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.”

Syrah Masters 2017: the results in full

While it may be less popular than other red grape varieties, Syrah, or Shiraz, is made by producers who really have a passion for the wine type, as the expressions in our annual Syrah Masters prove. By Patrick Schmitt MW


Of all the major red grapes, Syrah must be the hardest to classify. Not only does if have two names – Syrah and Shiraz – but each reflects a different personality. This is a variety that can produce restrained and delicate wines, or, depending on climate and treatment, something rich and powerful.

In terms of pure quality too, it can display different extremes, yielding something simple and inexpensive, or fine and pricey – indeed, it can make the greatest varietal reds in the world after Pinot. Purely in terms of image, however, Syrah doesn’t have the pulling power of Pinot.

While people may love the wines of the northern Rhône, and crave the complexities of Hermitage, they don’t tend to eulogise about Syrah itself – which is, of course, the base grape of these great French wine regions. As for Shiraz, this is associated with the juicy generosity of Aussie reds, but people forget such ripeness can be reached in other places, from California to Tuscany.

And they also sometimes fail to remember that Syrah can make elegant wines outside of its European heartland of the Rhône, something proven by the increasing number of refreshing examples from New Zealand – particularly Hawke’s Bay – and coastal Chile, above all Leyda and Limarí.

About the competition

In a crowded wine-competition arena, the drinks business Global Syrah 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, style too, the blind tasting format allowed wines to be assessed without prejudice about their country of origin. The best wines were awarded medals that ranged from Bronze through to Gold, as well as Master, the ultimate accolade, given only to exceptional wines in the tasting. The wines were judged by a cherrypicked group of Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers on 20 July at Bumpkin in London’s South Kensington

Its many faces, of course, make it interesting to blind taste. Where does it excel, which styles emanate from which areas, and what are the overarching winemaking trends with this grape? All were questions answered by our Syrah Masters 2017. Initially though, one thing that is clear from this year’s competition is the sheer quality of Syrah being produced today. Indeed, there isn’t a Global Masters with better results – it yielded the highest number of Golds and Masters in the series so far.

That may be connected to the complexities of commercialising Syrah. In essence, it is only produced by people who love the grape, and in places where it performs brilliantly, quite simply because, at the moment, it’s not particularly easy to sell.

It should be said that there were wines in this year’s Syrah Masters that failed to gain top medals. Sometimes that was because there was a green pepper and olive character that verged on the bitter, no doubt because the grapes were picked a little too early. At other times it was because of a sulphurous whiff that didn’t clear with swirling – Syrah is a grape that is prone to producing sulphur dioxide either during or after fermentation. And then there were wines with raisined flavours and elevated alcohol levels, examples where it was clear the berries were exposed to excessive sun, or the bunches were harvested too late.

WINES WITH BALANCE
Also, a few wines had seen too much new oak, masking the inherent characters of the variety with barrel-sourced flavours, particularly vanillin. But such negatives were rare. In the main, the judges witnessed wines with balance, albeit in different styles, which in turn were reflective of a range of source areas.

Not only that, but they also enjoyed the characters of sensitively handled Syrah, from its black pepper, black cherry and blackberry flavours, to its firm tannins, intense colour, and bright acidity. As for where Syrah excels, the results confirm what the professionals doubtless expect: the best wines were from the Northern Rhône, the Barossa, and the aforementioned areas of New Zealand and Chile.

The surprises were the quality of wines possible with this grape in parts of South Africa, Italy and Portugal, with a Gold-medal-winning example from the Alentejo.

THE SWEET SPOT
Considering the price bands, Syrah can make good wines at low cost, but it seems there is a sweet spot for this grape at £15-£20, with two Masters achieved at what is a relatively low price for an outstanding wine. Because of the high number of top scoring samples, mentioning all the Gold and Master winners in this article would risk producing little more than a list.

Nevertheless, certain names are worth picking out. In particular Wakefield Wines for their juicy but refreshing range of high-quality wines at price points from around £10 up to almost £50. Also, the skill of Penfolds with Syrah shone in this blind tasting, particularly its St Henri Shiraz, which, without the sweetness of ageing in new oak barriques, provides a pure expression of great Australian Shiraz in all its juicy, spicy and textured glory.

Langmeil too, showed the wonders of Australian Shiraz from the Barossa, as did Château Tanunda, Kalleskie and Yalumba, while Yangarra highlighted the brilliance of the same grape grown in the McLaren Vale, and McGuigan the complexity of Shiraz from the Hunter Valley.

Jacob’s Creek too proved its ability to craft lovely Shiraz at accessible price points when blended across south Australia, particularly this brand’s innovative ‘double barrel’ range, which sees its wines finished in aged whiskey barrels. Beyond Australia, New Zealand wowed with several examples of Hawkes Bay Syrah, particularly from Church Road and Elephant Hill, while South Africa impressed with its examples from Saronsberg in Tulbagh and Cloof in Darling.

More surprising was the great Syrah blend from Monte Da Ravasqueira in the Alentejo and a varietal example from Planeta in Sicily. In short, the Global Syrah Masters highlighted the best places for this grape, the top producers, as well as the quality available in the market. It also showed that the more you pay, the better the wine.

This may sound like an obvious point, but with some grapes in the Global Masters, this isn’t the case. In other words, Syrah is a safe bet at all prices, but a particularly savvy choice for fine wine lovers.

The judges (left-right)
Patrick Schmitt MW, the drinks business; Emma Symington MW, Wine Australia; Patricia Stefanowicz MW, consultant; Clément Robert MS, 28-50 Wine Workshop & Kitchen; Matthieu Longuère MS, Le Cordon Bleu; Ana Sapungiu MW, Oddbins; Tobias Gorn, Boisdale; Beverly Tabbron MW, Hallgarten Druitt; Clive Barlow MW, consultant

Over the following pages are the results in full from this year’s Syrah Masters, along with comments from the judges.

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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