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Sunday, 1 August 2021

The CWB International Chardonnay-Off

Five Chardonnays from different climates, terroirs and countries

Chardonnay is arguably one of the greatest, most versatile grapes there is.

Easy to grow in a wide range of conditions, its inherent elegance and relative neutrality mean it can match with a wide range of foods; it can also take a large amount of wine-making, from aging on the lees or in bottle to the addition of old or new oak and secondary fermentation.

There are very few wine-making regions that don't or can't grow Chardonnay, so the range of styles is very wide.

You will pay a few pounds more for a well-known region, such as Burgundy or California; lesser-known / up-and-coming regions such as Languedoc and Spain can represent better value for money if you are prepared to go off the beaten track.

Here are five to look out for:

The Classic - White Burgundy

Louis Latour 2019 Montagny 1er Cru La Grande Roche (£25 / £21, Majestic)

Montagny is the appellation for four villages at the southern end of the Côte Chalonnaise; Premier Cru wines are made from classified vineyards representing around 2/3rds of plantings.

This single-vineyard Chardonnay sees no oak at all. 

delicate florality with hints of sweet spices; peach, yellow plums, pear and hazelnut with lime marmalade, melon, pineapple and some vanilla; full, supple and rounded with a hint of salinity. Sophisticated, elegant and flawless.

Very Good.

An accomplished wine, match with rich Burgundian foods such as asparagus, rabbit galantine, trout with almonds or sheep's cheese

The Minor Classic - Maconnais

Domaine de la Creuze Noire Macon Fuisse 2020 (£14, Cheers, Flagship)

Mâcon-Fuissé is a region of southern Burgundy around the village of Fuissé in the centre of a natural green amphitheatre, near the limestone-rich hills of the rock of Solutré.

The limestone soils are very similar to that of Chablis but, being further south, the climate is much warmer giving more fruit and richness in the wines. Aromas and flavours of tropical fruit, hazelnut, and lemon, backed with slatey minerality.

restrained nose; ripe lemon curd with peach and some zippy lime; full and supple with perfectly ripe and rounded fruit. Very adept and elegant, technically flawless. Initially correct-but-reserved, like a shy accountant at a dinner party; with extensive aeration it transforms into something much more rounded and adept with more personality.

Good; improves with aeration and will repay some cellaring.

Highly versatile, will match with - and not overpower - a wide range of foods; white fish, creamy mushroom sauces, white meats, medium cheeses.

The Modern Classic- Languedoc

Calmel & Joseph Villa Blanche Chardonnay 2020 (£10.95, Cheers)

I have long been a fan of Languedoc in general and Calmel & Joseph in particular; well-made, technically adept wines that are complex enough to to be serious yet also easy to enjoy. For years Europe's "wine lake", Languedoc has successfully reinvented itself as a go-ahead region of innovation and quality.

The climate is typically Mediterranean, warm and sunny with low rainfall; the grapes are picked at night, in two passes. The first harvest is done at a relatively early stage in maturity, to keep freshness in the wine. Then 15 days later a second harvest is done, for concentration and varietal aromas.

The wine is aged for 3 months in oak before bottling; it has a Mundus Vini Gold Medal.

expressive, complex and toasty with honeysuckle and sweet spices; ripe orchard fruits, apricot and white peach, aniseed and vanilla; savoury toasted notes and touches of grilled hazelnut; elegant freshness and a touch of salinity. Full, supple and rich.

Very Good; drinks nicely on first pouring and will age. Good Value.

Match with roast pork or meaty white fish.

A bit of Yee Haw - California

Frei Brothers Chardonnay 2019, Russian River Valley (Waitrose, £17.99)

From the cooler (by Cali standards), foggy Russian River Valley in California's Sonoma, this Chardonnay has plenty of New World fruit and substance with sweet oaky spice - it's a serious and sophisticated crowd-pleaser.

ripe orchard fruits, citrus, honeydew melon and pineapple with creamy, oatmealy leesiness. Lush and rich; very adept and harmonious. Easy-to-enjoy Burgundian style, albeit turned up to 11.


A versatile wine; drink as an aperitif or match with seafood or white meats.

The Unusual One

Enate Chardonnay 234, Somontano, Spain (£12 - £14, Daniel Lambert, indies)

An area in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Jancis Robinson describes Somontano as "another Spanish wine region worthy of international attention". More specifically, she characterises it as a small and growing region, potentially one of Spain's most exciting, even if much of its produce tends to be fashioned in the image of international classics.

She singles out producer Enate, saying that they make some fine reds and whites from imported grape varieties. Tasted blind, you'd be forgiven for having no idea where this wine comes from; it has a warm-climate topicality and breadth, but with a European complexity and elegance. It hints at the perfumed richness of Alsace with the waxiness of the Rhône.

Floral and aromatic with tropical citrus fruits and toasty leesiness; pineapple, melon and passionfruit with fennel, ginger and warming sweet spices; savoury, leesy and waxy with just enough freshness to hold everything together.

Very clean, pure and long.


Match with rich, Alsace-style dishes such as pork with creamy sauce or mature hard cheeses.

Miquel Hudin writes about Somontano here (£): The state of DO Somontano for 2021 · Hudin.com

Liz Gabay contributor Ben Bernheim writes about assessing French regional styles of Chardonnay here: Chardonnay - Limoux to Chablis regional styles - Elizabeth Gabay MW

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