CELEBRATE INTERNATIONAL CHARDONNAY DAY
By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 21 May 2016
This week we celebrate International Chardonnay Day (Thursday 26 May) and to mark this auspicious occasion we gathered 40 affordable Chardonnays from around the world to pick out the best.
Originating from Burgundy (pictured right), this famous grape takes its name from the actual village of Chardonnay near Uchizy in the Maconnais, where DNA analysis shows that Chardonnay was originally created from a cross between Pinot and Gouais Blanc grapes. Whilst Chardonnay is responsible for the world’s best white wines like Chablis Grand Cru, Meursault or Montrachet in Burgundy’s top vineyards – not all of us can afford these luxuries. So for those who cannot afford the poshest Chardonnays, we focused on the best Chardonnay under £15.
Chardonnay might be the most important grape in the world, but it gets a lot of bad press. Quite rightly so. There are a lot of poor Chardonnays on the shelves. As an easy grape to grow, make and sell, it has proved popular with vinegrowers, winemakers and winery accountants alike – and it is often over-cropped and over-oaked in certain parts of the world.
In our tasting, we found that many of the culprits were New World Chardonnays – some were just too oaky, too sweet, too hefty or out of balance. The best New World country in our tasting was South Africa, the worst offender with the clumsiest over-oaked (all be it cheap) Chardonnays was – surprisingly – Chile.
The odd thing about Chardonnay is that it does not have a dominant flavour – but seems to take on the character of the soil (particularly limestone) or winemaking (eg. oak). It might be a versatile grape, but it needs careful winemaking. So that is what we were looking for in our tasting – fine elegant inexpensive Chardonnays, with all elements in balance:
TOP CHARDONNAYS FROM AROUND THE WORLD – UNDER £15
Elgin, South Africa: SUTHERLAND CHARDONNAY 2012 Thelema ***STAR VALUE BUY***
Very popular with tasters who praised its elegance and balance. Elgin, an apple growing area, is on a high plateau which is proving ideal for cool climate grapes. Made by Rudi Schultz at Thelema, one of my favourite Cape wineries who have highlighted Chardonnay as their best variety in Elgin. Creamy, citrus, appley flavours with subtle smoky hints from ten months in French oak. Alc: 13.5%
Burgundy, France: BOURGOGNE CHARDONNAY 2012 Olivier Leflaive
(£12.49 each for 12 bts; £13.99 bt Majestic Wine)
I am normally more of a fan of Olivier Leflaive’s Les Setilles Chardonnay, but as this has now nudged over our price point to £16 – we tasted his simpler Bourgogne Chardonnay. A well-made focused well-structured minerally nutty white Burgundy with a touch of bottle age. Alc: 12.5%
Yarra Valley, Australia: INNOCENT BYSTANDER CHARDONNAY 2014
(£14.99 Drinkmonger, Edinburgh & Pitlochry; Fine Wine Company; Whole Foods Market Giffnock; Luvians, Cupar & St Andrews; Woodwinters, Edinburgh & Bridge of Allan; Oddbins)
Yarra Valley, east of Melbourne, is known for its ripe stylish Chardonnay – and this did not disappoint. Layers of flavours, peach, stone fruit, hints of orange with a creamy lemon meringue pie flavour to the palate. What Innocent Bystander achieves is ripeness without too much of the sickly sweetness found in many cheap Aussie Chardonnays. Alc: 13%
Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa: NEWTON JOHNSON SOUTHEND CHARDONNAY 2014
(£14.49 Laithwaites www.laithwaites.co.uk)
Another Cape gem – a very stylish effort from the new generation at Newton Johnson in Walker Bay, near Hermanus. It might be a bit brash, but its lovely texture, butteriness and subtle oak from very careful winemaking won over our tasters.
Limoux, France: EXQUISITE COLLECTION LIMOUX CHARDONNAY 2014 Paul Mas ***STAY VALUE BUY***
Easily the best value oaked Chardonnay we tasted – it manages to combine a rich buttery, plump citric fruit palate with toasty oak. I love Limoux Chardonnay as it has ripe fruit, textural richness alongside a delicious vibrant acidity to freshen the palate. Alc: 13.5%
Sicily: I CORLEONESI CHARDONNAY 2015
(£9.99 each for 12 bts or £12.99 bt Laithwaites www.laithwaites.co.uk)
At under a tenner this is a terrific buy for those who like their Chardonnays bold and buxom. Made by Leonardo Urso, a neighbour of Sicilian superstars Planeta. Urso straw dries some of his Chardonnay to enhance flavour and texture. Very full, very ripe, creamy with a tinned pineapple and toffee apple flavour. Alc 14%
North Island, New Zealand: THE SOCIETY’S EXHIBITION NEW ZEALAND CHARDONNAY 2014 ***STAR BUY***
(£13.50 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com)
Kumeu River just north of Auckland in Huapai has had a long reputation for its Chardonnay. Winemaker is New Zealand’s first Master of Wine, Michael Brajkovich, who cleverly combines a lovely richness, beautifully balanced oak with that characteristic Kiwi zestiness and freshness. This is a brilliant Chardonnay for the price. Alc: 13.5%
Mendoza, Argentina: FINCA DEL SUR CHARDONNAY 2015
(£12.99 Virgin Wines www.virginwines.co.uk)
A surprise find from Argentina. Tasters enjoyed its full nutty flavours, hints of spice and rich creamy palate. An interesting complex example from winemaker Ruden Ruffo who blends higher altitude fruit from Uco Valley high in the Andes foothills with lower riper Santa Rosa fruit from near Mendoza city – well-balanced oak notes with maturation in French oak for six months. Alc: 13.5%
Burgundy, France: MACON SOLUTRE LE CLOS 2014 Domaine des Gerbeaux
(£11.95 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com)
Beatrice and Jean-Michel Drouin have made an attractively fresh floral refined Chardonnay, it is a Pouilly-Fuisse lookalike from Solutre limestone escarpment west of Macon and close to the villages of Fuisse and Pouilly. Domaine des Gerbeaux also make superb, pricier, Pouilly Fuisse. Alc 13%
Tasmania, Australia: PURE SOUTH CHARDONNAY 2014 Josef Chromy ***STAR BUY***
(£14 Marks & Spencer)
Very popular with tasters. Made by one of Tasmania’s Chardonnay specialists, Josef Chromy winery. This is a superb sleek minerally elegant Australian Chardonnay proving that the cooler windier vineyards of Tasmania produce beautifully balanced Chardonnay with ripe fruit and vibrant acidity. Alc: 13%
Aude, France: HAUT VALLEE DE L’AUDE CHARDONNAY 2014 Domaine d’Antugnac
(£11.95 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com)
Jean Luc Terrier bought this domaine just four years ago. High altitude planting at 500 metres, just south of Limoux, the Chardonnays here have a vibrancy, natural high acid and minerality combined with light textural richness. Well made effort from the Languedoc Roussillon. Alc: 13%
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