Wines of Worth – All ‘Bout Chardonnay





Last week I duked it out with the Vancouver International Wine Festival’s Executive Director, Harry Hertscheg.

It’s not what you think – I wasn’t jockying for a better seat at the trade days lunch, or demanding to hear what the theme region is going to be for the next 4 years (C’MON – YOU CAN TELL ME HARRY – JUST A LITTLE SIGN).

We were having a bout about Chardonnay.

In this corner, was Treve the terroirist, lover of limestone and lutte raisonnée. In the opposing corner, was Harry ‘heavy-hand-of-the-vintner’ and oak aficionado. We jousted and jested for 90 minutes in front of the Vancouver Island Sommelier Association about whether great Chardonnay is made in the vineyard and the winery.

Chardonnay, one of the greatest grapes in the world, can essentially be quite bland. In Wine Grapes, coauthored by the world’s foremost authority on wine, Jancis Robinson, it states that Chardonnay is a “hugely popular, versatile and widely planted international white variety, equally capable of extreme mediocrity and regal splendour.” This easy to grow grape doesn’t have a lot of inherent and distinctive flavour characteristics. And without a dominant flavour of its own, it can take on a wide array of aromas depending on where it is grown – particularly how it is made.

Of course, the afternoon wasn’t all for sport. It was for the chance to taste a diverse lineup of Chardonnay styles, and have open discussion about viti vs. vini – viticulture vs vinification – grapegrowing vs winemaking. Harry was making his annual pre-festival trip to Victoria to chat with Island sommeliers about the upcoming festival. With Chardonnay as the global focus at this month’s 35th annual wine fest, we decided to revisit the ABCs – All ‘Bout Chardonnay. The group tasted and talked through the selected wines. Some wines took clear viti/vini sides, but many blurred the lines between nature and nurture.  The favourite wines showcased an honest sense of place, gently enhanced by skillfill winemaking. We needn’t forbid Chardonnay’s love affair with oak – moderation is the key. Older barrels, larger bariques, a mix of oak and stainless steel – the options are endless. In addition, lees contact, low yields and partial/full malolactic fermentation are all choices that also add depth and interest to the wines.

The winner of the bout? The consumer. There are balanced, charming, characterful Chardonnays out there – in a wide range of styles. Forget what you think you know about the ABC’s of the past (Anything But Chardonnay) and look to the future ABC’s (All Bout Chardonnay).


Schramsburg Vineyards
Blanc de Blancs Brut 2009
North Coast, California
$40-50   12.5%

This Blanc de Blancs was the first wine Schramsberg produced in 1965, and America’s first commercially produced Chardonnay-based sparkling brut. Small lots of malolactic and barrel fermented wine are added into the cuvee for complexity. Dry, crisp and ripe apple, with a little doughboy roundness on the middle. Great value here – a point reinforced by the group.


Pierre Gimonnet & Fils
Cuis 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut NV
Champange, France
*$65-75   12.5%

The Gimonnet family has been growing grapes in Champagne’s Cotes de Blancs since 1750, so you know they understand the environment implicitly. This NV brut always shows focus and austerity, with crisp apple, mineral, white flowers and lemon tart. Champagne expert Tom Stevenson calls the house “one of Champagne’s greatest exponents of pure Chardonnay.


Unoaked Chardonnay 2011
Okanagan Valley, BC
*$23-30  12.2%

The good folks at JoieFarm do not want you to be scared by Chardonnay. They go to great lengths to ease your fears, including the words “unoaked” on the front label. Their work is successful: fresh and bright, with subtle ripe pear, noticeable mineral and textured leesy creaminess. The grapes are sourced from selected vineyards in Naramata, Oliver and the Similkameen.


Domaine Laroche
Les Blanchots Grand Cru 2009
Chablis, France
*$84-94   13%

An intense wine, from classic Kimmeridgian limestone on the steep sloped grand cru hill of Les Blanchots.  Smokey quartz, toast, juicy apple and subtle floral notes. Shining acidity, and wonderfully textured mouthfeel linger on the lengthy finish. Domaine Laroche rests the wine 12-15 months on fine lees, 25% of which is in the French oak (1/4 new) and the rest in stainless steel. We decanted this wine (yes – a white) before service to really release the expression of flavours and aromas.


Louis Latour
Meursault Blagny 1er Cru ‘Chateau de Blagny’ 2009
Merusault, Cote de Beaune
$77-90  13.9%

Chateau de Blagny is an exclusive monopole of centuries-old negotiant-eleveurs Louis Latour. The vineyards surrounding the estate of the Chateau are located high on the hillside overlooking Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet. Ample body, with creamy oak, white flowers and subtle pear notes. Distinct white smoke and bright lemon throughout, with a distinct hazelnut spread finish.


Domaine Drouhin Oregon
Arthur 2010
Dundee Hills, Willamette, Oregon
$32-40  13.9%

The group thought this achieved the perfect pitch between viti and vini, old world and new. Veronique Drouhin, the 4th generation of winemakers from Burgundy’s legendary Drouhin family, oversees the winemaking at their Willamette estate. Graceful acacia blossoms and creamy French perfume overlay a muscular body strung with taut, lively acid. Polished and graceful.


Cervaro della Sala 2009
Umbria IGT
*$66 -76  13%
85% Chardonnay; 15% Grechetto

The wildcard of the group. We wanted to see if the addition of another grape – here, Italy’s autochthonous Grechetto – would vastly alter the wine. Consensus here was affirmative! The wine was imbued with a wild herbal note – thorned spring flowers, green figs woven with pear, subtle vanilla and bright citrus. The juice spent 8-12 hours on the skins, and was fermented in French oak. Textured, intense and structured – giving a whole new dimension to the Chardonnay.


Signorello Estate Winery
Hope’s Cuvee Chardonnay 2010
Napa Valley, California
*$90-110   14.6%

We purposefully saved the biggest and boldest wine until last. Hope’s Cuvee is from 30 year old vines in a prime single Napa Valley vineyard. Wild yeast fermented, this wine is unfined and unfiltered, with no cold stabilization. As such, the winery recommends against refrigerating this wine. Instead, you should cool it down a bit for 8-10 minutes in an ice bath prior to serving. If fully chilled, the wine will throw a sediment and appear hazy. Harmless, but not as visually appealing, nonetheless. Creamy and full bodied, with big spice, rich apple pie and lemon peel. Toasted oats lingers on the lengthy finish. This is like lying on a waterbed. Although this is a big, oaked California Chardonnay, the bright lemon and citrus acidity lifts it through the fog.


The 35th annual Vancouver International Wine Festival takes place from February 25 – March 3, 2013. Chardonnay is the global focus, and California is the theme region. 1850 wines, 176 wineries, 15 countries, 55 events over 7 days – bottle shock! Watch for Treve’s posts daily on & @eatmagazine from the Festival.

Tickets are on sale now at


DRINKing Guide:

*Asterisks denote wines that are only available at the winery or select private liquor stores. Price is suggested retail price. All other wines are available through BC Liquor Stores.

Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade.\r\n\r\nIn addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for ...

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