Old World vs. New World Round Nine: Chardonnay!

Chardonnay was winning the race to the top. The Marilyn Monroe (I thought this was my metaphor until I was researching the grape in The Wine Bible and realized it is in fact Karen MacNeil’s. Thanks, Karen) of the late 80’s/early 90’s, people loved its voluptuous nature, full of malolactic fermentation butter bliss, and oaky vanilla vibes. But, little by little it began a descent to the bottom as people decided heroin-chic Pinot Grigio was the new thing. It was a confounding trend, as everyone still loved Burgundy . But maybe the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) crowd doesn’t realize their Chablis is Chardonnay. If you un-masked Kate Moss and realized she was just a dieted down Monroe, would you reject or embrace her? Or feed her? I’d hand her a nice Montrachet and go from there. The difference between French and California styles of the grape are on opposite sides of the style spectrum, but now there are many regions making great Chard. Including Italy! And Chile and Oregon and Australia and New Zealand, and I just had a stellar South African one and…as the fashion world has diversified (albeit being devastatingly thin still seems to be a thing), so the wine world is seeing great Chardonnay everywhere from Burgundy to Australia’s Margaret River. And although Chardonnay gathered an un-hip reputation there was and always will be a contingent of people who will never give up their love of a nice unctuous Rombauer . And bless their souls. I respect them for their candor as much as I do unabashed sweet wine confessors. Albeit I’d love to expand their horizons. Discovery is priceless. And because Chardonnay can showcase both terroir and winemaking technique, there are lots of discoveries to be made. I narrowed down my competitors to Burgundy, California, Italy and Australia. With a bonus OLD Old World wine to get things started. This was tough to write. I’ve misidentified Cali Chard as Burgundy and vice versa. Global warming has made it hard to make sweeping statements about who is making what style. Still, I’ll pick a champion country at the end--but in the meantime, what IS MY SHOWER CHARD?! Y’all, I still dream of Jean-Marc Pillot and his 2014 Saint Roman La Périère . It is everything, and I’d take everywhere. Would that I could, Pillot would be my Chard calling card. But I can start with the shower. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ ISRAEL I happened upon this from the very old world and it was good! So I had to include it. 2017 Golan Heights Yarden Galilee Chardonnay It is just lovely. It is actually the Switzerland of Chards, which is odd as it is from Israel. But it shows some oak, but not too much. Hints as malo (cream n butter!) but barely. Acid, but not overly. In some respects it is a rather neutral old world done new-ish chard but enjoyable by all. ITALY Italy makes a lot of Chardonnay! Surprise. It has even got its own DOC: Alto Adige Chardonnay. And backs up Garganega in Veneto. And shows up in Tuscany, and apparently there is some good stuff outta Sicily too! 2017 Pomino Benefizio Riserva Frescobaldi is behind this bad boy. Or should I say well-mannered lady. If this wine were a person, it would be a woman wearing a well-tailored suit with shoulder pads but in the most becoming color somewhere between Carrie Bradshaw’s naked dress and beige. In other words it comes on strong but pulls back in a good way. 2017 Antinori Castello della sala “Cervaro della Sala” Potent and fun! This wine is a party animal, and that is not just the second glass talking. Mineral rock laced nectar of nectarine and hitting acid and also stewed in allspice apple goodness. FRANCE One can see the many shades of Chardonnay all within the Burgundy appellation: In Chablis it is leaner and meaner and higher acid. Usually sans oak. In the Cote de Beaune it is Grand Cru material. Oak usage varies. In the Macon it is again usually without oak until you get to the appellation of Pouilly-Fuisse, a wine that can be as oaky and tropical and as extra as its name. 2017 La Chablisienne Montée de Tonnerre Chablis 1er Cru This no doubt will REALLY come into a new level in the coming years but is already showing it has the right stuff. Tasting notes right now include smoky stones, minerals galore and an appley, slightly white flower-esque background. I wanna try it again in the coming years, but it tastes fab now too. 2017 Louis Jadot Macon-Villages No oak, all fun. Apples, pears, lemons, chalk, and a whiff of lactic. Balanced. Pleasing. Bright acid. Solid and affordable. 2010 Olivier LeFlaive Meursault OMG grace. Recently I’ve been back in the mode where wines call to mind an outfit/fabric/person who wears them, and this is the white satin bodice of a ballerina’s costume. Beneath it, a saucer tutu splays out but this is a creamy smooth bodice, stiff enough to stand up without straps, flexible enough to move with the ballerina. The cream may come from lees, I’m not sure. But this is elegance on its toes. 2014 Jean-Marc Pillot Saint-Romain La Périère Fist pump in victory beauty. I mean… this bottle haunts me, and it has been more than a year since I had it. Good God. The balance. The poise. I’d almost be suspicious of it but I loved how there were hints of roughness as every form of citrus coursed through limestone pores. AUSTRALIA Margaret River. Tasmania. Yarra Valley. Australia has some magnificent climates that make exceptional wine. Try them all, taste the rainbow. 2018 Tolpuddle Vineyard Tasmania Chardonnay From the Coal River Valley region. On light silica sand over sandstone northeast facing slopes blah blah blah this straight up slaps. The nose is mineral like whoa. The tongue is that, PLUS lemon in every dang form you can imagine. Cannot recommend enough. 2017 Leeuwin Estate Prelude Vineyards Chardonnay Super mineral with a lemon linen core sconced with very pale underripe stone fruit. Honeysuckle and lilies bloom nearby but not so close that you notice them up front. Like a good perfume they enhance the situation without whalloping you like car air freshener. CALIFORNIA So many good names it is hard to pick favorites. I tried a bunch of new things to highlight here but don’t sleep on Seabold, Dutcher Crossing, Kistler, Domaine Anderson…and onwards! 2017 Darioush Napa Valley Chardonnay Goshdarnit, I want to branch out, I know I’ve recommended their Viognier and their Cabernet Franc in previous columns, but they keep on dazzling me. Truly lovely and balanced. Apple as can be. Golden wreathes of flowers. Bright acid. So very well integrated. 2018 Paul Hobbs Crossbarn Sonoma Coast Chardonnay Oh cool! Yas! Affordable and like, ABC people would be a bit shell-shocked. Not as shell-shocked as Chablis but still. Speaking of shells there is a whiff of seashell and salinity to it. As well as almost overripe citrus and apples bruised and not. This one is a gracious friend who will watch sports with you but also go to the theatre. 2016 Long Meadow Ranch Anderson Valley Chardonnay One of those people who gives you steely eyes, so you respect them, and but there is a twinkle in their eyes, so you get that they are warm. This lovely wine is balanced of all the things—acid, alcohol and body. Just a murmur of vanilla oak hiding amongst apples and citrus thangs and medium body for a white but…geez this is just good winemaking. 2017 Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Chardonnay Such good Old World styling with New World intrigue. White peach and flowers with staunch acid and ripe lemons overlaying a delightful wet stone background. I drink this vanilla milkshake. I drink it up. 2016 Amici Sonoma Coast Chardonnay For the wine lover who likes judicious new oak (40%) and not so much the frequently accompanying malolactic buttery notes. Those are not here. There is an element of freshness to it that calls to mind cool climates and maybe a young but weathered Frenchman. But lemon zest, golden apples and lime juice all play in a just barely buttery piecrust. And a vanilla bean plays alto sax nearby. It is fun and groovy. You aren’t sure the depth goes further and that’s cool. This relationship may last you’ll learn. AND THE WINNER IS… So, who gets the crown?! Y’allllll I can’t help it. I’m awarding the crown to France. They have nailed Chardonnay in ALL shapes and forms. You may have seen that coming…I’ll strive to rock the boat more next time but in the meantime all this writing has tired me out. I’m pouring a glass of Pillot and pairing it with my pillow. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Want to read more from Ellen? Check out her recent articles: Super Natural: RAW WINE More Than Green Grapes Ellen in LalaLand Take One: Nighttime at Wally’s Wine Wine is Virgo, Virgo Wine Old World vs. New World Round Eight: Cabernet Franc! You can also listen to Ellen's podcast with Shaughn Buchholz, The Wine Situation here . Check out her recent transcripts of the Final Five questions: Wine Situation Final Five! With Caroline Liem Wine Situation Final Five! With Adam Roberts Wine Situation Final Five! With J Ryan Stradal

Long Meadow Ranch

Anderson Valley Chardonnay 2016

Chardonnay is for finishers. Closers? Something like that. This is a winner. Steely but with a hint of warmth on the nose. Like one of those people who is curt but you catch their eyes just right and they are kind. Oak lilts behind a citrus apple wet rock chorus and it rocks. Very much a fan — 4 years ago

Paul, Eric and 25 others liked this
Ellen Clifford

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@Severn Goodwin heh, I was just discussing Mamet with someone earlier today...
Stuart Scheff

Stuart Scheff


Paul Hobbs

CrossBarn Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2018

It is light but potent enough to gather interest at approximately the rate of—wait I’d have to check my stocks to make a good analogy—but it has a slender body, gracefully bruised apples (bruise but make it art!) lemons and something of a hint at salinity that makes a friendly sip alone or with a munch. — 4 years ago

David, "Odedi" and 11 others liked this

Olivier Leflaive

Meursault Chardonnay 2010

Awww ooh aw elegance and subtle grace and hints coyly at all the things you desire and also pairs perfectly with mushrooms pasta and friends. Do it. — 4 years ago

Robert, Severn and 16 others liked this

Roederer Estate

L'Ermitage Brut Anderson Valley Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2004

Holy apples and brioche and all the things you want of true champagne but the ripe and the bubbles. Holy cow — 4 years ago

MICHAEL, Serge and 16 others liked this
Severn Goodwin

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Great QPR for that bottle. I have 05/06/07 sitting around at the house, will do a comparison at some point. Been a while since I've had the 04.
Ellen Clifford

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@Severn Goodwin would like to try every year! This is only the second time I’ve had this...

Leeuwin Estate

Prelude Vineyards Chardonnay 2017

Another aussie wine! Geez yup yup ripe fruit things going on but also yup yup there is a river bed flowing strong under it all...perhaps the...Margaret River? Lemon things. Stony things. Linen things it is fun and also not trying to not be new world if that makes sense. I can’t even this is goshdarntoheck good — 4 years ago

barak heller, Severn and 14 others liked this

Marchesi Antinori

Castello della Sala Cervaro della Sala Umbria Chardonnay Grechetto 2017

Ooh bah oom ba ba.robust but dainty majorettes holding down the somewhat-oaky doc here. Sooooo bright! Acid keen! Alcohol still potent but this is no...I don’t know the right metaphor. It’s good. — 4 years ago

Severn, Eric and 21 others liked this

La Chablisienne

Montée de Tonnerre Chablis 1er Cru Chardonnay 2017

Give it some time but it’s already telling the future. It’s got that stony smoky smell that is gonna meld well into the apple blossom backdrop. A bit austere in youth but still damn tasty. — 4 years ago

Trixie, A and 15 others liked this
Severn Goodwin

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@Ellen Clifford The '17 Chablis vintage is awesome.

Gary Farrell

Russian River Selection Chardonnay 2017

It’s so good! Elegant. Balance. Pleasant acid and enough new oak to add vanilla intrigue apples unripe nectarines and ripe lemons and stones spice and happiness. Hot dang still new world but old in spirit. — 4 years ago

barak heller, Bob and 14 others liked this


Montes Alpha Casablanca Valley Chardonnay 2005

Very lovely and hi new world Chardonnay ages gracefully. It is tropical but apple/quince-esqe on the nose. It is full but also light in the mouth. Worthy. Fully. But demure. — 4 years ago

Paul, Severn and 11 others liked this

Tolpuddle Vineyard

Tasmania Chardonnay 2018

Mineral mania! This stinks so good and slaps so hard of smoky flint shaped into a dagger someone rounded the edges off on. It doesn’t cut like a knife but teases the tongue with a sparkling (except it’s not) gleaming sensation cuts then softens then gives one last teasing punch toward the (god help me I’m about to use the term “back palate” I tend to hate dividing my palate) back palate. Oh yes it does. Goddess DAMN that’s good. — 4 years ago

Serge, Greg and 16 others liked this
Bob McDonald

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@Ellen Clifford Tolpuddle has been a stunning Tasmanian newcomer on the Aussie wine scene. If you get a chance Ellen also try the Pinot - equally as good. 👌👌
Ellen Clifford

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@Bob McDonald I’ll be seeking out more of their wines!
Scott Rowe

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Thanks for the kind words @Ellen Clifford and @Bob McDonald
When practicing social distancing its best accompanied with Tolpuddle 👍🏼