Plenty of medals again for Chile, although the judges were most impressed stylistically with Australia and South Africa

There were some surprises with Chardonnay this year. First off, after a couple of years
of sluggish growth, there was a 40% increase in entries in 2011. This saw it retake the ‘biggest New World white category’ crown ahead of its gooseberry ’n’ mango-scented peer.

Next up were the prices. While there has always been a fair scattering of sub-£6 medal-winners here in the past, this year they were as rare as talented acts on The X-Factor. With oak, age, currency and duty rises all combining to make their presence felt, there were very few medals of any colour dished out below £8.

Chile and Australia took most of the medals but the tasters were generally more positive about the latter than the former. Too much syrupy fruit (especially from Casablanca) and too much oak, was the feedback. ‘Chardonnay from Chile is not a marriage made in heaven,’ said The Soho Wine Supply’s Kyri Sotiri tactfully. Although the Gold medal-winning Maycas del Limari, which stood out for its elegance, structure and, crucially, balance, might represent a blueprint for Chilean Chardonnay in the future.

Certainly, it seems the Chileans are five to 10 years behind Australia, which has now learned to control fruit and oak, and get a bit more subtlety and texture into its wines. The country's ability to deliver wines from ‘cheap and good’ to ‘expensive and classy’ was heartening, and the tasters were impressed.

‘The wines were reliable, as you’d expect from Australia, with good quality across the flight, citrus freshness, well-integrated acidity and balanced oak; wines that reflect the vineyards rather than the winemaking,’ said Gergely Szabo from Le Bouchon Breton.

‘The style has definitely become tighter,’ added China Tang’s Xavier Chapelou. ‘Many
of these would work well as food wines.’

The two Golds reflected different styles of Australia, with the Wolf Blass bigger and more crowd-pleasing – ‘fantastic oak character, tastes great’, enthused Searcys’ Mikaël Hannequin – while the Voyager was expensive and beautifully elegant. ‘It’s a cool-climate kind of wine that doesn’t seem Australian at all,’ commented Sarah Jane Evans MW.
Elsewhere, New Zealand (bar Nautilus’s Silver) was hugely disappointing: ‘The Kiwis should stick to Sauvignon Blanc,’ growled Joris Beijn, Andaz. And, apart from a good effort from Sonoma-Cutrer, California’s big fruit and prices didn’t wow the tasters either.

‘If you were looking at a direct price comparison, these wines would have to be better than grand cru Chablis. To sell these wines at these price points I would need a clear concept of terroir in the wines, which only some showed,’ sighed Etrusca’s Luigi Buonanno.

Instead, it was mostly left to South Africa to break the Chilean/Australian grip on the upper end of the medals, with the tasters genuinely enthusiastic (not to say surprised)
by what they were seeing from the Cape.

‘This was a massive improvement compared with the last time I tasted a flight of
South African Chardonnays,’ commented Mark Deamer, wine consultant.

Iona, although usually better known for its Sauvignon, made it onto the Gold List
by virtue of its ability to ‘stand up against a range of food’, as one taster put it, and Lourensford’s £5 Silver is also worthy of note.

“I was surprised at how much wood is still being used in Chile. A more discreet use of oak would be good. ” Ivan Dixon, Harvey Nichols


Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2007, Adelaide Hills, South Australia
£8.15 @ Treasury Wine Estates
SWA 2011 Gold List Minerally and a bit citrusy, this shows high-quality oak, with toasty hazelnuts on the nose. Ripe fruit on the palate that is well balanced by the acidity, leads to a long, lasting finish. ‘A fantastic, terroir-driven wine,’ commented Mikaël Hannequin. ‘There’s a touch of sweetness alongside spicy cinnamon and cloves,’ said Hakkasan’s Philippe Moranges.
Maycas del Limari Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2008,

Limari Valley, Chile
£8.50 @ Concha y Toro UK
SWA 2011 Gold List A wine that impressed one and all, with its coconut and green fruits on the nose, spice from the oak and well-balanced tropical fruits. ‘Nice prickle on the finish,’ said Tom Forrest. ‘Good minerality, long, elegant and warm,’ said Massala’s Maria Rodriguez.

Iona Chardonnay 2009, Elgin, South Africa
£10.84 @ Enotria
SWA 2011 Gold List A popular wine with all the judges, the rich, oaky nose is high in vanillins. Despite its youth, the stone fruit and stony minerality on the palate show great length. ‘A well-made example with juicy fruit and some toasted oak character. Good balance,’ said Laura Rhys MS, ex-Hotel Terravina.

Voyager Estate Chardonnay 2007, Margaret River, Western Australia
£13.69 @ Justerini & Brooks
SWA 2011 Gold List An intense nose of smoke, vanilla, a touch of butter and fleshy apples leads to a dry, fresh palate with vibrant minerality, apples, cloves and lemon zest. ‘The well-balanced freshness, fruity ripeness and rich minerality add to the complexity,’ said Peter Csizmadia-Honigh, Institute of Masters of Wine.


Lourensford Chardonnay 2010, Stellenbosch, South Africa
£5.31 @ Hatch Mansfield
With melon, crisp apples and pears alongside floral notes, this is a fruit-driven wine with good balancing acidity. ‘Decent length, no great complexity but value for money,’ said Natasha Hughes.

Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Chardonnay 2008, Casablanca Valley, Chile
£8.12 @ Berkmann Wine Cellars
Clean, juicy and ripe, with good length and concentration on a rich medium- to full-bodied palate of mango, pineapple and apricot with sweet spices. ‘Creamy, savoury, light and nutty,’ said Kyri Sotiri.

Nautilus Chardonnay 2009, Marlborough, New Zealand
£8.56 @ Negociants UK
Fresh and bright peachy fruit character on the nose, while the mid-palate has lime citrus, peach, ripe apple and apple compote notes. Although some questioned the level of oak, wine consultant Mark Deamer called it ‘a well-made, good value wine.’

Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2009, Casablanca Valley, Chile
£8.70 @ Hatch Mansfield
Toasted oak on the nose, ETM Group’s Paulo Brammer thought that this had excellent texture, with a lovely buttery mouthfeel and preserved fruits. ‘Butterscotch and biscuits on the nose point to a generous use of oak – but it’s not unattractive,’ said Ivan Dixon of Harvey Nichols. ‘Lots of minerality and acidity.’

Waterkloof Circumstance Chardonnay 2008, Stellenbosch, South Africa
£10.59 @ Boutinot
A fairly complex nose of tropical fruit, this is both serious and elegant with ripe apricot and
tropical fruit on the palate. ‘A good example of the blend of Old and New World styles to be
found in South Africa,’ said Joris Beijn.

Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Ranches Chardonnay 2007, California, USA
£14 @ Brown-Forman Europe
Clean and fresh with pineapple, vanilla and candy fruit notes. Good balance with a refreshing finish.


Armidale Estate Hill Grove Unoaked Chardonnay 2009, South Australia
£5.90 @ Matthew Clark
With citrus and peach flavours, this shows good complexity for the price. A nice minerality and medium acidity. ‘Honeyed and a little buttery,’ said Sarah Jane Evans MW.

San Lorenzo Estate Chono Chardonnay 2009, Maipo Valley, Chile
£5.97 @ Patriarche Wine Agencies
With cashew nuts and floral aromas on the nose, there’s a mineral, subtle acidity alongside
tropical fruits and vanilla on the palate. ‘Restrained, clean style with good length,’ said Charlotte Jonasson, Boxwood Café.

Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay 2009, Limari Valley, Chile
£6.50 @ Concha y Toro UK
Good toasty oak on the nose, with tropical notes behind. ‘With flowers and tropical fruit on the palate, the oak is balanced and doesn’t overpower,’ said WineChap’s Tom Harrow. Kyri Sotiri suggested matching it with mushroom risotto.

Cordillera Chardonnay 2009, Curico Valley, Chile
£6.83 @ John E Fells & Sons
Tropical aromas on the nose with citrus, floral notes and hints of oak. Crisp and clean with fresh melon and peach fruit on a well-balanced mid-palate. Try with scallops.

Katnook Founders Block Chardonnay 2009, Coonawarra, South Australia
£8.62 @ Bibendum
Ripe tropical fruit and floral notes lead to a palate of medium intensity. ‘Well balanced with lovely crispness, the oak shows but does not dominate,’ said Sergio Benito, Bistro du Vin.

Rocky Road Chardonnay 2009, Margaret River, Western Australia
£10.85 @ Louis Latour Agencies
A nose of acacia and honey leads to a pineapple- and peach-studded palate, good weight from deft use of oak, plus a good finish. ‘Fresh with lots of finesse,’ said Xavier Chapelou. ‘Very good with scallops.’

Casa Verdi 1918 white 2009, Maule Valley, Chile
£10.95 @ Humboldt Wines
A clean, unoaked style, with green apples, pineapples and tropical fruit. ‘Beautifully presented with aromas of fresh-cut grass and leaves, and a long finish,’ said Maria Rodriguez.

Agustinos Gran Terroir Chardonnay 2009, Bio Bio, Chile
£11.99 @ Bibendum
With tropicality, minerality, hints of vanilla and a refreshing acidity, the judges thought this was good value, despite a slightly short finish.

Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay 2008, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia
£12 @ OW Loeb
Lovely restrained oak with soft floral notes and delicate citrus notes on the nose. Good minerality and a rounded, textured palate with citrus and pineapple fruit, and a toasty oak finish.

Hay Shed Hill Chardonnay 2009, Margaret River, Western Australia
£12.35 @ Bancroft Wines
Rich oak mixes with citrus notes and ripe tropical fruit, leading to a zesty, medium finish. ‘Clean, fresh and easy drinking,’ said Roberto Loppi, Hakkasan.

Single Vineyard Farrago Chardonnay 2005, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia
£24.13 @ Enotria
Soft vanilla and roasted chestnuts accompany subtle nuances of rose water, banana skin and blackcurrant leaf through the nose and palate. ‘A touch of white spice lends itself well to a powerful, yet delicate, very long palate,’ said Louise Gordon. ‘Supremely elegant.’

“There was good consistency across the Australian Chardonnays, with some nice character, complexity and minerality. ”  Louise Gordon, Clos Maggiore

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – May/June 2011

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