International Chardonnay Smackdown!

The theme of the most recent Pacific Pointe Wine Tasting Club (“PPWTC”) was International Chardonnay.  Inspiration for this theme came from my recent tastings of the Chardonnay of Chablis and Burgundy.  I was virtually an ABC (“Anything But Chardonnay”) person before the tastings of French Chardonnay.  They are so different from most California Chardonnay I’ve had.  Those tastings renewed by interest in Chardonnay.  I thought it would be great to share a different side of Chardonnay with with members of the PPWTC.

The Chardonnay grape itself is very neutral, with many of the flavors commonly associated with the grape being derived from such influences as terroir and oak. It is vinified in many different styles, from the lean, crisply mineral wines of Chablis, France to New World wines with oak, and tropical fruit flavors.

That’s one of the things that make wine tasting clubs fun, and educational – trying wines one might not normally try, from places “new to you” places.

Here’s how our blind-tasting went down:

  • Chardonnay priced between $15-$25
  • Maximum of 8 bottles tasted
  • All wines are blind tasted
  • There were 14 tasters, with a diverse range of experience with wine
  • Tasters are required to score all wines
  • The wines are scored based on 4 criteria (aromabody, taste, and finish) – each on a scale of 1-5 (1-low; 5-high). Therefore minimum score = 4 point and maximum = 20 points
  • Both average and median scores are calculated.  The winner determined by highest median score.  Average score used as tie breaker.
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The Contenders representing (L-R) Australia, Burgundy, Oregon, Chablis, South Africa, Italy, New Zealand, and California. This was also the tasting order

We had diverse selection of eight Chardonnay from around the world including:

The wines were tasted in the order of my tasting notes, which follow:

  • 2012 Oakridge Chardonnay Local Vineyard Series Guerin Vineyard – Australia, Victoria, Port Phillip, Yarra Valley – Pale gold color with honeysuckle, peach, citrus, spice and wet stone aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with peach, green apple, , citrus flavors underscored by lively acidity and minerality. Nicely structured. Medium finish. Screwcap closure. Retail – $25
  • 2011 Domaine Matrot Chardonnay Bourgogne Blanc – France, Burgundy, Bourgogne Blanc – Pale lemon yellow color with pear, citrus and a hint of white flower aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, and fresh with a wonderful mouth feel and apple, pear and citrus flavors. Medium+ finish. 100% Chardonnay. From vineyards averaging 30 years of age located next to the vaunted Mersault. Retail – $18
  • 2011 Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay – USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills – Pale gold color with stone fruit, apple, and buttered toast aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with peach, green apple, and citrus flavors lifted by lively acidity. Medium finish. 11.7% alcohol Retail – $24
  • 2011 Gérard Tremblay Chablis Vieilles Vignes – France, Burgundy, Chablis
    Pale yellow color with apple, wet stone, lemon peel aromas. On the palate, it’s between light and medium-bodied, with lively acidity, and concentrated apple, lemon, and mineral flavors. Medium long finish. Sourced from vines of over 40 years of age, most planted in 1957. Retail – $20
  • 2012 Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Grand Vin – South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch – Pale golden color with stonefruit, citrus, butterscotch, and vanilla aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, supple and layered with lively acidity and apple, citrus, vanilla, and mineral notes. Long finish. 13% alcohol. The grapes were whole cluster pressed. The juice was transferred to new and second fill 500L barrels after a brief settling. It was naturally fermented and then left for 9 months on its lees. Total time in barrel was 10 months.  Retail – $20
  • 2011 Cabreo Chardonnay La Pietra Toscana IGT – Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT – Pale gold color with appealing peach, pear, apple butter and vanilla aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied and persistent with lively acidity and apricot, pear, spiced baked apple and vanilla flavors. Medium-long finish. Retail – $20
  • 2007 Kumeu River Chardonnay Estate – New Zealand, North Island, Auckland, Kumeu – Pale gold color with buttered toast, honeysuckle, pear, tropical and citrus aromas. On the palate, it’s between light and medium-bodied with vibrant acidity and green apple, pineapple, peach, citrus and vanilla flavors. Medium+ finish. Native yeast is used for the wine and is 100% barrel fermented and goes through 100% malolactic fermentation. Retail – $20
  • 2012 Charles Krug Winery (Peter Mondavi Family) Chardonnay – USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros – Pale yellow gold color with lifted, appealing pear, lemon and white flower aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with focused apple, citrus flavors with a hint of minerality and a lingering satisfying finish. 50% barrel fermented; aged sur lie five months in French oak Retail – $21

The winner with a median score of 15 points was *drum roll please*…

International Chardonnay Smackdown
2012 Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Grand Vin – South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch

The runners-up (in descending order) were:

  • 2011 Cabreo Chardonnay La Pietra Toscana IGT (13.5 pts)
  • 2012 Charles Krug Winery (Peter Mondavi Family) Chardonnay (13.5 pts)
  • 2011 Gérard Tremblay Chablis Vieilles Vignes (13 pts)
  • 2011 Domaine Matrot Chardonnay Bourgogne Blanc (11.5 pts)
  • 2011 Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay (10.5 pts)
  • 2012 Oakridge Chardonnay Local Vineyard Series Guerin Vineyard (10 pts)
  • 2007 Kumeu River Chardonnay Estate (8.8 pts)

Blind tastings are always fun, and there’s almost always a surprise of some sort.  I was surprised the winning wine was from South Africa.  South Africa is a country more renown for Pinotage, and Chenin Blanc, than Chardonnay.  It was a decisive victory at that.

On the other hand, the scores for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place wines were tightly clustered. The Cabreo from Italy edged out the Charles Krug from California, based on the average score tiebreaker (13.82 v 13.64).

So often in blind tasting, it’s the wine that “speaks” the loudest that wins.  That certainly was not the case here.  The winner displayed a judicious use of oak, as did the wines in the next four places.

That’s what I love about wine tasting clubs, it gives one a chance to discover what they prefer by tasting wines back to back, so that one can discern the differences immediately, and  draw conclusions about their preferences.  And that’s what each our wine journeys should be discovering what pleases our palate!

Disclosure: All wines were purchased from K&L Wine Merchants, except the Charles Krug (Peter Mondavi) Chardonnay.  It was a sample provided by Charles Communications Associates, LLC.


Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

One Comment

  1. We’re always excited down here in South Africa when our wines do well in international tastings. The quality of SA wines have improved dramatically over the last few decade and you will be hard pressed to find better value wines in the world. Forget about Pinotage though – we make many more exciting wines. Pinotage is just an oddity.

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