The best wines from the Chardonnay Masters 2020By Patrick Schmitt
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.
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.
|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|
|Gusbourne||Blanc de Blancs||Kent||UK||2015||Master|
|Champagne Ayala||Le Blanc de Blancs||Champagne||France||2014||Gold|
Unoaked Still Chardonnay
|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-
|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|
|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|
|Bouchard Finlayson||Sans Barrique Chardonnay||Walker Bay||South Africa||2018||Silver|
|Vinicola San Lorenzo||Casa Madero Chardonnay||Parras Valley||Mexico||2019||Silver|
|The Lane Vineyard||The Lane Chardonnay||Adelaide Hills||Australia||2019||Silver|
|Giusti Wine||Chardonnay IGT Trevenezie Dei Carni||Veneto||Italy||2019||Silver|
|Jean Leon||Jean Leon 3055||Penedès||Spain||2019||Silver|
|Viña Chocalan||Chardonnay Reserva||Maipo Valley||Chile||2019||Gold|
|Marimar Estate||Acero||Russian River Valley||USA||2018||Gold|
Oaked Still Chardonnay
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.”