The Fog On The Vine

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Drinks: Chardonnay, Wines

Fog, rolling in from the Pacific, tempers the relentless sunshine of California and Chile and allows them to make elegant white wines. Clinton Cawood joins a bunch of sommeliers as they get to grips with some misty Chardonnays


Perhaps the most well-known example of fog influence on grapes is on the sweet wines of Sauternes, where the Garonne River creates ideal conditions for the formation of botrytis. On the other side of the planet, on the western coast of the Americas, the effect is quite different.

Here, in certain parts of Chile and in California’s vineyards, the fog that rolls in from the Pacific has a cooling, calming effect. Conditions that would otherwise result in big, ripe, New World wines create restrained, considered, cool-climate examples instead. 

In Chile, the fog affects parts of Casablanca, as well as regions like Limarí and Leyda. Over in California, wine-growers in Carneros can’t see past their noses in the mornings, much like those in parts of Russian River, Sonoma Coast, Santa Barbara, and more.

There are various factors at play here though, not least the hand (and barrel) of the winemaker. So we called in a number of wines from both countries that claim to be affected by fog, and let a panel loose amongst them.


HOW IT WORKS

A number of fog-affected Chardonnays from Chile and California were called in. No price limits were imposed, provided that wines were targeted at the on-trade and independent sectors, and were available in the UK. Wines were tasted blind, with tasters only aware of price and country of origin. Each wine was rated out of 20, with scores collated to give a total out of 100. All prices given are ex-VAT. trade.


PANEL
Clinton Cawood, Imbibe Marco Feraldi, St James Hotel and Club Michael Harrison, Hotel du Vin Richard Knight, Village East Bernie Malloy, Wabi London Ilona Salczynksa, Coya Morgan Vanderkamer, Butlers Wharf Chop House Maria Wallén, Coya


CALIFORNIA
Average score 73

84 Hartford Court Four Hearts Vineyards Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley
‘Toasty coconut aromas to start, followed by big, sweet stone fruit and more oak on the palate, but with a lifted, fresh finish,’ CC. ‘Great texture, with minerality and excellent body and acidity. A real powerhouse,’ MV.
​£19.57, John E Fells & Sons, 01442 870900

82 Brewer-Clifton Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay 2010, Santa Rita Hills
‘Classy, with well-integrated French oak, and a rich, textural palate,’ MH. ‘Fresh and expressive, with golden apples, pleasant acidity and a long finish,’ MW.
£21.75, Genesis Wines, 020 7963 9060

81 Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast
‘Buttery and elegant oak flavours, lifted by pleasant acidity and a long finish,’ MW. ‘A beautiful nose of integrated oak and ripe, soft fruit leads into a balanced palate, rich and textural,’ MH.
£29.60, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020 7670 0972

80 Bonterra Organic Chardonnay 2011, Mendocino County
‘Lots of tropical fruit – a modern, stainless-steel kind of wine, with real freshness,’ BM. ‘Light and elegant, with some stonefruit on the palate, as well as apple and pear. Really clean fruit, with some minerality, and a precise, citrus finish. All for a great price,’ CC.
£6.27, CyT UK, 01865 873713

80 Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2007, Santa Maria Valley
‘Simply sublime: energetic and pronounced, with clean fruit structure overlapping with caramelised, nutty flavours,’ MF. ‘Creamy, soft oak on the palate, balanced by good acidity, and with a long finish – this is a well-made, classy wine,’ MH.
£12.62, John E Fells & Sons, 01442 870900

80 Carmel Road Chardonnay 2009, Monterey
‘Light peach and nectarine aromas, with a slight vanilla creaminess and some light perfume. The palate follows with more creamy vanilla and stone fruit, as well as some pear flavours. Not necessarily fog-influenced or cool-climate, but a good wine nevertheless,’ CC. ‘Very Burgundian in style, with creaminess on the palate – an old-style, classy wine,’ MH.
£14.58, Corney & Barrow, 020 7265 2436

80 Brewer-Clifton Sweeney Canyon Chardonnay 2010, Santa Rita Hills
‘Mineral and flinty, with some grassy, green notes as well. Lots of stone fruit on the palate, with a touch of minerality – complex, with good balance and sufficient acidity,’ IS. ‘Grilled tropical fruit and burnt apple aromas, alongside some spice aromas. This is a really textural wine, with a long finish of apple and lemon, with a touch of candied lemon peel, too,’ MV.
£27, Genesis Wines, 020 7963 9060

78 HdV Chardonnay Hyde de Villaine 2008, Carneros
‘Great, very distinct pineapple fruit. Well-integrated oak on the palate
as well, alongside light fruit and good acidity,’ CC. ‘Dry and mineral style of wine, but with good fruit – very well made,’ BM.
£39.96, Corney & Barrow, 020 7265 2436

78 Pine Ridge Vineyards Dijon Clones Chardonnay 2010, Carneros
‘Elegant and intense on the nose, with coconut, mango and pineapple, as well as vanilla and nutmeg. Refreshingly high acidity lifts what is otherwise a full-bodied wine, with tropical fruit and stonefruit,’ IS. ‘Restraint on the nose leads into great light fruit on the palate, with great texture and well-integrated mouthwatering acidity,’ CC.
£20.15, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

78 Terlato Sanford Chardonnay 2010, Santa Barbara
‘Subtle on the nose, but big and bold on the palate, with some big acidity too,’ MH. ‘Burgundian in
style, with some real complexity. A great food wine, with good, tight, focused minerality,’ BM.
£20.50, Matthew Clark, 0844 822 3910

77Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay 2011, Livermore Valley
‘Pear drops, lemon and a slight herbaceousness on the nose, this leads to some good minerality on the palate,’ MV. ‘Freshness on the nose, with warm fruit aromas. Slightly green on the palate, but this leads into sweet fruit that gives a long finish,’ MW.
£7.26, John E Fells & Sons, 01442 870900

73 Luke Donald Collection Chardonnay 2010, Carneros
‘Restraint at first, leading into some golden, sweet fruit – peach and nectarine – along with an almost honeyed character. Precise yet also rich on the palate, with red apple and pineapple – a structured, characterful wine,’ CC. ‘Fresh, with cleansing acidity; slightly honeyed too,’ RK.
£21.65, Matthew Clark, 0844 822 3910

73 Silverado Vineyards Carneros Chardonnay 2010, Carneros
‘Restrained cool-climate character on the nose. Lovely soft ripe fruit on the palate, accompanied by lovely crisp citrus notes,’ MH. ‘Light, clean stonefruit aromas, leading into some peach and nectarine notes on the palate, with acidity in the background – nicely structured,’ CC.
£17, World Wine Agencies, 0117 986 8435

70Flor de Campo Chardonnay 2010, Santa Barbara
‘Sweet, fruit-driven nose, with mango and apricot, as well as sweet spice. The palate’s full of oak, with coconut and pineapple, plus a creaminess throughout,’ IS. ‘Rich and textured
on the palate, with good length
and nice peach fruit,’ MH.
£13.90, Matthew Clark, 0844 822 3910

70Hartford Court Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley
‘Quite French in style on the nose, and very classy on the palate, with good fruit-to-acid management,’ MH. ‘Rich, balanced fruit, with a bit of sweetness on the back palate,’ BM.
£16.35, John E Fells & Sons, 01444 870900

70 Saintsbury Carneros Chardonnay 2010, Carneros
‘Creamy berry-yoghurt notes, followed by a soft, elegant palate, with a salty, melon note as well,’ CC. ‘Good cool-climate feel, with nice fruit – a sashimi or nigiri wine,’ BM.
£14.31, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020 7670 0972

68 DeLoach Vineyards Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley
‘A straightforward bouquet of blossoms and fresh fruit,’ MF. ‘Stone fruit, minerality and a touch of sea breeze on the nose, followed by more straightforward pear and stonefruit flavours on the palate,’ IS.
£11.95, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

66Vaquero Unwooded Chardonnay 2010, Monterey
‘Fresh on the nose, with elderflower notes, as well as ripe white peach. More of the same on the palate – a good aperitif wine,’ RK. ‘Light, and a bit floral throughout – and at a great price, even if it’s lacking some food-friendliness,’ CC.
£6.40, Jascots Wine Merchants, 020 8965 2000

63 Hahn Winery Chardonnay 2011, Monterey
‘Ripe stone fruit and butterscotch aromas. An easy-drinking wine, with good balance,’ MV. ‘A rich, lifted nose leads into a more citric palate, and maybe a touch of RS,’ MH.
£8.34, Patriarche Wine Agencies, 020 7381 4016

Also tasted: Brewer-Clifton, Gnesa Chardonnay 2010, Santa Rita Hills; Melville Estate Chardonnay 2010, Santa Rita Hills


CHILE Average score: 70

77 Duette Indómita Premium Chardonnay 2011, Casablanca Valley
‘Candied apple and poached pears, with buttery and vanilla aromas. The palate follows with ripe tropical fruit, as well as toasted nuts and clove. Great value!’ MV. ‘Focused, cool-climate fruit, all citrus and stonefruit, with great acidity and minerality.
An all-round great wine,’ CC.
£7.95, Alliance Wine, 01505 506060

76 Concha y Toro Amelia Chardonnay 2011, Casablanca Valley
‘Wonderful smoky nose, with ripe fruit just below that. Smoke comes through on the palate too, as well as sweet fruit and a lovely refreshing acidity,’ MH. ‘A smoky explosion of flavours. There’s an austerity here, along with enveloping spiciness and sublime grip,’ MF.
£15.06, CyT UK, 01865 873713

75 Ventisquero Queulat Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2011, Casablanca Valley
‘Some greengage, stone fruit and sweet vanilla on the nose. The palate is dense, with high acidity, and a bit of oak on the finish,’ IS. ‘Green grass on the bright nose, followed by fresh fruit and some honeyed notes too,’ RK.
£5.90, PLB Group, 01342 318282

74 Tamaya Winemaker’s Selection Chardonnay 2010, Limarí Valley
‘Lemon curd and lemon tart on the nose, leading into green citrus notes on the palate. Good acidity and a long finish,’ MW. ‘There’s a flinty, smoky element to the nose, followed by a nice lifted, light structure on the palate. Real elegance throughout,’ CC.
£9.24, McKinley Vintners, 020 7928 7300

72 Casablanca Chardonnay Reserva, Ventopuro 2011, Casablanca Valley
‘Sweet spice overlaid on some stone fruit aromas, leading into a full-bodied, heavy palate, with distinct oak,’ IS. ‘This has lots of character on the palate, with good fruit-acid balance, and some ripeness. Good texture, too,’ MH.
£7.40, Genesis Wines, 020 7963 9060

72 Errázuriz Estate Reserva Unoaked Chardonnay 2011, Casablanca Valley
‘Lemon zest, green apple, fresh pineapple and an earthiness on the nose, along with some stony minerality,’ MV. ‘Intense and viscous, there are focused citrus aromas here, and good balance on the palate,’ MF.
£7.75, Matthew Clark, 0844 822 3910

72 Ventisquero Reserva Chardonnay 2011, Casablanca Valley
‘Easy-drinking, with good balance of acidity and alcohol, and bright apple and fresh pineapple fruit. This is an excellent patio wine.’ MV.
‘I’d definitely add this to my list – racy primary aromas, ending with almost botanical notes.’ MF.
£5, PLB Group, 01342 318282

71 Amayna Chardonnay 2009, Leyda Valley
‘Bruised red apple, lemon zest and some oxidative notes, as well as some leesy characteristics. Sourdough bread and vanilla notes on the palate, along with clove spice and a butteriness, ending with apple and toasted popcorn kernels on the finish,’ MV. ‘Some slight oxidation adds some complexity and character, with some roasted-chestnut flavours,’ MF.
£11.45, Alliance Wine, 01505 506060

70 Viña Mar Reserva Chardonnay 2012, Casablanca Valley
‘Slightly grassy, with sweet bay leaf, lime and white pepper. Pronounced acidity, with more herbaceous notes on the palate, and some minerality to finish.’ MV. ‘Light and fruity, this
is bright and fresh on the palate, with distinct acidity,’ CC.
£7.46, Corney & Barrow, 020 7265 2436

70 Tabalí, Talinay Chardonnay 2010, Limarí Valley
‘Some real classic Chardonnay characteristics, with complex aromas. The palate finishes with a saline minerality,’ RK. ‘This is a very rich wine, yet is very dry on the finish.
A well-made wine, with good fruit, acidity and oak,’ BM.
£9.82, Boutinot, 0161 908 1300

70 Veramonte Reserva Chardonnay 2010, Casablanca Valley
‘A powerful wine, with much riper fruit than some of the other wines here,’ MH. ‘Apple and lemon on the nose, along with oak aromas such as vanilla and spiced chestnuts,’ MV. ‘Tropical notes: lychee and mango juice,’ MF.
£7.65, Matthew Clark, 0844 822 3910

69 Cono Sur, Block No 5 Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Casablanca Valley
‘Delicate on the nose, followed by fresh, upfront fruit and a slight spiciness,’ RK. ‘Good fruit, with a decent amount of minerality, along with some tropical fruit notes,’ BM.
£6.47, CyT UK, 01865 873713

68 Errázuriz, Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2010, Casablanca Valley
‘Old-school Puligny nose – very Burgundian in all ways. Well made, and does what it says on the tin,’ MH. ‘Straightforward oaky Chardonnay, with nectarine notes, and a fresh, acidic pineapple finish,’ CC.
£11.75, Matthew Clark, 0844 822 3910

65 Lapostolle, Cuvée Alexandre Organic Chardonnay 2011, Casablanca Valley
‘Floral and lemon aromas, as well as a bruised-green-apple note, and toasted macadamias. A bit young, perhaps,’ MV. ‘French in style, with some smoke and ripe apple, plus good acidity,’ MH.
£9.66, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020 7670 0972

64 Santa Rita Gran Hacienda Reserva Chardonnay 2011, Casablanca Valley
‘Bright, with great linear fruit, acidity and length – a real crowd pleaser,’ MH. ‘Definitely shows its cool-climate influence, but with some rich fruit,’ BM.
£7.20, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020 7670 0972

62Nostros Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2011, Casablanca Valley
‘An expressive nose, followed by lemon flavours, plus some exotic notes, and a long finish,’ MW. ‘Lots of tropical fruit aromas, with a touch of vanilla. Stonefruit flavours on the palate,’ IS.
£6.95, Alliance Wine, 01505 506060

Many thanks to Coya in London’s Mayfair for hosting the tasting, and for all of their help on the day.


CONCLUSIONS

  •   The Chilean flight was the more dependable, with an average score of 70%. California had a larger range of scores with two wines falling below 60%, and a higher average of 73%.
  • California achieved this high average at a cost though – its top three wines averaged over £23 ex-VAT per bottle. 
  •  The Californian flight averaged out at a whopping £17.78 per bottle, compared to a far better value offering from Chile, at £8.54 per bottle.
  • Casablanca accounted for the majority of the Chileans, but scored well, accounting for the majority of the high-scoring Chileans too.
  •  Not all of the wines in this tasting demonstrated cool-climate characteristics, but many did. On the whole, this certainly wasn’t your average New World Chardonnay tasting, with no real signs of excessive ripeness and oak ageing.
  •  Tasters specifically commented on cool-climate fruit and character coming through in the wines from Carneros and Casablanca.
  • For food matching, many were singled out for service with lighter fish dishes and, more specifically, sushi. Others here were noted for their ability to stand on their own as aperitif wines.

PANEL COMMENTS

Clinton Cawood, Imbibe
‘There were a few distinct styles of Chardonnay here, but by and large, there was a lightness and emphasis on fruit, and what could definitely be described as cool-climate influence. Knowing
that a wine is from one of these regions can definitely be a clue about its flavour profile and, on this evidence, its food-friendliness too.’ 

Marco Feraldi, St James Hotel and Club
‘I found the quality of the Chilean flight to be high, while I found some more extremes with California. Overall, I was expecting these wines to have an identity, which I definitely found here. I’d consider a significant percentage of these wines for my list, even taking price into consideration. ’

Michael Harrison, Hotel du Vin
‘I’d expect fog to cause wines to be more European, with lower alcohol, lifted flavours. It’s a purely cooling influence. I think this influence was more evident in Chile – wines with smoky notes, nicer acidity and more consistency. There was good value in the Chilean flight too. Then again, there’s a limitation in the number of Californian wines available from UK merchants.’

Richard Knight, Village East
‘Good to see the move away from heavily-oaked New World Chardonnay. There were a number of aperitif wines here. Chile offers lots of easy-drinking entry-level wine, but once you reach £20, for both countries, it’s hard to see the value.

Ilona Salczynksa, Coya
‘These wines were full of ripe fruit, but some had too much oak for my liking. The Californians in particular had good acidity and balance, with complexity increasing with price. Some of the wines here even had a touch of sea breeze. Some of the oakier wines might not work with our food, but would suit tandoori dishes, perhaps.’

Morgan Vanderkamer, Butlers Wharf Chop House
‘I found a lot of variation in style here, with the wines that showed oxidative or leesy characters standing out. I think Chile outshone California, with fruit really in evidence. When trying to show people why Chardonnay really shows terroir,
I find it hard to do when that fruit is masked.’

Maria Wallén, Coya
‘While quality went up with price, there were highlights at the earlier prices too. Overall, fruit here was expressive, but in a fresh way. In some, minerality was very present. For the food we do here, we need wines with expressive flavours, and high acidity. We also need smoky flavours for the meat, so the oak in some of these would help. There are definitely wines here that I would list.’

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