australia 2018 Gold
Château La Grâce Dieu des Prieurs Elena Saint-Emilion France 2019 Gold
Gran Moraine Yamhill-Carlton Chardonnay Oregon USA 2016 Silver
Hahn Family Wines Lucienne Lone Oak Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands USA 2018 Silver
Familia Torres Milmanda Conca de Barberà Spain 2017 Silver

About the competition

With high-quality judges and a unique sampling process, The Global Chardonnay Masters provides a chance for your wines to star, whether they hail from the great vineyards of Europe or lesser-known winemaking areas of the world.

The 2020 competition was held in December at 28-50 Wine Bar and Kitchen in Covent Garden, London, and was judged by David Round MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW and Patrick Schmitt MW. The top wines were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stood out as being outstanding in their field received the ultimate accolade – the title of Chardonnay Master. This report features the medal winners only.

Please visit The Global Masters website for more information, or, to enter future competitions – giving you the chance to feature online and in print – please call: +44 (0) 20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at: sophie@thedrinksbusiness.com

The judge’s view: Patricia Stefanowicz MW

“Sparkling Chardonnays are a wonderful way to approach the day. Though a minuscule group this year, and all expensive, the wines are glorious, demonstrating that traditional method sparkling wines made exclusively from Chardonnay are both exhilarating and worthy of attention. With bright flavours, lively acidity and textured mousse, these wines are, quite frankly, a wine lover’s delight.

The unoaked Chardonnays under £10 represent good everyday drinking. A notable surprise is the consistency and ‘quaffing ability’ of the Romanian wines. Chile’s delightful entry-level offering should also not be overlooked.

At higher price brackets there are some good, even very good, examples. Above £20, however, one has to ask, ‘Why so expensive?’ One supposes that low yields, selection in the vineyard (or winery) and careful production methods are the rationale, but producing unoaked Chardonnay is actually not that difficult in most regions around the world.

Oaked Chardonnays are what consumers normally expect, and there is much available to quench one’s thirst below £15. Silver and Gold awards abound with plenty of juicy orchard fruits, lively acidity and nicely judged oak balanced beautifully.

The group at £15-20 are far more variable. There are some lovely gems with yellow plums or peaches, zippy acidity and nicely integrated oak, but there are also wines which are ‘a disappointment.’ Sometimes, it seems, the wines are simply ‘trying too hard.’

As anticipated, oaked wines at £20-30 are a significant step up, showing layers of flavours, nicely defined fruit, and zesty acidity with nuances of nuts and spices from the judicious use of oak. Australia and California perform particularly well, but there are a few hidden treasures from South Africa, Chile, Turkey and Greece. Yum, yum!

And then we find the ‘mother-load’. Oaked wines above £30 are, quite simply, sensational. There are so many wines worthy of ‘diamond-status.’ While exhibiting orchard fruit flavours and smoky-toasty-vanilla oak in abundance, these wines have great freshness of gently citrus acidity, creamy texture across the palate, and incredible layers of aromatics and flavours that linger on the finish practically forever. The ‘stars’ are New World wines from the likes of Australia, California, Oregon and South Africa with a few surprises: delicious wines from Chile, Turkey and Spain.

If there were a slightly disturbing aspect to the Chardonnay Masters this year, it may be that there were very few European wines, especially at the top levels. So, one might wonder whether a reconstruction of the ‘Judgment of Paris’ might, yet again, be in order?

In conclusion, judging these wines is always a delight and a privilege with so many ‘practically perfect in every way’ wines on offer.”

The Chardonnay Masters – Asia 2020

The Chardonnay Masters – Asia 2020, which took place at Mr Wolf restaurant in Hong Kong’s Central district, saw a panel of five expert judges blind-taste more than 30 Chardonnays. The results showed that the wines on offer were diverse with attractive qualities.

One of the most widely planted grape varieties in the world, Chardonnay is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Versatile in style, the wine can pair well with an array of cuisines.

“Generally, it is smooth and gentle, with an aromatic profile that varies according to the region and climate where it is grown. In terms of the use of oak, over oaked Chardonnay is no longer the mainstream; instead, winemakers are using it in moderation to give their wines a buttery mouthfeel and toasty vanilla aromas,” said Zachary Yu, sommelier and director of SommTech.

The competition celebrated Wakefield Taylors One Giant Leap Chardonnay 2018, whih achieved the top accolade of a Master medal in the competiion. Judged in the Oaked Under HK$100 category, the wine offered exceptional value for its price point.

“The expression is very fresh with a bouquet of beautiful floral and citrus notes; the profile is very well balanced, especially the oak. With this price tag, the wine is a great surprise,” said Tersina Shieh, an experienced wine judge and marketer.

The overall 2018 vintage in South Australia’s Clare Valley was warm and dry. The weather was relatively calm and winemakers were spared from major heatwaves, resulting in the highly aromatic wines with very pure and distinct characteristics.

Two of the estate’s other Chardonnays, namely Wakefield Taylors Jaraman Chardonnay 2018 and Wakefield Taylors St Andrews Chardonnay 2018, were also recognised with Silver medals in the competition.

Margaret River estate Vasse Felix is another Australian winery the judges raved about in the competition, as it scooped two Gold medals. In the Oaked HK$151-200 category, Vasse Felix ‘Filius’ Chardonnay 2018 caught the panel’s attention due to its “elegant, juicy, generous, lingering and highly drinkable” profile, according to Yu.

Meanwhile, moving up to the price bracket between HK$301-500, Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay 2018 was another high performer. Anty Fung, a wine specialist and manager of Hip Cellar, said, “the wine shows great finesse. It has good tension, mineral structure and a long finish.”

The competition also proved that Sauvignon Blanc powerhouse, Marlborough in New Zealand, boasts equally outstanding Chardonnay production. Marisco Vineyards Craft Series ‘The Pioneer’ Chardonnay 2016 picked up a Gold medal in the Oaked HK$201-300 flight.

Shieh found it to be “a pleasant wine with a nice blend of fruit and oak flavours and good acidity”. Hailing from the same region, Leefield Station Chardonnay 2018 took home a Silver medal for achieving “a good balance of oak, fruit and creaminess”, according to Yu.

Again from the same price range, another highlight of the competition was a Gold medal winning Bourgogne Blanc by Francois Labet, one of the region’s pioneers of organic viticulture. The panel was impressed by the performance of Francois Labet Vieilles Vignes Chardonnay 2018.

Eva Ma, senior marketing executive of EMW Fine Wines, said, “The nose is so complex, which unveils hints of chestnuts and smokiness. On palate, it exudes a sweet flavour with much freshness.”

Greek wine is on the rise around the world and the country never ceases to surprise drinkers with its continually improving quality. Bearing a price tag between HK$100-150, Alpha Estate Ecosystem Chardonnay Tramonto 2018 impressed our judges.

“I am captivated by the palate, which offers notes of Meyer lemon, orange peel and yuzu. It’s a very perfumed Chardonnay with impressive palate weight and a refreshing finish. It’s an excellent wine that offers great value,” said one of our judges.

The panel also enjoyed some exciting discoveries from regions that aren’t well-known for Chardonnay, such as Barkan Vineyards Classic Chardonnay 2019 from Israel, which offered pretty lemon and white flower aromatics.

Another appealing expression was Emiliana Gamma Reserva Chardonnay 2019 from Chile, liked by Shieh for its intense acidity and juciness; and Cavit Maso Torsella Chardonnay Trentino Superiore DOC 2019 from Trentino in Italy, which hooked Ma with its perfumed nose and balanced structure. The comeption highlighted that there are great value Chardonnays being made around the world to suit all palates.

Unoaked

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under $100HKD
Barkan Vineyards Classic Chardonnay Judean Hills Israel 2019 Bronze
Viñedos Emiliana S.A. O Reserva Chardonnay Casablanca Valley Chile 2019 Bronze
Viñedos Emiliana S.A. Gamma Reserva Chardonnay Casablanca Valley Chile 2019 Silver

Oaked

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under $100HKD
Marisco Vineyards Ltd The Ned Chardonnay, 10.99 – Marlborough, New Zealand Marlborough New Zealand 2018 Bronze
Marisco Vineyards Ltd Leefield Station Chardonnay Marlborough New Zealand 2018 Silver
Wakefield / Taylors Taylors One Giant leap Chardonnay Clare Valley Australia 2018 Master
$100-$150HKD
Alpha Estate Ecosystem Chardonnay Tramonto Florina Greece 2018 Gold
Cavit s.c. Maso Torsella Chardonnay Trentino Superiore Doc Trentino Italy 2017 Silver
Australian Vintage McGuigan Cellar Select Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Australia 2019 Bronze
Wakefield / Taylors Taylor Made Chardonnay French Oak Clare Valley Australia 2018 Bronze
Wakefield / Taylors Taylors Wakefield Jaraman Chardonnay Clare Valley Australia 2018 Silver
$151-$200HKD
Australian Vintage McGuigan Shortlist Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Australia 2018 Silver
Australian Vintage Nepenthe Pinnacle Ithaca Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Australia 2018 Bronze
Treasury Wine Estate Penfolds Bin311 Chardonnay Tumbarumba Australia 2017 Silver
Vasse Felix Vasse Felix ‘Filius’ Chardonnay Margaret River Australia 2018 Gold
Vasse Felix Vasse Felix Estate Chardonnay Margaret River Australia 2018 Bronze
Wakefield / Taylors Taylors Wakefield St Andrews Chardonnay Clare Valley Australia 2018 Silver
$201-$300HKD
Australian Vintage Tempus Two Pewter Chardonnay Hunter Valley Australia 2018 Bronze
Australian Vintage Tempus Two Pewter Chardonnay Hunter Valley Australia 2019 Silver
Australian Vintage McGuigan Personal Reserve HR Chardonnay Trentino Italy 2018 Bronze
Francois Labet Francois Labet Bourgogne Chardonnay Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne France 2018 Gold
Marisco Vineyards Ltd Marisco Vineyards Craft Series ‘The Pioneer’ Chardonnay, Marlborough New Zealand 2016 Gold
$301-$500HKD
Vasse Felix Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay Margaret River Australia 2018 Gold
Vina Concha y Toroa Concha y Toro Amelia Chardonnay Casablanca Valley Chile 2018 Bronze

Asian Chardonnay Masters 2017: Results

Chardonnay, a grape variety that has mushroomed out from its spiritual home in Burgundy to practically every wine-producing country in the world, proved that with the right terroir and skills of its winemakers, it can produce thrilling, savoury and age-worthy expressions as found in our Asian Chardonnay Masters competition.

The judges (from left to right): Jeremy Stockman, general manager of Watson’s Wine, Hong Kong, Yvonne Cheung, director of Wine for Swire Hotels and Restaurants, James Rowell, corporate and VIP sales manager of Altaya Wines, Francesca Martin, founder & director of BEE Drinks Global, Ying-Hsien Tan MW, founder & owner of Singapore-based Taberna Wine Academy, Ivy Ng, publisher of the Drinks Business Hong Kong, Eddie McDougall, trained winemaker and founder of The Flying Winemaker and Yang Lu, corporate/group wine director of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts

A relatively neutral grape, Chardonnay is an ideal translator of local terroir and winemaking craft, thanks to its malleability through malolactic fermentation, lees contact and barrel ageing. The grape’s versatility has made it a favourite among wine producers. Despite soil types and climate, it’s one of the most widely planted white grape varieties in the world with more than 400,000 acres worldwide; as seen in our competition entries that encompassed Chardonnays from obscure regions such as China’s northwestern Xinjiang, Israel’s Judean Hills and South Africa’s Western Cape to more established sites in Champagne and Burgundy, Chile’s Casablanca Valley, northern and central Italy, and all the way to Australia’s Adelaide Hills and New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay.

Close to 80 samples were submitted by wineries and importers for our Asian Chardonnay Masters held on 26 April at Hong Kong’s swanky HIP Cellar. The competition is the second instalment following our successful Asian Cabernet Sauvignon Masters in March. The samples were tasted blind and assessed over the course of one day by price bracket and stylistic difference (still or sparkling and within the still category, oaked or unoaked) to identify the best of Chardonnay in their own price range in the local market.

The results are encouraging as a cherry-picked panel of eight judges including a master of wine, top wine buyers/directors and trained winemaker gave out seven Masters, 15 Gold medals, 27 Silvers and 19 Bronzes. The wines are scored out of 100 points with the ones gaining 95 points or above being awarded the top accolade of Master. Wines scored higher than 90 points were given a Gold medal, those over 85 points a Silver medal and those over 80 points a Bronze.

“I think the overall quality is very good. When I say overall quality, we try to judge them in the context of price bracket. Some of the wines may be simpler or more obvious, and perhaps not designed for long ageing but they are well made in that context, and are good quality,” commented Ying-Hsien Tan MW, founder of Singapore-based Taberna Wine Academy, who was one of the Panel Chairs.

Eddie McDougall, wine critic and ‘The Flying Winemaker’, agreed addeing: “The class of all the wines showed a good spread of stylistic expressions of Chardonnay. There were some very good examples of wines at approachable price points, which goes to show that quality Chardonnay doesn’t need a hefty price tag.”

In addition, Yang Lu, corporate/group wine director of Shangri-la Hotels and Resorts, noted a good representation of entries from almost all major wine regions. “I think different winemaking styles and philosophies are well represented in the competition as it covers all styles and wine regions as well different levels of quality,” he ssaid.

For James Rowell, corporate and VIP sales manager of one of Hong Kong’s leading wine importers, Altaya Wines, tasting a diverse range of Chardonnays is a revelation. “For someone who doesn’t have the opportunity to taste or drink a lot of New World wines, it’s very interesting to see what’s currently out in the market at different price points because some styles have changed and evolved,” he explained.

The Judges

Ying-Hsien Tan MW, Founder & Owner, Taberna Wine Academy, Singapore
Yvonne Cheung, Director of Wine, Swire Hotels and Restaurants
Yang Lu, Corporate/Group Wine Director, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts
Francesca Martin, Founder & Director, BEE Drinks Global
Eddie McDougall, Founder, The Flying Winemaker
James Rowell, Corporate and VIP Sales Manager, Altaya Wines
Jeremy Stockman, General Manager, Watson’s Wines, Hong Kong
Ivy Ng, Publisher, the drinks business Hong Kong 

Burgundian in style  

Different from aromatic grapes such as Riesling or Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay is easier to cultivate and responds well to a wider range of winemaking techniques. Given its chameleon-like nature, it takes on a wide spectrum of aromas from green apple and tomato leaf to tropical fruits, peaches, cream and vanilla. The grape variety has undergone some stylistic changes from rich, buttery, full bodied wines, favoured in the 1990s to today’s trendier, crisp and less-oak dominated expressions. Burgundy is still held in high regard as the reference point for Chardonnay, but fine examples from the New World can rival if not surpass top Burgundy wines in quality and style.

“I think the biggest surprise for me was the fact that a couple of  the wines that seemed to be particularly Burgundian in style that is very restrained yet with finesse and complexity, but to my surprise they were not. So that was an interesting discovery for me,” commented Tan.

This is a sentiment echoed by Francesca Martin, founder of Bee Drinks and a Master of Wine candidate, as well. “There were certainly more New World wines in our line-up than Burgundy, however, many of these were of very high quality and a couple I would have put money on being from top villages in the Côte d’Or,” commented the Hong Kong-based wine consultant.

The Elephant Hill Chardonnay from New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay, which was awarded a Master title, stumped a few judges and led them to believe it was a Chassagne-Montrachet before its identity was revealed after the competition.

Meanwhile, a Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, another Master winning wine, was believed to have measured up to many Côte d’Or classic examples, Martin added noting that, “it was a lovely wine combining wonderful ripeness of fruit with a taut, linear structure” without sacrificing its own style to emulate Burgundy.

Elaborating on the ever-blurring line between Burgundians and top New World Chardonnays, Tan explained: “Chardonnay is a very competitive grape variety that producers around the world are now really getting the hang of understanding how the grape variety works in that particular region or environment and producing very good quality wines.

“Now it’s getting harder and harder to tell Burgundian wines apart from a premium New World wine. So that was a nice surprise for me, not actually a surprise but more a pleasant growing realisation that how well these non-European regions can compete not just in quality but in style with some top Burgundian wines.”

Chardonnay from Australia’s cooler climate in Adelaide Hills or even a South African Chardonnay Capensis by Jackson Family Wines impressed judges with their winemaking precision, proving South Africa’s massive potential. The latter was awarded a Gold medal.

Nonetheless, Burgundy’s Domaine Servin Chablis Premier Cru Butteaux 2015 proudly showcased unoaked pristine Burgundian quality and nabbed a Gold. And a few old guards from Europe including: a Laroche Mas La Chevalière Vignoble Peyroli 2014 from the Languedoc, Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte’s Brut Blanc de Blancs 208 and Italy’s Mezzacorona Chardonnay Vigneti delle Dolomiti 2016 from Trentino-Alto Aldige and Monteverro Chardonnay 2013 from Tuscany all stunned and took home Gold medals.

Australia Setting the New World Benchmark

Among all the New World competitors, Australia by far stood out for the consistency of its Chardonnay quality and its value for money, bagging six out of the seven much coveted Master titles and seven Gold medals.

The country’s Chardonnay mania is such that today it’s hard to think of Australian wines without Chardonnay. The grape is now responsible for half of the country’s white wine production with 406,000 tonnes crushed in 2016 out of a total of around 808,000 tonnes, according to Wine Australia.

From Hunter Valley to cooler region such as Adelaide Hills, Yarra Valley and Tasmania to warmer regions in Margaret River, the country provides a contrast of styles between the leaner, crisp style found in Adelaide Hills and riper, richer style in Margaret River.

Moving to price brackets, as most judges noted in the competition medium priced Chardonnays under HK$400 (US$51) outperformed many heftily priced bottles. The finding is especially uplifting as most of them, fine examples of New World Chardonnay as we discovered in the competition, can give Burgundy a run for its money especially when prices for top Burgundy wines seem to be going nowhere but up.

Within the price band of under HK$400 (US$51), five Masters were given out to high performers from Australia. They were: Bird in Hand Nest Egg Chardonnay 2015 from Adelaide Hills, Alkoomi Black Label Chardonnay 2016 from Frankland River, Voyager Estate Chardonnay 2013 from Margaret River, and McGuigan The Shortlist Chardonnay 2015 from Adelaide Hills and Cape Mentelle Chardonnay 2015 from Margaret River, with the latter two from an even more modest sub-price bracket of HK$150 (US$20) to HK$300 (US$39).

“It was great to taste such a range and in our group we found that wines in the medium to premium range that wines are consistently showing technical precision and also a level of expression,” stated Yvonne Cheung, director of wine for Swire Hotels and Restaurants.

Moving up to higher price bracket between HK$400 (US$51) and HK$799 (US$102), Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay from Piccadilly Valley and Elephant Hill from New Zealand received the top honour of Master. A Japanese Chardonnay from Suntory winery’s Tomi No Oka in Yamanashi near Mount Fuji set high standards for its Asian peers and nabbed a Gold medal for its “very restrained, savoury, elegant and balanced” style as the judges noted. The wine, however, bears the most hefty price tag, selling more than HK$800 in retail.

Chardonnay, a winemaker’s wine

Ying-Hsien Tan MW, founder & owner of Singapore-based Taberna Wine Academy

It’s worth noting that nearly all wines in the competition went home with a medal, which speaks loudly for the quality of Chardonnay found in the tasting. “I thought generally oak was very well integrated on the majority of the wines, adding subtle notes of toasty spice, rather than lots of overt vanilla. Lactic notes from malolactic fermentation, if apparent, were likewise well integrated and didn’t dominate on many of the wines. I feel that lees ageing and stirring are now having more of an impact on style and seemingly something producers are playing around with and paying more attention to. What I love about Chardonnay is the fact that it’s such a winemaker’s wine that the stylistic possibilities are seemingly endless. I very much felt during the tasting that there really is a style of Chardonnay for everyone,” commented Martin when asked about winemaking in Chardonnay.

Indeed, McDougall, a trained winemaker, believed that compared with other white grape varieties, winemakers are given more latitude to put their own stamp on the wine. “I believe that winemakers are far smarter when it comes to the selection of oak treatment in the wines. Across the board there was a lot more balance shown than my initial expectation. The stand-out examples really came about when the wines showed honesty in its fruit profile and a complex under-layering of either lees contact, barrel fermentation or the positive traits of sulfide development from wild yeast fermentation,” he added.

Likewise, the ones that disappointed, though small in number, were the ones that lacked balance between oak and fruit or had an overly elevated level of dimethyl sulfide, which according to him, showed traits of creamed corn.

Reduction, a winemaking technique that contrasts with oxidation, was mentioned by a few judges during tasting. When applied correctly, it adds to a wine’s complexity and flavour, otherwise, it can upset a wine’s balance and flavour profile.

“Reduction was certainly a dimension for a number of the wines with a few having a bit too much to be pleasant. This was only overdone on a couple of the wines however, many others displaying just a subtle touch of struck match character that I personally really enjoy. As with any of these things it’s all a question of balance. Reduction can certainly add an element of complexity, I believe, but in excess it becomes a fault and deters from the overall attractiveness of the wine, masking fruit and making the wine rather hard and harsh. Overall with this particular lineup I felt winemakers clearly had a good handle on where the balance lay,” Martin explained in detail.

Adding to the discussion, Jeremy Stockman, general manager of Hong Kong’s top wine retailer Watson’s Wine, delved deeper into the fine distinction between reduction and the otherwise struck-match character. “The subjective (but enjoyable!) discussion was between reduction and struck match/flinty notes. I thought in general they were factors that added complexity although a few were out of balance,” he said.

Value for money

Yang Lu, corporate/group wine director of Shangri-la Hotels and Resorts

Another finding perhaps most welcoming to consumers is that a few samples that were awarded Gold medals sell for less than HK$150 (US$20) retail. A Nepenthe Chardonnay 2016 won over the judges for its pure, focused, consistent and balanced style with good intensity. The Mas La Chevalière Vignoble Peryroli, albeit an Old World style Chardonnay, still gripped the judges with its “pithy and integrated” nature, while a “technically sound” Chardonnay from New Zealand’s The King’s Bastard equally garnered the judges’ praise.

Moving up to the HK$150 (US$20) – HK$299 (US$39) range, Taylor’s Wines Jaraman Chardonnay 2015 stood out for its layers of flavours, bright acidity and its oily texture. In addition, its ‘St Andrews Single Vineyard Release’ of the same vintage knocked judges off their feet with its complexity, persistent finish and elegance. Another Chardonnay from Nepenthe’s ‘Ithaca’ 2015 also got a nod for its minerality and intensity.

Even a few technical wines under HK$100 (US$13) garnered judges’ praise for offering decent quality and great value, winning a trove of Silvers. “The technical wines were generally the less expensive ones and I think that is normal from large producers making wines for sale under HK$100. They were technically correct with sunshine fruit and balance – I think a customer is getting value for that price range,” Stockman pointed out.

Asian Chardonnay Masters 2018: Results and Analysis

Chardonnay, arguably one of the most versatile white grape variety that has been popularised in virtually all vine-growing regions, is also among the most maligned on earth: first too oaky then too lean. The ‘Anything But Chardonnay’ movement of the 1990s was a vocal market rejection of an oaky, overripe and buttery style that was like sticking your nose into a bucket of popcorn. What followed later was a withdrawal from the heavy-handed use of oak to create austere, lean and racy expressions with acidity sometimes so pronounced that it was like biting into a lemon. Regardless of stylistic differences, though, the Hong Kong market seems to have a shelf space to accommodate both, as the results from Asian Chardonnay Masters this year have shown.

From left to right: (first row: JC Viens, wine educator, Joao Pires MS, Jennie Mack, managing director of AWSEC, Ivy Ng, former publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong, Sarah Wong, wine judge and columnist; second row: David Wainright, director of Andromeda Wine, Eric Desgouttes, general manager of Kerry Wines, Derek Li, group sommelier at JIA Group, and Allie Braithwaite, former employee at drinks business Hong Kong.

Nowadays, while both styles still exist, winemakers are generally refraining from excessive oak use to achieve a balance between acidity, oak and structure, a key point for the judges when reviewing all the samples.

Describing her perfect example of a Chardonnay, Sarah Wong, wine judge and columnist, said: “It is one that has fresh fruit. It should be balanced with crisp acidity levels, and good fruit intensity. Oak should be discreet and well-integrated into the wine”.

With balance in mind, the judging results showed that heavy oak use that overwhelmed Chardonnay’s own pleasant fruit profile was penalised, so were samples that were cloying, flabby and ripe, without an acidic backbone, or samples that were too green and racy, lacking fruit intensity and texture.

Chardonnay, a blank canvas for winemakers

About the competition

The Asian Chardonnay Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business Hong Kong, and is an extension of its successful Asian Masters series. The competition is exclusively for single varietal Chardonnay wines and the entries were judged by a selection of experienced tasters including Hong Kong and Macau’s top sommeliers, wine buyers and wine educators. The top Chardonnay wines were awarded Gold (93 points or above), Silver (89 points or above) or Bronze (85 points or above) medals according to their result, and those samples that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Master (97 points or above). The wines were tasted over the course of a single day on 20 May at Hip Cellar. This report features only the medal winners.

Different from Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc, regardless of its growing region, Chardonnay, can be deftly shaped by a winemaker’s skills, cellar techniques and barrel ageing, giving it a chameleon-like nature.

This means a clever winemaker can create a plethora of styles with a repertoire of techniques including malolactic fermentation, lees stirring and time spent in barrel. In a market like Hong Kong, consumers seem to be more receptive to different styles of Chardonnay from this wide spectrum.

Derek Li, group sommelier of JIA Group, said even heavily oaked Chardonnay has a spot on a restaurant’s wine list. “Chinese people would like to pick a Chardonnay with quite heavy influence of barrel ageing and Western diners prefer a mineral-driven style,” he said.

Jennie Mack, founder of Asia Wine Service & Education Centre (AWSEC), said: “Casual drinkers like fruity and sometimes oaky styles but more experienced wine drinkers prefer Chardonnays from Beaune, particularly Chassagne-Montrachet and Meursault.”

When it comes to high-value Chardonnays, Burgundy rules among Hong Kong’s deep-pocketed wine enthusiasts and collectors, added David Wainwright, independent wine consult and judge, who previously worked for auctions houses such as Christie’s and Zachys. “Burgundy still dominates, maybe a bit of California here and there,” Wainwright said, but stressed that at the same time, Burgundy, the spiritual home for Chardonnay, and in many cases still considered the pinnacle of a winemaking, is “aspirational” to many young wine drinkers.

Ivy Ng, former publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong

Chardonnay from down under 

Joao Pires MS and Eric Desgouttes, general manager of Kerry Wines

The Master-winning Greywacke Chardonnay 2011 from New Zealand’s Marlborough region, made by Kevin Judd, the former winemaker at Cloudy Bay, is a prime example of what a balanced Chardonnay can taste like. With a creamy and silky texture, supplemented with abundant citrus zestiness, and spice nuance from barrel ageing, the wine was a surprise for judge Li.

“The wine is showing brilliant minerality, like crushed stone, and intense freshly picked white peaches. The palate is well integrated, with a balance of fresh acidity with good use of oak. The wine also has a long-lasting finish,” the sommelier said.

As well as Greywacke, a few other New Zealand Chardonnays also came in for high praise from the judges, proving that the country has more to offer than Sauvignon Blanc. Spy Valley Chardonnay 2015 is a lighter style with lively acidity, hints of floral notes on top of its citrus-dominated nose and costing less than HK$150 a bottle.

Aside from Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay is another region that has championed Chardonnay, accounting for 32% of New Zealand’s total plantings in 2016. Babich Irongate Chardonnay 2016, from the region’s now renowned Gimblett Gravels subzone, rich with gravelly soils, is a steely version of Chardonnay that impressed Wainwright. The quality of the Chardonnays from New World countries like the Greywacke and Babich wines is their value, both in the HK$200-HK$300 price band.

The judges

Eric Desgouttes, General Manger at Kerry Wines
Derek Li, Group Sommelier at JIA Group Holding Ltd
Jennie Mack, Managing Director of Asia Wine Service & Education Centre (AWSEC)
Joao Pires MS, Director of Wine at Melco Resorts & Entertainment, Macau

David Wainwright, Director of Andromeda Wine
Sarah Wong, Independent Wine Judge, Freelance Columnist at South China Morning Post
JC Viens, Managing Director of Grande Passione
Ivy Ng, former publisher, the drinks business Hong Kong

In Australia, another country where Chardonnay has come of age, unburdened by oak and high-octane personality, the trend is to craft wines of more polished, nuanced flavours and smooth textures. It’s hard to make generalisations about a style for Chardonnay in Australia, and there are classics coming from regions such as Margaret River, as in the iconic Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay that commands strong market interest, or the richer and more generous style of Allegiance Wines Unity Chardonnay 2017 that equally impressed the judges, earning a Gold medal.

David Wainwright, Director of Andromeda Wine

There was also a more restrained ‘Burgundian’ version from the region’s Voyager Estate. The white is smooth, textured and has seamless tension that was lauded by Eric Desgouttes, general manager of Kerry Wines, who called it “an excellent example of what Chardonnay should taste like”, one that suited the general trends in the market.

In Clare Valley, it was one Chardonnay by the region’s pioneering winery Wakefield Taylors Family Wines that bowled over the judges, not just for its craftsmanship but also for its price point, selling for less than HK$150.

Another value-for-money wine is McGuigan’s The Shortlist Chardonnay 2016 from Adelaide Hills, in the HK$100-HK$150 price band, with a thrilling smoky and lemony nose. As well as the well-established wine regions in the country, a relatively newer one, Pemberton, in western Australia also bagged a Gold medal with its Castelli Estate Chardonnay 2016.

US and South Africa 

Derek Li, group sommelier at GIA Group

Another top-medal winning wine from the blind tasting is Jackson Family Wines’ Cambria Benchbreak Chardonnay 2015 from California’s cooler-climate Santa Maria Valley. This smoky and leesy Chardonnay is laced with citrus notes, lemon peel, toastiness and a pleasant struck-match whiff, a result of hydrogen sulphide during fermentation. The wine, harking back to a more classic Chardonnay style, impressed the judges enough to take home a Master.

Another Jackson Family Wines’ Chardonnay made with parcels picked from high-elevation vineyards in its Stonestreet winery in Alexander Valley also stood out, and earned a Gold medal.

This was a plusher example but had plenty lively acidity and structure. This year, another top-performing wine country from the competition was South Africa. With a record number of entries from the country, three won Gold medals.

Columnist Sarah Wong

Distell Wines, the South African wine giant, netted two Golds, with its Durbanville Hills Collectors Reserve The Cableway Chardonnay in Cape Town and its Fleur du Cap Series Privée Chardonnay made with grapes selected from two vineyards in Stellenbosch.

The Durbanville Chardonnay is a lighter version with a slight touch of wood, while the Fleur du Cap Chardonnay is a more bodied and dense wine with ripe fruits. Contrasting with larger-scale Distell, the Kershaw Elgin Clonal Selection Chardonnay is a small artisanal production by Richard Kershaw MW.

A restrained and site-specific white, the wine from the country’s Elgin Valley impressed the judges with its mineral style and white-fruit characters.

Aside from the regions mentioned above, this year the majority of the samples we received were from the New World, including entries from lesser-known regions such as China’s Ningxia region, Japan’s Yamanashi, and many more from Chile, Argentina, Israel, Italy, and France. Except for a few number of wines that had notes of unbalanced reduction and oxidation notes, most of the samples were well made and technically correct.

Chardonnay Masters 2013: The medalists

A select group of judges put aside preconceived ideas about this global grape variety as wines were appraised on style not region. Here we list all the Chardonnays that received a medal.

Chardonnay MastersOF ALL the world’s grape varieties, no other can match Chardonnay for its geographical reach and stylistic virtuosity. From the great grands crus of the Côtes de Beaune to the “sunshine in a bottle” that represents many people’s introduction to wine, Chardonnay mingles seamlessly with aristocracy and proletariat alike. The flip side of this virtuosity means that, more than any other variety, Chardonnay is particularly susceptible to fashion, making itself loved, derided and misunderstood in equal measures. What better candidate therefore with which to expand The Drinks Business Masters series?

Unsurprisingly for a variety which so often reflects winemaking technique as much, if not more, than any strong sense of place, the results offer an intriguing picture of which regions and producers are getting this balance right. Of course, deciding where that balance lies can prove highly subjective and provoked some lively discussion among judges. The interplay of factors such as fruit ripeness, oak, alcohol, acidity, residual sugar, malolactic fermentation, battonage and oxygen management requires deft decision making by winemakers.

Crucially, however, the end result should not distract the drinker by displaying its vinification too overtly, but rise above the sum of its parts to create a harmonious whole. The hundreds of wines entered into this inaugural Global Chardonnay Masters representing no fewer than 18 different countries demonstrated that winemakers today, from all parts of the world, are rising admirably to this challenge.

“The tasting reminded me why Chardonnay is such a hugely successful grape,” summed up Sebastian Payne MW, buyer for The Wine Society. “Its bouquet relatively seldom shouts at you, unlike Sauvignon or Gewürztraminer or even Riesling, but the flavour is satisfactorily full and rounded, never aggressive or over-acidic, and its wines are splendidly versatile when you eat.”

CORRECT BALANCE

Meanwhile Justin Knock MW, a winemaking consultant for clients in South America, the UK, Spain and his native Australia, commented on some of the current stylistic trends demonstrated by this competition. As a general observation, he noted: “In my view winemakers in pursuit of less overt ripeness are making better wines.” In terms of vinification, Knock found “oak was generally very well handled”, adding: “I noticed that some viscous, buttery malolactic fermentation characters are making a return – perhaps in view of finding acid balance in earlier picked styles.” Hailing this evolution as a “welcome return”, he argued: “It has a natural place in truly great, complex, textured Chardonnay.”

What’s more, Knock noted the appeal on offer even among more modestly priced wines. “It was great to see that even at entry level prices wines are showing better balance, even when in a more overt and predictable style,” he commented. “It shows that Chardonnay has multiple dimensions and that people are open to a wide range of styles.”
For consultant Richard Bampfield MW, the entries offered a valuable update on what we can now expect from a variety which is so prone to the pendulum swing of fashion. “A few years ago, I think that such a tasting would have featured wines showing more evident development, probably more evident oak and more overt smoothness and roundness,” he suggested. “Nowadays the aim is for a fresher style, almost as if the wines have been blended with some Sauvignon.”

In Bampfield’s view, this evolution marks a positive step for Chardonnay. “I think this is a healthier direction with the proviso that higher levels of acidity also require a reasonable level of ripeness to ensure a balanced result,” he concluded.

The judges may not have known the origin of the wines in each flight, but some regions certainly met their exacting criteria with greater regularity than others. While there were pockets of brilliance from individual producers across the globe, a number of regions stood out for the consistently exceptional quality of their Chardonnay.

SOUTHERN COMFORT

Within a strong overall performance from Australia, the Adelaide Hills and Margaret River shone particularly bright. California’s rich, buttery style can divide opinion among European palates, but the judges were quick to reward those achieving elegance alongside generosity. Meanwhile, in South Africa it was the cooler climate regions of Elgin and Walker Bay which impressed judges with the freshness and poise of their Chardonnay. For a while now there have been enthusiastic noises about the underrated quality of New Zealand Chardonnay, so long overshadowed by the country’s popular Sauvignon Blanc.

The entries this year reinforced this impression, showing that Marlborough today has more than one trick up its sleeve. And finally, let’s not forget France. No doubt aware of the contenders seeking to knock them from their pedestal, Burgundian entries made up a relatively small proportion of the wines judged. Of these, many acquitted themselves with distinction; however, Payne used the quality of the competition to warn: “Burgundy, particularly the Côte d’Or, needs to look to its laurels and

FRENCH STYLE

Of course, Burgundy is not the only corner of France that understands how to make excellent Chardonnay, a fact reflected in the impressive medal haul from Champagne, whose blanc de blancs continues to set an ambitious benchmark for the growing number of styles emerging in the ever more dynamic sparkling wine sector. In short, the inaugural Global Chardonnay Masters presented a compelling snapshot of this extraordinarily versatile variety, which is capable of offering enormous pleasure in just about every price point and country you care to imagine.

What’s more, Chardonnay producers are not ones to stagnate: this is not only a commercially crucial category, but one that rewards regular reassessment.

Sparkling Chardonnay
Company Product Name Medal Country Vintage Price(£)
Champagne Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut Master France 2005 30+
Centre Vinicole-Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Chardonnay Gold France 2005 20-30
Champagne Cattier Cattier Brut Blanc de Blancs Signature Gold France NV 30+
Champagne Cattier Cattier Brut Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru Gold France NV 30+
Champagne Gosset Champagne Gosset Blanc de Blancs NV Gold France NV 30+
Centre Vinicole-Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Nicolas Feuillatte Grand Cru Chardonnay Gold France 2005 30+
Edoardo Miroglio Edoardo Miroglio Blanc de Blancs, Brut NV Silver Bulgaria NV 10-20
Nosio Rotari Cuvee 28 100% Chardonnay NV Silver Italy NV 10-20
Champagne Charles Heidsieck Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires Millesime Silver France 1995 30+
Barokes Wines Barokes Bubbly Chardonnay NV Bronze Australia NV 0-10

Chardonnay Masters 2014: The results

Proving that few grapes can beat the malleability and creative potential of Chardonnay was last month’s Masters tasting, where top-price pours and cheaper oaked styles fared well.

Chardonnay-Masters-JudgingIF THE chef’s universal test is an omelette, then a winemaker’s should be a Chardonnay. With its relatively delicate flavours the grape is able to transmit winemaking tweaks more clearly than any other variety, making it the ultimate tool to judge cellar technique. And like that egg- based dish, the wine from Chardonnay may seem uncomplicated to make, but it’s also easy to get wrong. If it’s good, however, the wine trade will undoubtedly sit up and salivate.

It’s for these reasons that our annual Chardonnay Masters is such a popular and revealing judging session. Not only does it give us a chance to see the trends at work in winemaking, but also discover some of the hottest talent in the global vinous scene. Furthermore, as the grape can only be grown in few places with great success – despite its appearance almost everywhere there are vineyards – the tasting highlights places of brilliance.

ENGLAND SPARKLES

And, as this year’s tasting showed, one of these places is England. Our first flight of the day considered sparkling Chardonnay, taking in a mixture of blanc de blancs from Champagne and a range of English counties, including Sussex and Hampshire. Just two golds and three silvers were awarded, split almost equally between English sparkling Chardonnays and those from Champagne, proving that the Brits can create traditional method fizz that is comparable in quality with Champagne, if different in style. With Wiston Estate the sole gold from England, the tasting also reinforced the belief that its creator, Dermot Sugrue, is one of this small industry’s greatest winemakers.

Moving onto still wines, it was notable that the unoaked Chardonnay category yielded no golds in 2014. “At the cheaper end the oaked Chardonnay seemed to do better, so if you are going to do a sub £10 Chardonnay then having some carefully judged oak seems to add something,” commented judge Martin Gamman MW. Nevertheless, a few names stood out in this category, with the Co-op supermarket’s Chablis, made by Jean-Marc Brocard, one of just two silvers in the under-£10 unoaked Chardonnay category, proof that this region is one of the very few areas that delivers real character from the grape without a heavy wood influence.

That said, it requires the economies of scale and low margins of a multiple retailer to hit a sub-£10 price point for Chablis today.

Another star was a new Chardonnay from Giusti, a producer in Asolo and one of only two wineries to achieve the top title of Master in our 2014 Prosecco Masters. Italy was the source of another silver in the unoaked category, although this time in the £10-20 price band, with Zonin’s IGT Toscana Chardonnay impressing the judges, along with Valdivieso Reserva Chardonnay from Chile.

OAKEY-DOKEY

However, the majority of entries in the competition had seen some oak in their production, and looking at the cheapest category, it was pleasing to see the brand leaders performing well. Indeed, the top three best scoring Chardonnays in the oaked under-£10 flight were from three of the biggest names in the business: Hardys, Jacob’s Creek and Torres, representing Australia and Chile. “With inexpensive New World Chardonnay I look for something with some oak and balanced, bright acidity,” commented another judge, Clement Robert, head sommelier at London’s Medlar Restaurant and 2013 Moët UK Sommelier of the Year. Considering further this category, he also described the general standard of the wines as “good to very good”, and was pleased to see no obvious signs of added acidity.

CHILEAN CHALLENGERS

Notable in the next price band, £10-20, was the strong performance of Chardonnays from Chile. Leading the nation in this category was the Viñas Errázuriz Group, which took one of only two Masters in the entire competition for its £15 Arboleda Aconcagua Costa Chardonnay. Exciting the judges was its combination of ripe fruit, toasty oak and a refreshing grapefruit tang, all for a sub-£20 wine. The group’s slightly cheaper Errázuriz Max Reserva also did well in the same category, gaining one of the 16 silvers. Using Chardonnay from the same region of Aconcagua Costa, it seems this area of Chile is a region to watch for high-quality Chardonnay, although Leyda- sourced Chilean Chardonnays from a number of producers, including Santa Rita, did well too.

Proving that New World Chardonnays from as broad a set of sources as Lake Ontario Canada and Hawke’s Bay New Zealand are able to compete with Burgundy in the same price range, among the silvers awarded in the £10-20 band were two Côte-d’Or whites from Domaine Pierre Labet, including its Beaune Clos du Dessus Des Marconnets. In other words, those New World Chardonnays in this price band that gained silvers are making wines of equivalent quality to good village- level Burgundy.

Moving up to the higher price points however, it was notable how good the Chardonnays were from Australia, California and South Africa – the latter perhaps a somewhat underestimated source of high quality Chardonnay. In Australia specifically, the judges were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the Taylors Wakefield St Andrews Chardonnay from the Clare Valley, which had plenty of ripe fruit, but also an appealing smoky and subtle sulphidic character, palate-cleansing citrus and well-judged toasty oak. This wine was awarded a gold in the £20-£30 band, along with the Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay from Cambria Estate Winery in California’s Santa Maria Valley, heralding from the Jackson Family’s impressive stable of wines. The latter wine was a wonderful example of a more classic Californian Chardonnay, with richness, warmth, but also complexity and just enough acidity to offset the generosity. Sommelier Clement Robert, having tasted the wine blind and scored it highly, was particularly pleased, as he later revealed he had previously chosen this Chardonnay to serve by the glass at his restaurant.

TOP-END TRIUMPHS

At even higher prices, once more, Australia’s Bird in Hand Chardonnay, made by highly respected winemaker Kym Milne MW, was given a gold for its Nest Egg label, highlighting the quality of fruit from the Adelaide Hills. But it was a Chardonnay from the Yarra Valley that scored even more highly, with the region’s Oakridge winery achieving a Master for its 864 Chardonnay. Made in a slightly leaner manner, but with a fashionable struck- match character, touch of toast, and lovely grapefruit flavours, not everyone liked the style, but at least it attracted plenty of discussion, and all agreed it was an excellent wine.
Over £50, without the presence of grand cru Burgundy in the tasting, we had few wines, but those that were commanding such high prices thankfully performed as well as one would expect for the expense. At the very top were Penfolds Yattarna, the wonderful white equivalent of Australia’s flagship red, Grange, and the boutique South African producer, Uva Mira, which produces intense Chardonnay from its high-altitude vineyards on the slopes of the Helderberg Mountains in Stellenbosch.

So what made the best examples great? For the judges it was the intense flavours from a broad set of complementary components, coupled with freshness. Summing up, David Bird MW commented, “You can mould Chardonnay into a simple wine or a lovely oaked example, but it is very easy to overdo it, and too many still think that you can produce a superb Chardonnay by sticking lots of wood in it.” Continuing, he concluded, “It is hard to produce a great wine from Chardonnay, but when you do, it is the greatest wine in the world.”

The wines were judged blind using Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic glasses at Broadway House in London. Wines were awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze medals, with only the very highest scoring entries being given the accolade of a Master.

Chardonnay-Masters-Judges

Judges left to right: Keith Isaac MW, Justin Knock MW, Clement Robert, Sarah Knowles, Neil Sommerfelt MW, Catriona Felstead MW, Patrick Schmitt, David Bird MW, Matthew Hemming MW, Beverley Blanning MW, John Atkinson MW, Michael Palij MW, Martin Gamman MW (not pictured)

Chardonnay Masters 2015: the results

Purity of fruit and regional superiority were among the keynotes of this year’s Chardonnay Masters – with Australian expressions of the variety earning special praise from the judges.

Chards-of-class

Few grapes are better at highlighting brilliance than Chardonnay. With a relatively neutral character, the variety is able to transmit the essence of place, as well as cellar techniques, and thus, the skill of the winemaker.

It may not be a grape with a strong character, but it’s one that punishes poor site selection and winemaking with unbalanced, bland results, while rewarding, magnificently, those who understand where it thrives and how it likes to be handled.

With that in mind, the Chardonnay Masters is always a particularly revealing tasting, showing more clearly than any other where is best for this grape and, within that, which producer is on top. And with Chardonnay’s truly global scope, there are always some surprises – new corners of the wine world where this grape can bring about exciting results.

About the competition

In a crowded wine competition arena, The Drinks Business Global Chardonnay Masters stands out for its assessment of wines purely by grape variety rather than by region.
Divided only by price bracket and, for ease of judging, whether the style was oaked or unoaked, the blind tasting format allowed wines to be assessed without prejudice about their country of origin.
Wines were scored out of 100, with those gaining over 95 points being awarded the top title of Master. Those earning over 90 points were given a Gold, those over 85 points a Silver and those over 80 points a Bronze.
The wines were judged by a cherrypicked group of Masters of Wine on 2 December at Aveqia on 2 St Bride Street, London. This report features only the medal winners.

Among these this year was Austria’s Thermenregion, source of Leo Aumann’s first-rate Chardonnay from Traiskirchen, which gained a Gold alongside some famous names in the £20-30 price band, from Margaret River’s Larry Cherubino to America’s Saint Michelle and Jackson Family Wines.

On the other hand, this year’s tasting confirmed the superiority of certain places. So, initially, when it comes to sparkling Chardonnay, Champagne still rules, with beautiful blanc de blancs coming from Drappier, Gosset, Philipponnat and Nicolas Feuillatte, all of which achieved Gold medals or above.

Nevertheless, England is not far behind, as shown with the Mayfield Essence Pure Chardonnay Brut – a Sussex-sourced Silver medallist – alongside two Champagne brands from quality-minded co-operatives: Chassenay d’Arce and de Castelnau. But overall, one country, if not region, stood apart for the consistent quality of its Chardonnay – and that was Australia.

WIZARDS OF OZ
Taking home all four of this year’s highest awards, that of Master, the nation proved that it is rightly famous for Chardonnay, above all from Western Australia and the Yarra and Adelaide Hills regions in the south.

Importantly, this wasn’t just at the very highest price points. For example, Jacob’s Creek Reserve Adelaide Hills Chardonnay was deemed the best of the £10-15 flight, while Hardy’s HRB Chardonnay from the Yarra Valley gainedone of just two Golds in the £15-20 band.

Moving over £20, the Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay wowed tasters with its complexity, generosity and balance – and, with a price tag around £30, relative to great Burgundy, it was deemed excellent value too. The Tiers vineyard may be well known to Australian wine aficionados as one of the great places for Chardonnay down under, but it was pleasing to see that confirmed when the wine from it was pitched against the global competition.

Other greats from Australia included Chardonnays from Larry Cherubino and the Burch Family in Western Australia’s Margaret River and Porongurup regions, respectively.

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SUPER CHABLIS
However, we shouldn’t allow Australia’s success this year to overshadow the great results from elsewhere. In the unoaked category particularly, France, or rather Chablis, showed its superiority, with the premier cru Vau de Vey from Romain Bouchard the only example to achieve a Gold medal for over £20, while the tasters were impressed by the quality of the fruit from Italy’s Giusti, best known for its upmarket Proseccos.

This latter wine highlighted the Italian aptitude for harnessing flavour and freshness from relatively neutral white grapes.

As one would expect, the majority of wines had been exposed to oak, and among the less expensive examples, alongside the aforementioned Adelaide Hills Chardonnay from Jacob’s Creek, New Zealand’s Sileni Estates showed the impressive price-quality ratio possible with Hawke’s Bay whites. Moving up the price ladder a touch, as well as the Hardy’s HRB – discussed above – Chile’s Viña Undurraga stood out, adding weight to a widely-held belief that Limarí is this South American nation’s best place for Chardonnay. It was also good to see Burgundy compete in this price bracket. Achieving a Gold too was Château de Santenay’s Hautes Côtes de Beaune from a monopole called Clos de la Chaise Dieu – an exciting find for Burgundy lovers on a budget.

Over £20 and particularly beyond £30, we found ourselves enjoying some extremely impressive white wines, among which were the previously mentioned examples from Australia, but also brilliant Chardonnays from the US, in particular Cambria in Santa Barbara, Saint Michelle in Horse Heaven Hills and Cakebread in Carneros. Outside the US, New Zealand’s Marlborough showed that its terroir is suitable for grapes other than Sauvignon Blanc, with Giesen’s The Fuder Chardonnay, which is sourced from the Clayvin Vineyard, gaining a Gold.

What did the judges think?

ANNETTE SCARFE MW
The tasting left a positive view on Chardonnay; it was encouraging to see wines displaying purity of fruit without too much make-up. I did not find myself discussing oak on every wine as most were well-balanced and not overworked. Generally, while the entry-level wines were good value for money, there was noticeably more complexity and structure to be seen by trading up.

EMMA SYMINGTON MW
I was pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of sub-£10 unoaked Chardonnays – in terms of their fruit character, balance and even finesse. In contrast, I was expecting more quality from the mid-range oaked Chardonnay, although we had some great wines in the £10-15 and £15-20 brackets. It was only once we got above £20, and particularly above £30, that we found some truly great Chardonnays – and here we had some exceptional wines.

MILES CORISH MW
The tasting confirmed that the best Chardonnays are coming from Burgundy and, in our session, from top-quality Australian producers. This was my predominant view before the tasting and it still remains. The better wines showed a balance between winemaking technique and a purity of fruit. Perhaps this was best displayed in the top-notch examples from Australia, where I found ripe stone fruits tastefully intertwined with hints of toast, reduction (but in a good way) and roasted nuts.

The judges

Left to right: David Round MW, Stephen Skelton MW, Annette Scarfe MW, Sally Easton MW, Emma Symington MW, Sarah Knowles MW, Jonathan Pedley MW, Miles Corish MW and Patrick Schmitt MW

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CAPE CRUSADER
And finally, a special mention must go to South Africa, where Uva Mira Mountain Vineyards from Stellenbosch gained a Gold and a Master in the final flight of the day – a excellent performance, particularly when one considers the competitive set.

So, those were the highlights, and overall, as Annette Scarfe MW commented: “The tasting left a positive view on Chardonnay; it was encouraging to see wines displaying purity of fruit without too much make-up.”

Furthermore, although the entry-level Chardonnays were good value for money, there was noticeably more depth, complexity and structure as one moved up through the price bands. In short, to quote Miles Corish MW: “The tasting confirmed that, at its best, Chardonnay is the most beguiling of all white varieties.” It also, as expected, provided a clear view of the grape’s greatest global terroirs.

Click ‘next page’ to see the full list of wines that were available…

Chardonnay Masters 2016: results

From being the butt of jokes 20 years ago, Chardonnay is now having the best brought out of it by winemakers worldwide. In the drinks business Global Chardonnay Masters, there was plenty to enthuse about, writes Lucy Shaw.

1Conjuring visions of a despondent Bridget Jones glugging it from a giant glass, Chardonnay has had a bad rap since the mid-1990s, when the term ‘Anything But Chardonnay’ was coined and people went to great lengths to avoid the grape. Twenty years on, the picture looks different – Chardonnay’s fortunes have been revived and the muchmaligned variety has made a magnificent comeback. While Burgundy remains its spiritual home, today Chardonnay is grown all over the world, from chalky soils in Sussex and Champagne to sandy loam in Australia’s Margaret River via New Zealand, South Africa, California and Chile.

Thanks to its relatively neutral character, Chardonnay is both a transmitter of terroir and a blank canvas for winemakers, who can put their stamp on the wines through malolactic fermentation, time on the lees and barrel ageing. Given its chameleon-like nature, Chardonnay’s flavour spectrum takes in everything from green apple and citrus to peaches and cream, and tropical aromas such as banana and pineapple, with those that have undergone malolactic fermentation often rich in texture.

One of the most widely planted grape varieties in the world, Chardonnay adapts well in many climates and soil types, and can be grown with relative ease, which was reflected in the wide range of countries we received entries from in our fourth annual Global Chardonnay Masters competition. Just under 200 wines were tasted over the course of a day at Trinity restaurant in Clapham by a cherry-picked team of judges made up of Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers. The wines were tasted blind and scored out of 100, with those gaining over 95 points being awarded the top accolade of Master.

2Wines that received more than 90 points were given a Gold medal, those over 85 points earned a Silver and those over 80 points a Bronze.

The tasting turned out to be one of the most enjoyable, illuminating and successful of the Masters series so far, with six Masters and 45 Gold medals awarded. Stealing the show was Marlborough’s Giesen, which walked away with two Masters medals for its 2014 The Brothers Chardonnay and 2012 The Fuder Clayvin Chardonnay, priced at £22 and £42 respectively.

Proving that stellar Chardonnay needn’t make your wallet weep was the modestly priced and consistently excellent Eileen Hardy Chardonnay, the 2014 vintage of which won a Master, with the majority of fruit sourced from Tasmania and the remainder hailing from the Yarra Valley.

While further highlighting that Australia is still a major player when it comes to fine Chardonnay, Bird in Hand gained a Master for its Nest Egg from Adelaide.

At the top end of the price scale, South Africa’s Capensis from the Western Cape scooped a Master in the £50+ category, proving that the country is now capable of producing world-class Chardonnays.

With renowned viticulturist Rosa Kruger consulting on the project, the wine undergoes partial malolactic fermentation, with around half fermented in new French oak and aged on its lees in barrel for a year. “It proved that it merits its high price tag – I would have never have guessed it came from South Africa,” said Jonathan Pedley MW. Also winning big in the £50+ bracket this year was Alpha Omega estate from the Napa Valley, whose wax-sealed Reserve Chardonnay 2013 took our final Master of the day.At the top end of the price scale, South Africa’s Capensis from the Western Cape scooped a Master in the £50+ category, proving that the country is now capable of producing world-class Chardonnays.

Highlighting the fact that standout Chardonnay is being made globally, our Gold medals went to countries including Israel, with Barkan Winery in Upper Galilee picking up a Gold for its 2015 Special Reserve Chardonnay. Elsewhere, Australia put in a strong performance with Golds being won across the country, from the Hunter Valley, Yarra Valley and Adelaide Hills to Margaret River and the Clare Valley, where producer Wakefield/Taylors scooped a hat-trick of Golds. South Africa showed itself to be a country to watch for Chardonnay, with Bouchard Finlayson, De Wetshof, Boschendal and Boekenhoutskloof all taking home Gold medals. California also shone in the tasting with Cakebread, Copain and Stag’s Leap scooping a Gold apiece and Jackson Family Wines winning two for its Santa Maria Valley and Anderson Valley expressions. In Chile, two of the country’s historic estates, Concha y Toro and Errazuriz, won Golds, while closer to home, Montevero in Tuscany and Planeta in Sicily also took home Gold medals, showing that Chardonnay can shine in hotter climes.

3

GREAT CARE

Wines in all price brackets performed well and garnered praise from our judges. “I was surprised by how well-integrated the oak was at entry level. Producers are clearly taking great care to make better balanced wines. £15-£30 is the sweet spot for Chardonnay, where you’ll find the best value for money and wines that offer generosity of fruit, good structure and balance, and nice oak integration,” noted Miles Corish MW. Christine Parkinson of Hakkasan thinks ‘balance’ and ‘harmony’ are the new watchwords for Chardonnay.

“There were some encouraging, beautifully made Chardonnays in the £10- £15 bracket,” she said.

Hugo Rose MW was harder to please, favouring the wines in the £20-£30 bracket where he found “more bursts of quality and stylistic differences”. He was, however, encouraged by the quality of the wines on show in all price bands. “It was a very favourable tasting and the standard was much higher than I was expecting. There’s a trend for precision winemaking and a discrete use of oak across national boundaries, and my scores reflected that. For an old-school winetrade person this was a new paradigm for Chardonnay, with the wines showing purity, delicacy, balance and well judged oak and ripeness levels,” he revealed.

Jonathan Pedley MW was equally enthusiastic about Chardonnay’s upward trajectory. “The general standard was pretty strong across the board and there were very few weak wines as most were well balanced. If we’d have done this tasting a decade ago we would have found a lot of over-oaked, alcoholic wines, but these were well crafted, even at entry level,” he said.All of the judges seemed impressed by the quality leaps that have been made in the New World in recent years. “Nearly all of the wines got a medal and there were hardly any I wouldn’t happily drink. Chardonnay can be such a workhorse because everyone tries to make it, but it’s so much better than it used to be. If used, oak was appealing and in the powerful styles the balance, harmony and quality was still there. The big blockbusters can be just as elegant and exciting as the more subtle, delicate styles, illustrating Chardonnay’s ability to shine in different guises,” said Parkinson.
The topic of reduction divided our judges, with some, including Keith Isaac MW, liking the struck-match aroma the style provides and others believing winemakers had pushed the boundaries too far. “Reduction can be an attribute if employed alongside phenolic ripeness and decent balance, but people that played with reduction at the expense of other elements came unstuck,” said Corish MW. Pedley MW took a similar stance: “There was a battle at the middle to top end about how much reduction is a good thing and some winemakers have gone for the very reduced, leesy style, which had been pushed too far at the expense of fruit character in some wines.

Reduction is a winemaking fad and has become synonymous with quality in some people’s minds but I don’t buy into that,” he said.

As for terroir expression, it seemed lacking in a lot of the wines, but not at the expense of quality. “Sometimes it was difficult to tell the origin of the wines, so winemakers will need to look for regional identity moving forward,” admitted Rose.

4REGIONAL IDENTITY

Corish believes the better wines showed a sense of place, but he was hoping to find more layers of complexity in the higher priced wines. “The most disappointing wines in the line-up were a little skeletal and erring on the side of early picking, which made them one-dimensional,” he lamented.

All in all, there was very little to fault in this glittering line-up. “I was very impressed by the modest approach from the New World,” enthused Rose. “They weren’t trying to ape Burgundy – I saw something different from them. Oak use was so careful and precise it was almost invisible – there was a lot of thoughtful winemaking in evidence and very few failures. Chardonnays outside of Burgundy are forging their own path.”

Corish believes the category offers something for everyone. “Chardonnay remains one of the most versatile whites in the world. The tasting showed that the New World has come on in leaps and bounds from the days of heavy-handed oak treatment and over-ripeness. The grape offers consumers incredible value for money compared with other varieties,” he said.

His opinion was echoed by Parkinson: “It wasn’t obvious when the Old World wines came up alongside the New World examples. This is a new era for Chardonnay and the results are in the bottle. I can’t emphasise strongly enough how encouraging this tasting was – there was hardly a dud in there. We’ve turned a corner.”

The judges

  • Front row (l-r): Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW, Hugo Rose MW, Jonathan Pedley MW,
  • Middle row (l-r): Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Lucy Shaw, Christine Parkinson, Patrick Schmitt MW,
  • Back row (l-r): Alberto Segade, Miles Corish MW, Keith Isaac MW, Thomas Chevalier

by eva-photography.com

Chardonnay Masters 2017: the results in full

Where once the choice for Chardonnay drinkers was either a big, buttery, oaky expression or, in response, an austere, lighter version, now producers have found an appealing middle ground, as Patrick Schmitt MW and fellow judges discover.

The wines, which were all 100% Chardonnay, were judged by a cherry-picked group of Masters of Wine and sommeliers on 12 October at Villandry in Piccadilly in London

No single variety of wine has suffered more abuse than Chardonnay. As those of you in the trade know well, the most overt sign of this came with the ‘Anything But Chardonnay’ movement of the last decade – shortened to ABC – which emerged as a response to buttery, oaky, rather sickly styles of wine that had appeared on the market from the late 1990s onwards, when heavy-handed cellar techniques were used on lightweight grapes. Unfortunately, it wrongly tarred all Chardonnays with the same brush. But the ABC sentiment was to some extent justified; it was a reaction to something real.

As a result, combatting such an image issue took drastic, tangible measures. It required the emergence of ‘skinny’ Chardonnay: a style of wine created so lean that the trade and consumers couldn’t help but notice. It was proof that Chardonnay’s stylistic pendulum had well and truly swung to another extreme. And, for this reason, initially, it was welcome. But it wasn’t the long-term solution for a grape that had created a mass following for its richness. Should one crave a fresh, lightweight drink, one wouldn’t ask for a Chardonnay. So, while the lean Chardonnay showed that winemakers could produce something delicate from this grape, it was, at the same time, disappointing those who loved Chardonnay for its generosity; that crowd-pleasing combination of ripe yellow fruit and notes of buttered toast.

About the competition

In a crowded wine competition arena, The Drinks Business Global Chardonnay Masters stands out for its assessment of wines purely by grape variety rather than by region. Divided only by price bracket and, for ease of judging, whether the style was oaked or unoaked, the blind-tasting format allowed wines to be assessed without prejudice about their country of origin. The best wines were awarded medals which ranged from Bronze through to Gold, as well as Master, the ultimate accolade, given only to exceptional wines in the tasting. The wines, which were all 100% Chardonnay, were judged by a cherry-picked group of Masters of Wine and sommeliers on 12 October at Villandry in Piccadilly in London. This report only features the medal-winners.

Moving forward to today, and following another extremely comprehensive Chardonnay sampling through our Global Masters programme, it is apparent that an appealing, balanced middleground has now been struck. One can still find the rich, oaky, Chardonnay caricatures, and the more feathery, austere examples too, but the extremes are less extreme. The variation now comes with price point – so, as one moves up the quality ladder, you can literally buy more fruit, oak, and layers of flavour, for the most part, in harmony. What’s important is that, in general terms, the Chardonnay on the market at the moment is better to drink than it has ever been before. And, with so many sources, there’s a lot to excite the adventurous drinker.

All this means that, at present, any wine lover who is tired of Chardonnay, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, is tired of life. With all that said, before looking closely at the high points from this year’s tasting, there is still controversy in the handling of Chardonnay by winemakers. In the vineyard, lower yields, and attempts to pick neither under- nor over-ripe may be producing musts with the potential for greatness, but management during and after fermentation is bringing a particular and divisive character to the resulting wines – and this results from differing levels of hydrogen sulphide (H2S). At low levels, this compound can add a complexing whiff of smoke, reminiscent of a freshly struck match.

At higher concentrations, it can be stinky, like rotten eggs. Skilled winemakers can control the influence, mainly through lees management, and will allow the almost rampant production of the compound in some barrels, before blending these into the wine to a bring about a desired level of sulphide-sourced characters. Where they have been apparent, but not unpleasant, sulphidic aromas have been a shortcut to success in wine competitions. However, our judges are more sceptical of heaping high scores on such artefact.

As a result, while the top medallists in the Chardonnay Masters may display an attractive sulphidic note, it is in combination with other flavours, primarily the character of the grapes, enhanced by the addition of aromas created by malolactic fermentation and barrel-ageing. In other words, our judges aren’t swayed by the instant aromatic smoky hit from sulphides, but are happy to reward this trait in well-made Chardonnay, as long as it is in harmony with other elements in the wine. On that note, it is important to stress that texture too is vital for great Chardonnay, and the judges were looking for a wine not just with flavour complexity, but a certain weight in the mouth from ripe fruit (not sugar or elevated alcohol). Not only that, but the oleaginous had to be balanced by a brightness on the finish – all wines must deliver refreshment, however weighty.

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