Last week we tasted Chardonnays from around the world – I wanted to showcase the range of styles out there, since Chardonnay is such a malleable grape and there’s so much diversity available. Too often people say “I don’t like Chardonnay” when what they really don’t like is the oaky, buttery, flabby style – a crisp, unoaked version can be almost Sauvignon Blanc-like and utterly different from a warm-climate butterbomb.
We started off with the Razor’s Edge 2007 unoaked Chardonnay from South Australia – exceptionally high-acid (I’m sure they acidified, as is common Down Under), but well-balanced. Lime and lemon flavors dominated, with a pleasing tartness. I thought it showed well and is a great value ($10.95) – it was almost too unlike a typical Chardonnay for some, though, who were expecting more richness.
Next was Verget’s 2008 Macon Villages from Burgundy. I really like this wine; we’ve got it on by the glass now. White Burgundy is utterly unlike California Chardonnay – there’s fruit there, but fruit is only one component of the wine, as opposed to the entire wine. Subtle and nuanced with flavors of lemon curd, great minerality, and a hint of spicy oak. This went over very well, definitely one of the favorites of the night.
Stone Paddock 2007 Hawkes Bay Chardonnay was next. Hawkes Bay is on the North Island of New Zealand; it’s the second largest growing region in the country (after Marlborough) and the warmest and driest. Still cool-climate, but the abundant sunshine gives a bit of tropical fruit flavors layered over the classic pear and apple. Lightly oaked; great balance and good acidity. A lot of wine for the money ($16.50).
Fourth was Columbia Crest 2008 “H3″ Chardonnay, Horse Heaven Hills Washington. Columbia Crest is a very large producer, second biggest in Washington after Chateau Ste. Michelle. Normally we don’t stock much from big wineries, but every so often I taste one that I think is a great bottle, and offering the best possible wines that are great values takes precedence over winery size. The H3 is a new line for them, much smaller production than their Grand Estate series and I think a huge jump up in quality. Fuller-bodied than the previous three, with more noticeable malolactic influence and oak treatment. Still in balance, though, and the relatively cool Columbia Valley keeps the alcohol moderate and the acidity high, resulting in a kind of a hybrid New World / Old World style. This one’s also on the current wine list.
Moving into the last two wines, both significantly fuller bodied than what came before. The Vina Cobos 2007 “Felino” Chardonnay from Mendoza Argentina is ripe and lush, with 14.7% alcohol (the previous four were 13-13.5%). Vina Cobos is the Argentinian winery of Paul Hobbs, a well-known Sonoma & Napa winemaker; he’s one of the few who can pull off an opulent style that’s not flabby. This wine is big, but balanced; it was another favorite of the night. And because the cost of doing business in Argentina is so much cheaper than in the US, you get Paul Hobbs quality for $20 as opposed to the $48 that we sell his Russian River Chardonnay for.
We ended with the Brewer Clifton 2005 Sweeney Canyon Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills California. I first tasted this wine at a trade tasting last year (without seeing the bottle) and thought it was stunning for the style – big, yet with great balance and finesse. I ordered it for the shop, and was shocked to discover it was 16.4% alcohol – it doesn’t taste anywhere near that high, with no heat on the palate at all. It’s a $54 bottle of wine, but recently the distributor closed out the vintage so I got a great deal and it’s on the shelf for $30 now (though I’ve only got a few bottles left) – easily the best value of our California Chards. Despite the richness, to me it tastes more like a Meursault on steroids than a typical California Chardonnay – there’s a lot more going on besides fruit, with great minerality and stoniness to complement the fruit. Another favorite of the night.
All in all, the wines showed well – all tasted different and were a nice reflection of their styles; definitely a fun tasting that people seemed to really enjoy.