Chardonnay reconsidered

By , 13 August 2010




Today saw a comparative tasting of Aussie vs. South African Chardonnay, 13 top examples from each country at Haskell Vineyards in Stellenbosch. Out of the 26 wines tasted, South Africa took first place, with a further seven in the top 10 – a deeply pleasing result that shows local wines can hold their own in any company.

Sourcing the Australian wines was thanks to Grant Dodd, CEO of Haskell Vineyards but based in Queensland, Australia, where he runs a fine wine export business. Local wineries involved were selected by me, and WINE magazine was official media partner in the exercise.

Wines featured were divided into two groups, the first being from 2005 or younger and the second being from 2004 or older with producers invited to submit whatever they considered their best effort during the those respective periods.

The panel was chaired by wine critic Michael Fridjhon and further made up of Dodd, editor of Tim James, Haskell Vineyards winemaker Rianie Strydom and me.

We tasted blind with scoring done according to the 20-point system and here’s how the wines ranked (average arithmetic scores in brackets):

Mulderbosch Barrel Fermented 2006 (17.9)
Chamonix Reserve 2005 (17.8)
Pierro 2008 (17.8)

Pierro 2003 (17.1)
Hamilton Russell Vineyards 2009 (17)
Ataraxia 2008 (16.9)
Mulderbosch Barrel Fermented 2003 (16.9)

Paul Cluver 2008 (16.7)
Shaw + Smith M3 2008 (16.6)
Chamonix Reserve 2003 (16.3)
Giaconda 2004 (16.1)
Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard 2008 (16.1)
Bouchard Finlayson Kaaimansgat 1994 (15.9)
Hamilton Russell Vineyards 2003 (15.8)
Vasse Felix Heytesbury 2007 (15.8)

Bouchard Finlayson Kaaimansgat 2008 (15.5)
Hartenberg The Eleanor 2007 (15.5)
Giaconda 1999 (15.5)
Voyager 2007 (15.4)

Voyager 2004 (15.2)
Yarra Yerring 2008 (15.2)
Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard 2005 (15.1)
Hartenberg The Eleanor 2004 (14.8)

Paul Cluver 2004 (14.5)

Shaw + Smith M3 2001 (14.2)
Yarra Yerring 2004 (13.5)

For the record, my top four wines were Chamonix Reserve 2005, Pierro 2003 and 2008, and Mulderbosch Barrel Fermented 2003,  all of which I scored 18/20.

See the October issue of WINE magazine for more detail.


3 comment(s)

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    Shane | 13 October 2010

    Would have been nice to see Aussie offerings Like: Stonier Reserve; Cape Mentelle; Petaluma; Eileen Hardy included in the tasting.

    Christian | 16 August 2010

    Hi Chris, I asked Grant Dodd as the only Aussie on the panel if he detected an obvious style divide between the local judges and himself and he replied that he did not. The general feeling among the panle was that it was very difficult to discern the country of origin of any of the wines, and anyone attempting to award points on party lines, would have got more wrong than right. Of course, a different panel on a different day would’ve produced a different set of results. Even so, I think it’s safe to conclude that SA’s making some pretty smart Chardonnay at the momemt…

    Chris | 13 August 2010

    Sounds like an interesting tasting. Chardonnay is not the darling of the moment, and I think it often gets ‘forgotten’ about as it continues to impress.
    One question – how much was a quality judgement versus a style judgement. South Africans have been accused of being inwardly focussed at times (although the experience of the panel in this case would indicate otherwise) and getting caught up in our own style.
    Do you reckon a couple of Bruces would have judged similarly?

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