Sommelier Wine Awards 2009: New World
Plenty of decent bottles and very few dogs meant that our tasters were positive about New World Chardonnay, though genuine excitement was in short supply
That there’s been a quiet revolution in New World Chardonnay (perhaps evolution would be more accurate) over the last decade or so is well documented. But it was heartening to see just what the stylistic changes have meant for the category.
Out, for the most part, are horrible, sweet, tinned-pineapple confections with several inches of oak slathered over the top. In are wines of more restraint, more elegance and infinitely better wood use.
Sadly, this does come at a price. There was only one wine submitted under £5 (the Caliterra), though this did manage to get on the Shortlist, which was quite an achievement. For the most part, this was a category that started around the £6 mark, didn’t get into its stride until nearer £8 and only really started to make a sustained impression over £10.
Some tasters talked of a ‘hole in the middle of the flight’, with some decent entry-level and great top-end stuff, but slim pickings in between. Others reckoned that the best value for money was further up the scale, where the wines started to really deliver.
Though this brought its own inherent problems: namely, get too far over £10 and the wines start to encroach on half-decent Burgundy territory. And there’s not much that gets between a sommelier and his Meursault.
It perhaps explains why, although this was a big category, with strength in depth, only four wines made it onto the Gold List: most of the cheap wines were good rather than exceptional, while the top-end wines were often rejected for commercial reasons.
As is often the case in New World flights, the bottom third or so tended to be from Chile or Argentina, before South Africa, California, Australia and New Zealand took over. The split of Golds – two to New Zealand, one to Australia and one to Chile – was probably a fair reflection of the category as a whole. (Open question: why don’t the Chileans make more good expensive wines? Answers on a postcard...)
Finally, congratulations must go to two of the top Gold Listed Chardonnays. Both of these wines hit gold last year as well with different vintages, so to be picked out again – when there was no shortage of £15+ wines is impressive indeed. Well done Liberty...
There were a few outstanding wines, but a lot that were decent rather than exciting, and that made it a hard flight to judge. Frederic Billet, Marylebone Hotel
My top wines were the pricier ones, but they were rather overpriced. They’d be competing with St Aubin, and would probably just sit on the list. At the lower end there were some good wines, though, and they’d be an easier sell. Igor Sotric, China Tang
Tabali Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2007, Limari Valley, Chile
£6.72 @ Boutinot Ltd
Buttery, with apricots and pineapples and a whiff of earthiness and minerality, this ‘ticks all the boxes’, as Angela Reddin put it. Toasted hazelnut finish, with easy-drinking appeal.
Saint Clair Omaka Reserve Chardonnay 2007, Marlborough, New Zealand
£10.61 @ Hallgarten Druitt
‘Nice oak!’ said Tom Forrest. Toasty tropical pineapple and melon characters, but fresh not tinned. Intense and concentrated, but a nice balance with a spicy finish. ‘This is great on the palate,’ said Paolo Brammer.
M3 Vineyard Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2007, Shaw & Smith, Adelaide Hills, Australia
£13.62 @ Liberty Wines
An oaky nose gives way to a surprisingly tight, mineral palate that is long and nervy with shocks of cream and stone fruit. ‘Zesty, good acidity and texture on the mid-palate,’ said Hamish Anderson.
Craighall Chardonnay 2007, Ata Rangi, Martinborough, New Zealand
£16.62 @ Liberty Wines
Light smoky oak, with melon, pineapple and a citrus whiff. Good fruit/oak balance, neat mid-palate freshness and a complex finish. ‘Amazing freshness. This will be brilliant with food,’ said Roger Jones.
Caliterra Chardonnay Reserva 2008, Curico Valley, Chile
£4.97 @ Hatch Mansfield
Tropical nose, with some sweet creamy oak and more sweet, tropical fruit on the palate. Simple, but well put together for the price.
Beelgara Estate Chardonnay 2008, New South Wales, Australia
£5.68 @ Barwell & Jones Ltd
Clean, fresh, slightly herbal Chardonnay, with hints of lime and green bell pepper. ‘Nice minerality on the palate, with subtle fruit,’ said Laura Rhys.
Jip Jip Rocks Chardonnay 2008, Limestone Coast, Australia
£6.89 @ Paragon Vintners Ltd*
Golden colour, with surprising green-fruited herb and tea aromas on the nose. Palate is medium-bodied, dry and restrained. ‘A good food wine,’ said Angus McNab.
Cuvee Alexandre Chardonnay 2007, Casa Lapostolle, Casablanca Valley, Chile
£7.99 @ Berkmann Wine Cellars
Ripe, warm-region fruit, but not out of balance. Just the right side of blowsy. Creamy and textured, it’s a good food wine – perhaps with poultry and lemon to help cut the oak.
Paul Cluver Chardonnay 2007, Elgin, South Africa
£9.28 @ Seckford Agencies
Plenty of toasty, buttery oak but backed up nicely by ripe citrus fruit – and all well integrated. ‘Complex, with a long, luscious finish,’ said Bea Brown.
Fromm La Strada Chardonnay 2006, Marlborough, New Zealand
£11.12 @ Boutinot Ltd
Subtle, even challenging mineral nose, with zesty overtones of lime, roses and pepper bringing life to richer yellow fruit. ‘Very understated and classy,’ said an admiring Peter McCombie MW.
Cambria Katherine’s Chardonnay 2006, Jackson Family Wines, Santa Maria Valley, California, USA
£11.97 @ John E Fells & Sons
Interesting, multi-layered style, with crème brûlée and nuts leavened by sage and cardamom. Savoury, confident fruit with a balanced, smoky finish. ‘Fascinating complexity,’ said an intrigued Angela Mount.
Emer Chardonnay 2007, Setanta, Adelaide Hills, Australia
£11.33 @ Novum Wines
Subtle, delicate nose. There’s oak here but it’s background noise. Palate has richness, but also subtlety, with a minerally finish.
Jarraman Chardonnay 2007, Wakefield, Clare Valley, Australia
£13.10 @ Stratford’s Wine Agencies
Exotic but subtle mineral nose, with hints of herbal spice, crisp apple and lush yellow fruit. Fresh palate, but medium-bodied and with a great finish. ‘Classy and complex,’ said Michael Moore.
* Paragon Vintners Ltd has stopped trading. As we went to press this wine had no current UK importer.