The best wines from the Chardonnay Masters 2020

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.

Chardonnay Master: Capensis from the Western Cape

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.

Sparkling Chardonnay

Winery Name Region Country Vintage Medal
£30-£50
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
£50+
Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs Kent UK 2015 Master
Champagne Ayala Le Blanc de Blancs Champagne France 2014 Gold

Unoaked Still Chardonnay

Winery Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
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-
Roussillon
France 2020 Silver
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
£10-£15
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
£15-£20
Bouchard Finlayson Sans Barrique Chardonnay Walker Bay South Africa 2018 Silver
Vinicola San Lorenzo Casa Madero Chardonnay Parras Valley Mexico 2019 Silver
Laroche L Chablis Burgundy France 2019 Silver
The Lane Vineyard The Lane Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Australia 2019 Silver
£20-£30
Giusti Wine Chardonnay IGT Trevenezie Dei Carni Veneto Italy 2019 Silver
Jean Leon Jean Leon 3055 Penedès Spain 2019 Silver
£50+
Viña Chocalan Chardonnay Reserva Maipo Valley Chile 2019 Gold
Marimar Estate Acero Russian River Valley USA 2018 Gold

Oaked Still Chardonnay

Winery Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
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
£10-£15
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
£15-£20
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
£20-£30
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
£30-£50
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
Chamlija Thracian Strandja Mountains Turkey 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
£50+
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: sophie@thedrinksbusiness.com

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.”

Chardonnay Masters 2019: the results in full

We bring you a full report on the Chardonnay Masters 2019, including all the medallists, the names to watch, and the go-to regions for great barrel-fermented whites – Burgundy included, but Australia-dominated. Co-chair of the judges, Patrick Schmitt MW, reports

There are several benefits to the blind tasting format employed by our Global Wine Masters, which sees us sample entries by style and grape variety, rather than origin. One of these is to assess the overall quality and character of a category, be that a noble grape such as Chardonnay, or trending sector, from sparkling to rosé. Another is to isolate the great names and domains in the sector, including the best value producers along with those star, if sometimes pricy, performers. A further highly important element to our approach is to find out the hot spots for the type of wine being tasted. And, over the years, the Global Masters has drawn attention to a number of such areas, such as the excellence of pink wines from the Tuscan coast, the brilliance of Sauvignon from Styria, or Pinot Gris from Slovenia, while highlighting the rising quality of sparkling wines from Kent and Sussex, as well as the outstanding value of traditional method fizz from the Loire. There are many more that could be mentioned, such as the reliability of Clare Valley as the source of deliciously intense bone dry Riesling that doesn’t break the bank, or the brilliance of Cabernet Sauvignons from Sonoma, which tend to be a touch fresher, and a whole lot cheaper than the equivalents from neighbouring Napa.

Some of the greatest revelations have come from our Chardonnay tastings, which we’ve held annually since 2013. While such a competition has yielded so much discussion around winemaking techniques, such as the direct influence on style of picking dates, lees management, barrel regimes etc, we have devoted fewer words to the connection between place and quality, and so it’s this aspect to our results that I’m choosing to focus on this year, with a nod to past medallists from this major tasting.

And… if I am to pick out one overwhelming positive origin-based conclusion from these tastings, it is the excellence of Chardonnay from Australia, particularly Hunter and Yarra Valleys, along with Clare/Barossa, and Margaret River in the west of the country. The standout, however, has been the Adelaide Hills. I note this with a pang of sadness, aware that as much as one third of this area’s vineyards have been destroyed by the savage bushfires that swept through this beautiful area just before Christmas.

Over the years, we’ve seen Adelaide Hills deliver not just Australia’s top Chardonnays, but, relative to the global competition in the same price category, the best examples on the planet. As proof of the area’s excellence, in this year’s tasting, three of our six ‘Chardonnay Masters’ were from the Adelaide Hills (with a fourth also hailing from Australia). Examples from Penfolds using Adelaide Hills fruit have wowed in the past, but the most consistent wonders have hailed from Australian Vintage with Nepenthe, Tapanappa, with its Tiers vineyard in particular, and Bird in Hand with its Chardonnays at all levels. Indeed, after years of blind-tasting Chardonnay from around the world, I can say with confidence that a go-to place for fine, barrel-influenced Chardonnay is the Adelaide Hills, and bearing in mind the recent devastation of the region, I urge you to secure some stock from the great names mentioned above, both to benefit the region, but also yourself – prices are likely to go up.

I should also mention the other Australian Master in the 2019 tasting, which went to Clare Valley’s Taylor/Wakefield Wines. This producer, named after the Taylor family in Australia, but called Wakefield Wines abroad (due to trademark laws on the ‘Taylor’s’ brand from the Port producer by the same name), has been a big hitter with its Chardonnays in many of our tastings, but also with its Rieslings, Shirazes and Cabernets in our competitions for each one of these varieties. In short, I have been repeatedly impressed by the quality of their output.

Chardonnay Masters 2013: The medalists

A select group of judges put aside preconceived ideas about this global grape variety as wines were appraised on style not region. Here we list all the Chardonnays that received a medal.

Chardonnay MastersOF ALL the world’s grape varieties, no other can match Chardonnay for its geographical reach and stylistic virtuosity. From the great grands crus of the Côtes de Beaune to the “sunshine in a bottle” that represents many people’s introduction to wine, Chardonnay mingles seamlessly with aristocracy and proletariat alike. The flip side of this virtuosity means that, more than any other variety, Chardonnay is particularly susceptible to fashion, making itself loved, derided and misunderstood in equal measures. What better candidate therefore with which to expand The Drinks Business Masters series?

Unsurprisingly for a variety which so often reflects winemaking technique as much, if not more, than any strong sense of place, the results offer an intriguing picture of which regions and producers are getting this balance right. Of course, deciding where that balance lies can prove highly subjective and provoked some lively discussion among judges. The interplay of factors such as fruit ripeness, oak, alcohol, acidity, residual sugar, malolactic fermentation, battonage and oxygen management requires deft decision making by winemakers.

Crucially, however, the end result should not distract the drinker by displaying its vinification too overtly, but rise above the sum of its parts to create a harmonious whole. The hundreds of wines entered into this inaugural Global Chardonnay Masters representing no fewer than 18 different countries demonstrated that winemakers today, from all parts of the world, are rising admirably to this challenge.

“The tasting reminded me why Chardonnay is such a hugely successful grape,” summed up Sebastian Payne MW, buyer for The Wine Society. “Its bouquet relatively seldom shouts at you, unlike Sauvignon or Gewürztraminer or even Riesling, but the flavour is satisfactorily full and rounded, never aggressive or over-acidic, and its wines are splendidly versatile when you eat.”

CORRECT BALANCE

Meanwhile Justin Knock MW, a winemaking consultant for clients in South America, the UK, Spain and his native Australia, commented on some of the current stylistic trends demonstrated by this competition. As a general observation, he noted: “In my view winemakers in pursuit of less overt ripeness are making better wines.” In terms of vinification, Knock found “oak was generally very well handled”, adding: “I noticed that some viscous, buttery malolactic fermentation characters are making a return – perhaps in view of finding acid balance in earlier picked styles.” Hailing this evolution as a “welcome return”, he argued: “It has a natural place in truly great, complex, textured Chardonnay.”

What’s more, Knock noted the appeal on offer even among more modestly priced wines. “It was great to see that even at entry level prices wines are showing better balance, even when in a more overt and predictable style,” he commented. “It shows that Chardonnay has multiple dimensions and that people are open to a wide range of styles.”
For consultant Richard Bampfield MW, the entries offered a valuable update on what we can now expect from a variety which is so prone to the pendulum swing of fashion. “A few years ago, I think that such a tasting would have featured wines showing more evident development, probably more evident oak and more overt smoothness and roundness,” he suggested. “Nowadays the aim is for a fresher style, almost as if the wines have been blended with some Sauvignon.”

In Bampfield’s view, this evolution marks a positive step for Chardonnay. “I think this is a healthier direction with the proviso that higher levels of acidity also require a reasonable level of ripeness to ensure a balanced result,” he concluded.

The judges may not have known the origin of the wines in each flight, but some regions certainly met their exacting criteria with greater regularity than others. While there were pockets of brilliance from individual producers across the globe, a number of regions stood out for the consistently exceptional quality of their Chardonnay.

SOUTHERN COMFORT

Within a strong overall performance from Australia, the Adelaide Hills and Margaret River shone particularly bright. California’s rich, buttery style can divide opinion among European palates, but the judges were quick to reward those achieving elegance alongside generosity. Meanwhile, in South Africa it was the cooler climate regions of Elgin and Walker Bay which impressed judges with the freshness and poise of their Chardonnay. For a while now there have been enthusiastic noises about the underrated quality of New Zealand Chardonnay, so long overshadowed by the country’s popular Sauvignon Blanc.

The entries this year reinforced this impression, showing that Marlborough today has more than one trick up its sleeve. And finally, let’s not forget France. No doubt aware of the contenders seeking to knock them from their pedestal, Burgundian entries made up a relatively small proportion of the wines judged. Of these, many acquitted themselves with distinction; however, Payne used the quality of the competition to warn: “Burgundy, particularly the Côte d’Or, needs to look to its laurels and

FRENCH STYLE

Of course, Burgundy is not the only corner of France that understands how to make excellent Chardonnay, a fact reflected in the impressive medal haul from Champagne, whose blanc de blancs continues to set an ambitious benchmark for the growing number of styles emerging in the ever more dynamic sparkling wine sector. In short, the inaugural Global Chardonnay Masters presented a compelling snapshot of this extraordinarily versatile variety, which is capable of offering enormous pleasure in just about every price point and country you care to imagine.

What’s more, Chardonnay producers are not ones to stagnate: this is not only a commercially crucial category, but one that rewards regular reassessment.

Sparkling Chardonnay
Company Product Name Medal Country Vintage Price(£)
Champagne Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut Master France 2005 30+
Centre Vinicole-Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Chardonnay Gold France 2005 20-30
Champagne Cattier Cattier Brut Blanc de Blancs Signature Gold France NV 30+
Champagne Cattier Cattier Brut Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru Gold France NV 30+
Champagne Gosset Champagne Gosset Blanc de Blancs NV Gold France NV 30+
Centre Vinicole-Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Nicolas Feuillatte Grand Cru Chardonnay Gold France 2005 30+
Edoardo Miroglio Edoardo Miroglio Blanc de Blancs, Brut NV Silver Bulgaria NV 10-20
Nosio Rotari Cuvee 28 100% Chardonnay NV Silver Italy NV 10-20
Champagne Charles Heidsieck Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires Millesime Silver France 1995 30+
Barokes Wines Barokes Bubbly Chardonnay NV Bronze Australia NV 0-10

Chardonnay Masters 2016: results

From being the butt of jokes 20 years ago, Chardonnay is now having the best brought out of it by winemakers worldwide. In the drinks business Global Chardonnay Masters, there was plenty to enthuse about, writes Lucy Shaw.

1Conjuring visions of a despondent Bridget Jones glugging it from a giant glass, Chardonnay has had a bad rap since the mid-1990s, when the term ‘Anything But Chardonnay’ was coined and people went to great lengths to avoid the grape. Twenty years on, the picture looks different – Chardonnay’s fortunes have been revived and the muchmaligned variety has made a magnificent comeback. While Burgundy remains its spiritual home, today Chardonnay is grown all over the world, from chalky soils in Sussex and Champagne to sandy loam in Australia’s Margaret River via New Zealand, South Africa, California and Chile.

Thanks to its relatively neutral character, Chardonnay is both a transmitter of terroir and a blank canvas for winemakers, who can put their stamp on the wines through malolactic fermentation, time on the lees and barrel ageing. Given its chameleon-like nature, Chardonnay’s flavour spectrum takes in everything from green apple and citrus to peaches and cream, and tropical aromas such as banana and pineapple, with those that have undergone malolactic fermentation often rich in texture.

One of the most widely planted grape varieties in the world, Chardonnay adapts well in many climates and soil types, and can be grown with relative ease, which was reflected in the wide range of countries we received entries from in our fourth annual Global Chardonnay Masters competition. Just under 200 wines were tasted over the course of a day at Trinity restaurant in Clapham by a cherry-picked team of judges made up of Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers. The wines were tasted blind and scored out of 100, with those gaining over 95 points being awarded the top accolade of Master.

2Wines that received more than 90 points were given a Gold medal, those over 85 points earned a Silver and those over 80 points a Bronze.

The tasting turned out to be one of the most enjoyable, illuminating and successful of the Masters series so far, with six Masters and 45 Gold medals awarded. Stealing the show was Marlborough’s Giesen, which walked away with two Masters medals for its 2014 The Brothers Chardonnay and 2012 The Fuder Clayvin Chardonnay, priced at £22 and £42 respectively.

Proving that stellar Chardonnay needn’t make your wallet weep was the modestly priced and consistently excellent Eileen Hardy Chardonnay, the 2014 vintage of which won a Master, with the majority of fruit sourced from Tasmania and the remainder hailing from the Yarra Valley.

While further highlighting that Australia is still a major player when it comes to fine Chardonnay, Bird in Hand gained a Master for its Nest Egg from Adelaide.

At the top end of the price scale, South Africa’s Capensis from the Western Cape scooped a Master in the £50+ category, proving that the country is now capable of producing world-class Chardonnays.

With renowned viticulturist Rosa Kruger consulting on the project, the wine undergoes partial malolactic fermentation, with around half fermented in new French oak and aged on its lees in barrel for a year. “It proved that it merits its high price tag – I would have never have guessed it came from South Africa,” said Jonathan Pedley MW. Also winning big in the £50+ bracket this year was Alpha Omega estate from the Napa Valley, whose wax-sealed Reserve Chardonnay 2013 took our final Master of the day.At the top end of the price scale, South Africa’s Capensis from the Western Cape scooped a Master in the £50+ category, proving that the country is now capable of producing world-class Chardonnays.

Highlighting the fact that standout Chardonnay is being made globally, our Gold medals went to countries including Israel, with Barkan Winery in Upper Galilee picking up a Gold for its 2015 Special Reserve Chardonnay. Elsewhere, Australia put in a strong performance with Golds being won across the country, from the Hunter Valley, Yarra Valley and Adelaide Hills to Margaret River and the Clare Valley, where producer Wakefield/Taylors scooped a hat-trick of Golds. South Africa showed itself to be a country to watch for Chardonnay, with Bouchard Finlayson, De Wetshof, Boschendal and Boekenhoutskloof all taking home Gold medals. California also shone in the tasting with Cakebread, Copain and Stag’s Leap scooping a Gold apiece and Jackson Family Wines winning two for its Santa Maria Valley and Anderson Valley expressions. In Chile, two of the country’s historic estates, Concha y Toro and Errazuriz, won Golds, while closer to home, Montevero in Tuscany and Planeta in Sicily also took home Gold medals, showing that Chardonnay can shine in hotter climes.

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GREAT CARE

Wines in all price brackets performed well and garnered praise from our judges. “I was surprised by how well-integrated the oak was at entry level. Producers are clearly taking great care to make better balanced wines. £15-£30 is the sweet spot for Chardonnay, where you’ll find the best value for money and wines that offer generosity of fruit, good structure and balance, and nice oak integration,” noted Miles Corish MW. Christine Parkinson of Hakkasan thinks ‘balance’ and ‘harmony’ are the new watchwords for Chardonnay.

“There were some encouraging, beautifully made Chardonnays in the £10- £15 bracket,” she said.

Hugo Rose MW was harder to please, favouring the wines in the £20-£30 bracket where he found “more bursts of quality and stylistic differences”. He was, however, encouraged by the quality of the wines on show in all price bands. “It was a very favourable tasting and the standard was much higher than I was expecting. There’s a trend for precision winemaking and a discrete use of oak across national boundaries, and my scores reflected that. For an old-school winetrade person this was a new paradigm for Chardonnay, with the wines showing purity, delicacy, balance and well judged oak and ripeness levels,” he revealed.

Jonathan Pedley MW was equally enthusiastic about Chardonnay’s upward trajectory. “The general standard was pretty strong across the board and there were very few weak wines as most were well balanced. If we’d have done this tasting a decade ago we would have found a lot of over-oaked, alcoholic wines, but these were well crafted, even at entry level,” he said.All of the judges seemed impressed by the quality leaps that have been made in the New World in recent years. “Nearly all of the wines got a medal and there were hardly any I wouldn’t happily drink. Chardonnay can be such a workhorse because everyone tries to make it, but it’s so much better than it used to be. If used, oak was appealing and in the powerful styles the balance, harmony and quality was still there. The big blockbusters can be just as elegant and exciting as the more subtle, delicate styles, illustrating Chardonnay’s ability to shine in different guises,” said Parkinson.
The topic of reduction divided our judges, with some, including Keith Isaac MW, liking the struck-match aroma the style provides and others believing winemakers had pushed the boundaries too far. “Reduction can be an attribute if employed alongside phenolic ripeness and decent balance, but people that played with reduction at the expense of other elements came unstuck,” said Corish MW. Pedley MW took a similar stance: “There was a battle at the middle to top end about how much reduction is a good thing and some winemakers have gone for the very reduced, leesy style, which had been pushed too far at the expense of fruit character in some wines.

Reduction is a winemaking fad and has become synonymous with quality in some people’s minds but I don’t buy into that,” he said.

As for terroir expression, it seemed lacking in a lot of the wines, but not at the expense of quality. “Sometimes it was difficult to tell the origin of the wines, so winemakers will need to look for regional identity moving forward,” admitted Rose.

4REGIONAL IDENTITY

Corish believes the better wines showed a sense of place, but he was hoping to find more layers of complexity in the higher priced wines. “The most disappointing wines in the line-up were a little skeletal and erring on the side of early picking, which made them one-dimensional,” he lamented.

All in all, there was very little to fault in this glittering line-up. “I was very impressed by the modest approach from the New World,” enthused Rose. “They weren’t trying to ape Burgundy – I saw something different from them. Oak use was so careful and precise it was almost invisible – there was a lot of thoughtful winemaking in evidence and very few failures. Chardonnays outside of Burgundy are forging their own path.”

Corish believes the category offers something for everyone. “Chardonnay remains one of the most versatile whites in the world. The tasting showed that the New World has come on in leaps and bounds from the days of heavy-handed oak treatment and over-ripeness. The grape offers consumers incredible value for money compared with other varieties,” he said.

His opinion was echoed by Parkinson: “It wasn’t obvious when the Old World wines came up alongside the New World examples. This is a new era for Chardonnay and the results are in the bottle. I can’t emphasise strongly enough how encouraging this tasting was – there was hardly a dud in there. We’ve turned a corner.”

The judges

  • Front row (l-r): Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW, Hugo Rose MW, Jonathan Pedley MW,
  • Middle row (l-r): Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Lucy Shaw, Christine Parkinson, Patrick Schmitt MW,
  • Back row (l-r): Alberto Segade, Miles Corish MW, Keith Isaac MW, Thomas Chevalier

by eva-photography.com

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