The chief winemaker at the world’s biggest wine company and the most influential woman in wine according to the drinks business, talks of Chardonnay’s expressiveness, how Château Montelena inspires her and the best upcoming regions in North America for growing the variety.
What factors in your view makes a Chardonnay great?
Chardonnay is such a versatile grape. With Chardonnay in particular, so much depends on the land. A Napa Chardonnay is different from a Central Coast Chardonnay, which are both different from what we see in Australia and France, for example.
It is a pretty malleable grape, yet it stays true to its source, meaning I can showcase different characteristics in each Chardonnay that I make, based on the terroir and the techniques we use in the cellar. This is an exciting wine to make, as well as to taste, because the possibilities are virtually limitless.
Which regions other than your own are emerging today as particularly exciting sources of Chardonnay?
I’ve always been drawn to Burgundy, but of course we can’t call that an emerging market, as it is sort of the grandfather of Chardonnay regions – where it all began.
I’ve recently tasted some very good Chardonnays out of New York, Washington State, and Okanagan in British Columbia. The wine culture is really evolving in each of these places, and they are turning out a lot of really interesting and elegant cool-climate Chardonnays at the moment.
What is it about Chardonnay that means it has lasting global appeal?
Chardonnay has a great expressive quality that allows for a true reflection of both the local terroir and the personal style of the winemaker.
Because Chardonnay is a really wonderful partner to so many different types of food, it is a go-to wine for restaurants and family tables around the world.
Is there a winemaker or wine whose expression of Chardonnay inspires you?
Well, I’m always inspired by what Jean-Charles is doing with Chardonnay. I am partial to JCB No. 81. I also love Chateau Montelena.
This Chardonnay is, of course, best known for its historic win at the 1976 Paris Tasting, but the reason it inspires me today is because it offers such an unusual expression of Napa Valley.
It has a very pronounced mineral character with a firm acid structure, and none of the overly rich or oaky flavors. And it is an amazing value!
the drinks business Global Chardonnay Masters 2013 takes place in September. 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 13 September.