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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)

Sparkling Chardonnay

Company Wine Country Vintage Medal
Sparkling Chardonnay £50+
Champagne Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1995 France 1995 Silver
Sparkling Chardonnay £30-£50
Champagne Drappier Blanc de Blancs France NV Gold
Wiston Estate Winery Blanc de Blancs 2010 England 2010 Gold
Champagne Cattier Brut Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru France NV Silver
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Chardonnay Vintage 2006 France 2006 Bronze
Champagne Drappier Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2005 France 2005 Bronze
Sparkling Chardonnay £20-£30
Coates & Seely Blanc de Blancs NV England NV Silver
Ridgeview Wine Estate Marksman England 2010 Silver
Wiston Estate Winery Blanc de Blancs NV England NV Bronze
Ridgeview Wine Estate Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs England 2011 Bronze

Unoaked Chardonnay

Company Wine Country Vintage Medal
Unoaked Chardonnay Under £10
The Co-operative The Co-operative Chablis – Brocard France 2013 Silver
Giusti Dal Col Dei Carni – Giusti Chardonnay Italy 2013 Silver
Percy Fox & Co Blossom Hill Chardonnay USA 2013 Bronze
Fontana Bodegas & Viñedos Esencia de Fontana Chardonnay Spain 2013 Bronze
Australian Vintage McGuigan Reserve Chardonnay 2012 Australia 2012 Gold
Pernod Ricard Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay Australia 2013 Bronze
Les Vignobles Foncalieu La Petite Vigne Chardonnay France 2013 Bronze
Compagnie des Vins d’Autrefois Chardonnay d’Autrefois France 2013 Bronze
Les Domaines Auriol Family Selection Chardonnay France 2013 Bronze
Brand Phoenix Firstcape Limited Release Chardonnay South Africa 2014 Bronze
Louisvale Wines Unwooded Chardonnay South Africa 2014 Bronze
Unoaked Chardonnay £10-£20
Vina Valdivieso Valdivieso Reserva Chardonnay Chile 2014 Silver
Casa Vinicola Zonin Castello D’Albola Poggio Alle Fate Toscana IGT Italy 2013 Silver
Sogrape Vinhos CLB Cuvée Tradition Chardonnay Chile 2014 Bronze
A to Z Wineworks A to Z Oregon Chardonnay USA 2013 Bronze
Jackson Family Wines Carmel Road Monterey Unoaked USA 2013 Bronze
DGB Franschhoek Cellar, Our Town Hall Chardonnay South Africa 2014 Bronze
Puiatti – Tenimenti Angelini Puiatti Emozioni Chardonnay IGP Venezia Giulia Italy 2013 Bronze
Unoaked Chardonnay £20-£30
Grant Burge Boomerang Bay Chardonnay Australia 2013 Bronze

Oaked Chardonnay Under £10

Company Wine Country Vintage Medal
Accolade Wines William Hardy Chardonnay Australia 2013 Silver
Pernod Ricard Jacob’s Creek Reserve Adelaide Hills Chardonnay Australia 2013 Silver
Miguel Torres Chile Cordillera Chardonnay Chile 2013 Silver
Trapiche Trapiche Oak Cask Argentina 2013 Bronze
De Bortoli Wines Deen de Bortoli Vat 7 Chardonnay Australia 2013 Bronze
Les Domaines Auriol Baron Blanc Chardonnay “Coup de Foudre dans le Bois” France 2012 Bronze
Australian Vintage McGuigan Classic Australia 2013 Bronze
Chateau Ksara Chardonnay – Cuvée du Pape Lebanon 2013 Bronze
Quinta de Maipo Sumaq Chardonnay – Maycas del Limarí Chile 2013 Bronze
Quinta de Maipo Vitral Chardonnay – Viña Maipo Chile 2013 Bronze
Viña Valdivieso Valdivieso Reserva Chardonnay Chile 2005 Bronze
Viña Valdivieso Valdivieso Single Valley Lot Gran Reserva Chardonnay Chile 2013 Bronze
Australian Vintage Nepenthe Altitude Chardonnay Australia 2012 Bronze
Viña Siegel Siegel Special Reserve Chardonnay Chile 2014 Bronze
Durbanville Hills Durbanville Hills Rhinofields Chardonnay South Africa 2012 Bronze
Australian Vintage McGuigan Bin Serves Australia 2013 Bronze

Oaked Chardonnay £10 – £20

Company Wine Country Vintage Medal
Viña Arboleda Arboleda Aconcagua Costa Chardonnay Chile 2013 Master
Santa Rita Estates Santa Rita Medalla Real Chile 2013 Silver
Constellation Brands Canada Clos du Bois North Coast Chardonnay USA 2013 Silver
Viña Leyda Leyda Lot 5 Chardonnay Chile 2013 Silver
Alpha Domus Alpha Domus AD Chardonnay New Zealand 2012 Silver
Accolade Wines Hardys HRB Chardonnay Australia 2011 Silver
Marisco Vineyards The King’s Bastard Chardonnay New Zealand 2013 Silver
Viña Valdivieso Valdivieso Single Vineyard Chardonnay Chile 2006 Silver
Quinta de Maipo Quebrada Seca – Maycas de Limarí Chile 2013 Silver
Domaine Pierre Labet Bourgogne Chardonnay Vieilles Vignes France 2010 Silver
Berkmann Wine Cellars Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay – Lapostolle Chile 2012 Silver
Australian Vintage Nepenthe Ithaca Chardonnay Australia 2012 Silver
Domaine Pierre Labet Beaune Clos Du Dessus Des Marconnets France 2012 Silver
Andrew Peller Limited Hillebrand Showcase Wild Ferment Chardonnay Oliveira Vineyard, VAQ Lincoln Lakeshore Ontario Canada 2012 Silver
Australian Vintage Tempus Two Penter Chardonnay Australia 2014 Silver
Accolade Wines Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Chardonnay USA 2011 Silver
Viña Errazuriz Max Reserva Chardonnay Chile 2013 Silver
Santa Rita Estates Dona Paula Estate Chardonnay Argentina 2013 Bronze
Firesteed Cellars Citation Chardonnay USA 2012 Bronze
Banfi Fontanelle Italy 2013 Bronze
Ste Michelle Wine Estates Canoe Ridge Estate USA 2012 Bronze
DGB Boschendal 1685 Chardonnay South Africa 2013 Bronze
DGB Boschendal Chardonnay Reserve South Africa 2012 Bronze
Grande Provence Grande Provence Chardonnay South Africa 2013 Bronze
La Motte Wine Estate La Motte Chardonnay South Africa 2012 Bronze
Quinta de Maipo Reserva Especial Chardonnay Chile 2013 Bronze
Viña Cousiño Macul Antiguas Reservas Chile 2013 Bronze
Viña San Pedro Tarapacá Tarapacá Gran Reserva Chardannay Chile 2013 Bronze
Louisvale Wines Louisvale Chardonnay South Africa 2013 Bronze
Viña Tamaya Tamaya Winemaker’s Gran Reserva Chardonnay Chile 2012 Bronze
Sumaridge Estate Wines Chardonnay South Africa 2012 Bronze
Fox Creek Wines Fox Creek Chardonnay Australia 2013 Bronze
Cono Sur Winery 20 Barrels Chardonnay Chile 2013 Bronze
Viña Errázuriz Chardonnay Aconcagua Costa Chile 2013 Bronze
Australian Vintage McGuigan Shortlist Chardonnay Australia 2012 Bronze
Viña Casa Silva Casa Silva Gran Terroir Chardonnay Chile 2013 Bronze
Bergsig Estate Bergsig Chardonnay South Africa 2013 Bronze
Robertson Winery Kings River Chardonnay South Africa 2013 Bronze
Viña Valdivieso Valdivieso Single Vineyard Chardonnay Chile 2013 Bronze
Marisco Vineyards The King’s Legacy Chardonnay New Zealand 2012 Bronze
Concha Y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay Chile 2012 Bronze

Oaked Chardonnay £20-£30

Company Wine Country Vintage Medal
Taylors Wakefield Wines St Andrews Chardonnay Australia 2013 Gold
Jackson Family Wines Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard DOB Chardonnay USA 2013 Gold
Australia West Wine Exports Cherubino Chardonnay Australia 2011 Silver
De Bortoli Wines Yarra Valley Section A5 Single Vineyard Chardonnay Australia 2012 Silver
Bird In Hand Bird in Hand Chardonnay Australia 2012 Silver
De Wetshof Estate De Wetshof Estate The Site Chardonnay South Africa 2013 Silver
Jackson Family Wines La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay USA 2013 Silver
Jackson Family Wines Grand Reserve Chardonnay – Kendall Jackson USA 2012 Silver
Ste Michelle Wine Estates Ethos Reserve USA 2012 Bronze
Killerby Killerby Chardonnay Australia 2012 Bronze
Voyager Estate Voyager Estate Chardonnay Australia 2010 Bronze
Jackson Family Wines La Crema Russian River Valley Chardonnay USA 2013 Bronze
Craggy Range Vineyards Chardonnay, Gimblett Gravels Vineyard, Hawke’s Bay New Zealand 2013 Bronze
Glen Carlou Vineyards Glen Carlou Chardonnay South Africa 2013 Bronze
Miguel Torres Milmanda Spain 2011 Bronze
Ste Michelle Wine Estates Karia – Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars USA 2013 Bronze
Australian Vintage McGuigan Personal Reserve Australia 2013 Bronze
De Wetshof Estate Bateleur Chardonnay South Africa 2012 Bronze
Sunstone Vineyards & Winery Chardonnay USA 2013 Bronze
Glen Carlou Vineyards Glen Carlou Quartz Stone Chardonnay South Africa 2013 Bronze
Santa Carolina/Ehrmanns Santa Carolina Reserva De Familia Chardonnay Chile 2011 Bronze

Oaked Chardonnay £30-£50

Company Wine Country Vintage Medal
Oakridge 864 Chardonnay, Yarra Valley Australia 2011 Master
Bird In Hand Nest Egg Chardonnay Australia 2012 Gold
Uva Mira The Single Tree Chardonnay South Africa 2013 Gold
Jackson Family Wines Broken Road Chardonnay Stonestreet Alexander Mountain Estate USA 2011 Silver
Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay Napa Valley USA 2012 Bronze
Bird In Hand Nest Egg Chardonnay Australia 2010 Bronze

Oaked Chardonnay over £50

Company Wine Country Vintage Medal
Uva Mira Uva Mira Chardonnay South Africa 2013 Gold
Penfolds Penfolds Yattarna Australia 2012 Gold
Monteverro Monteverro Chardonnay Italy 2011 Silver

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