Neil McGuigan: “Chardonnay must be refreshing”

12th September, 2013 by Patrick Schmitt

Neil McGuigan, CEO of Australia’s third biggest wine producer, Australian Vintage, tells db why he’s impressed by the Chardonnays of the Okanagan Valley and inspired by Philip Shaw.

Neil McGuigan

Neil McGuigan, CEO of Australia Vintage, has been crowned Winemaker of the Year three times at the International Wine & Spirit Competition

What factors in your view makes a Chardonnay great?

Firstly, Chardonnay must be refreshing. Refreshing doesn’t necessarily mean fruity. Chardonnay should never be thin but must be complex and interesting on the nose and then have a palate of great length, lightness but with plenty of complex flavours. The flavours should be complementary and be layered but without one character being overt. The alcohol, oak, malo and lees should be all present, harmonious and be persistent through the palate.

What regions of the world, other than your own, have the potential to produce high quality and distinctive Chardonnay?

There are many regions around the world that produce great Chardonnay – The Hunter Valley and Adelaide Hills in Australia; The Napa Valley and Sonoma in the USA; and of course Burgundy in France. One region that has impressed me is the Okanagan Valley in British Colombia, Canada. The cool climate characters and palate length from this region are very inviting and I find most of the wines very refreshing.

What is it about Chardonnay that means it has lasting global appeal?

Chardonnay is the prince of white grape varieties. It is incredibly versatile making every thing from sparkling wine through to intense dry white wines and occasionally a desert wine. The best Chardonnay’s show complexity, flavour, lightness, balance and longevity. And, I suppose because they are so well suited to be consumed with food is the reason why Chardonnay will also be the “Darling White Grape Variety” for a along time to come.

Is there a winemaker or wine whose expression of Chardonnay inspires you?

The winemaker that was most progressive with Chardonnay in Australia in the 1980’s was Philip Shaw originally with Rosemount. Philip pioneered malolactic fermentation in Chardonnay and created wines of great weight and intensity which was in concert with what consumers wanted around the world. As time progressed Philip harnessed malo through the 90’s and created Chardonnay with great complexity without “bigness”. Philip now has his own brand Philip Shaw Wines and he makes wine from the cool climate region of Orange in NSW, Australia. The complexity, integration and palate length he achieves is still an inspiration to all of us.

This interview with Neil McGuigan was conducted ahead of the inaugural Global Chardonnay Masters 2013 from the drinks business.

Presided over by a panel of Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers, rather than being judged by country, each Chardonnay is assessed by style and price.

Those interested in entering the competition can do so here. The deadline for entries is tomorrow and the wines will be judged later this month.

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