Home Winners > Winners 2012 > NEW WORLD: Chardonnay

Winner Details

New World: Chardonnay

The stylistic changes received a thumbs-up, but the reduced number of Golds suggests that more minerally Chardonnay remains a work in progress


There’s been a fair bit of talk over the past couple of years about the resurrection of Chardonnay; a kind of post-oak, neo-Burgundian, freshness-driven revival. The feedback from the tasters was duly more positive than it has been in recent years, though it didn’t translate into a truckload of places on the Gold Listthree was one less than last year. There’s more good Chardonnay from the New World, it seems, but not a lot of great stuff yet.

This year, we saw more Aussie and South African entries, and fewer from Chile, which meant less cheap wines for our tasters to select from, and a good deal of ambitious efforts between £10 and £15. For Australia, at least, such a focus seemed justified, with our tasters less impressed with the lower-end wines – Deakin Estate’s Silver a praise-worthy exception.

Few would argue with Henley Hotel du Vin’s Michael Harrison’s assertion that Australia is ‘halfway between the New World and the Old World’ at the moment, and restaurants looking for a cheap oak bomb for their list would be better advised to head towards the Napa Cellars Chardonnay, which filled this role admirably at a good price.

In fact, any Australian stylistic problems tended to be in the opposite direction. ‘Some of them were highly acidic. There was one that was just like drinking salty water, it was so mineral,’ said Madison Restaurant & Bar’s Irina Atanasova.

When they got it right, though, the results were impressive. Katnook Founder’s Block, for instance, was praised for its ‘lovely gunflint character’, while the Shaw & Smith M3 was described by consultant Angela Reddin as ‘completely unfettered, absolutely pure – that’s Chardonnay’.

If Australia’s was the most complete Chardonnay performance, the other big mover this year, pop-pickers, was South Africa, which put in a robust showing from ‘affordable’ to ‘pricey’. ‘The Journey’s End was half the price of a Chassagne-Montrachet but tastes exactly the same,’ said a happy Marco Feraldi from Galvin La Chapelle. The lack of Golds was put down to two things: here (unlike Australia) there is still a tendency to go a little heavy on the oak, and not enough of a feeling of typicity.

So much for the winning countries. How about the losers? Well, New Zealand might have picked up a Silver, thanks to the Saint Clair (perennial winners across the Sommelier Wine Awards in various categories), but the tasters felt they had a right to expect more for the prices being charged. ‘I was expecting NZ to be more mineral and better food wines, but they weren’t,’ grumbled The Vineyard Group’s James Hocking.

Meanwhile Chile, which picked up eight medals last year, managed only half that this year, with no Golds at all. As with Australia, our tasters welcomed the ‘more sensible’ use of oak. And the richer, more tropical style of Casablancan Chardonnay was picked out as a definite style. But overall the wines were just seen as a bit ‘so what’.

All the more disappointing because, finally, there appear to be signs of sommeliers being prepared to move Chile out of the ‘cheap and cheerful’ pigeon-hole. ‘If the quality is there I can sell a Chilean chardonnay for £50 or £60… but the quality has to be there,’ said China Tang’s Julien Sahut.

Maybe hope lies in the cool desert regions of Limarí – though nothing did better than Bronze this year.

‘There are quite a lot of New World winemakers looking at how much toast they use on their oak and that’s one of the reasons I think Australian Chardonnay is so exciting at the moment.’ Angus Macnab, consultant

‘If I was going out for a drink and spending £21, Chile is a good place to go to, but it’s not giving me enough character and originality.’ Sarah-Jane Evans MW, journalist