The view from fellow chair of the judges, Jonathan Pedley MW
Faults. The fault count was pleasingly low. One case of cork taint, one case of egregious reduction and a couple of oxidative wines but otherwise everything was clean and correct.
Styles and Quality I. I am delighted to say that the tasting was a glorious vindication of ‘Proper Chardonnay’. In the past I have ranted about winemakers wilfully missing the point of Chardonnay and as a result making wines that are etiolated shadows of what is possible. To reiterate briefly:
Great Chardonnay is a wine of complexity, built by human hand from the following components: the fruit (not particularly aromatic, but capable of accurately reflecting the climate where it is grown), oak (not compulsory, but often important), malolactic fermentation and lees ageing.
None of these components is an end in itself, but when combined in the right proportions, can achieve [Pseud’s Corner Alert] something truly profound.
On the palate a top Chardonnay should be a wine of richness and texture. There are enough “thin potations” (to hijack Shakespeare’s attack on wines that were not Sherry) in the world without aping them with Chardonnay. Of course, like any well balanced white wine, a Chardonnay needs enough acidity to offset the alcohol and weight, but that is no excuse for producing a neurotic self-loathing skeleton.
The modern history of Chardonnay is a catalogue of fads, in which winemakers have latched onto one component of the complex mix and exaggerated it to the exclusion of the other elements. In approximate chronological order over a third of a century: excessive fruit ripeness, too much oak, blowsy oxidative notes, marked leesiness, too much lactic character, a lack of fruit ripeness, excessive sulphidic reduction.
I am delighted to say that today Team Pedley found seven wines (three Golds and four Masters) that had the incomparable complexity and richness of which Chardonnay is capable, whilst at the same time being balanced and harmonious.
Styles and Quality II. All of the above does not preclude variety within the Chardonnay family. For instance, we scored wines 225 and 226 highly (both from Australia in the £20-30 bracket) but whilst the former was rich and leesy, the latter was elegant and vibrant.
Countries. Australia was the star performer: three Masters (wines 225, 236 and 237) and two Golds (wines 209 and 226). Quite a few Silvers came from Australia as well. South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia all contributed. New Zealand got a Gold (wine 219) and South Africa a Master (wine 225). Chile and France did not show as well.
Prices. Try as we might we could not award anything above a Bronze in the <£10 bracket. We managed a Silver (wine 207) and a Gold (wine 209) in the £10-15 category. The £15-20 flight yielded rich pickings: two Silvers (wines 215 and 216), a Gold (wine 219) and a Master (wine 220). Expectations were high in the large £20-30 bracket but ultimately it only gave us one Gold (wine 226) and one Master (wine 225). The £30-50 quartet was rather disappointing, but we ended with a Beethovenian blaze of glory awarding Masters to wines 236 and 237 in the £50+ category.