Chardonnay Deep Dive

Lethbridge Chardonnay, Geelong, Australia, 2018

To start I chose a fantastic Chardonnay from boutique producer Lethbridge, who are based in a small region called Geelong, just outside Melbourne in Australia. I wanted to use this as an example of a new world Chardonnay made in a high-quality style very similar to white Burgundy.

It is common to think of Australian Chardonnays being very ripe and heavily oaked, but their new-wave styles are far more restrained.  Geelong is a cool coastal region nicely ventilated by the sea winds meaning the fruit ripens slowly, retaining its acidity and effectively ends up with that zesty, fresh tasting style you expect from European Chardonnays.

Ray Nadeson the winemaker, was a neuroscientist before he entered wine, and that scientific precision shows in his wines. I’m a big fan of Lethbridge and this wine certainly lived up to my expectations, a beautifully poised aroma mixing smoke and fresh lemon zest. The palate is texturally rich yet light, complex and layered so that every taste brings a new dimension, from papaya to vanilla bean, clove and a lingering nutty finish.  If you want to try a Chardonnay in this style there are many coming from Adelaide Hills or Yarra Valley.

Jean Marc Brocard Chablis, France 2018

Next up we have something from the opposite end of the Chardonnay spectrum, in the form of Chablis. This is perhaps the most extreme cool climate form of white Burgundy and is typically un-oaked; unless Grand Cru level.

Jean-Marc Brocard is one of the best-known families in the region and one that pioneers a focus on sustainable farming. Given Chablis’ northerly climate the grapes don’t get heavily ripe and retain a lot of acidity. To help make the wine palatable the technique of malolactic fermentation tends to be used to give the wine lactic acid which gives a creamy undertone to the wine. On tasting this wine iy was the classic style I’d expected, you get what I’d describe as chalky minerality on the nose, although that term is debated I think it strikes me as the only way you can describe Chablis.

Others call it oyster shell or salinity, but to me it is like sniffing a piece of chalk. The immediate impression to taste is the mouth-watering acidity which is why I feel Chablis always revives the senses. Although the fruit is delicate in its green apple and zesty notes it lingers well, and that creamy note provides interest. I love acidity, so this is the wine that really hits the spot for me, and the style is really unique to this region, somehow the aspects of soil, climate and grape combine here in a way that cannot be recreated elsewhere.

Silverado Vineyards Chardonnay, Carneros, California, USA 2010

Finally, I thought we had to taste the furthest end of the spectrum in Chardonnay styles and I also thought it would be interesting to show how this grape ages. Therefore, I selected a Californian because they tend to be the richest in fruit and oak flavour. I happened to have a Silverado Carneros 2010 in my wine rack which is honestly a bit far into maturity for this style of wine, but I thought it would be fun to give it a try.

Carneros is a cooler part of Napa Valley right on the coast and benefits from a cool coastal breeze and morning fogs, both of which help slow ripening of the grapes so they keep a sense of freshness. Silverado is an excellent winery with a long-established reputation and one of the first to settle vineyards in the iconic Napa Valley region. When I first smelt the wine, I realised it had certainly reached its peak and wondered if Andy would enjoy it.

The characters were fully into the tertiary spectrum, which are the compounds that come through with age such as burnt butter, pot pourri and marmalade. It was still a very well crafted wine and you could sense that the oak was well judged sitting nicely alongside fruit flavours but for me I would have liked to taste it a few years earlier to get the true craft the winemaker was trying to achieve. A lesson for us all that most whites don’t age as well as red wines.

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