A panel of world-class wine experts is set to find the best Chardonnay in the world in a new competition with CDN$1m worth of prizes.

The organisers of the Chardonnay of the Century–Million Dollar Challenge are expecting to judge 2-3,000 wines next year. After a series of regional heats, the best Chardonnay in the world will be selected.

And in an interesting variation, the prize money goes not to the producer of the winning wine, but the person who submitted it. In this way the judges hope to attract wines from the great Burgundy houses, which normally never submit their wines for competition. It is hoped private collectors will enjoy the kudos of having a wine from their cellar judged by an international panel.

Entries can be made by producers until the end of April 2002, when the contest becomes open to private collectors who can enter a case of any Chardonnay not already submitted by the producer.

The 50-strong panel will be directed by chief judge John Avery MW and Decanter’s own Steven Spurrier. Michel Laroche of Chablis estate Domaine Laroche and South African owner and winemaker Anton Rupert are also patrons. The world’s top 100 Chardonnays, as voted by the panel, will be named in September, with regional winners and the overall title being announced at a ceremony in Vancouver in January 2003. First prize is CDN$500,000.

The competition is the brainchild of Dr Hennie Van Vuuren, who will use six bottles of each case entered to start a wine library for research purposes at Canada’s University of British Columbia. The university hopes to have up to 20,000 bottles of the finest Chardonnays by the end of the contest, and will then conduct research into the ageing potential of the world’s top 100 Chardonnays. Van Vuuren will also evaluate the effects of soil type, rootstock, Chardonnay clones, barrels and yeast on the wines’ quality and finesse.

Whether all the Chardonnays in the world will be entered is a moot point. Steven Spurrier reckons collectors’ interest will be piqued enough to enter. ‘It’ll be quite fun – they get the chance of half a million dollars, their contributing to a great cause, all for the price of a case and the entry fee.’

Others are not so positive. Burgundy merchant and self-confessed competition-hater Jasper Morris said, ‘Wines which win shows aren’t the ones which give pleasure when drunk in the glass.’

Written by Amy Wislocki and Adam Lechmere7 December 2001