New World Chardonnay masterclass

Adam Lechmere Steven Spurrier’s job was made easier for him in one sense – and much more difficult in another – by the considerable presence of the owners or winemakers of three of the Chardonnay Steven was showing.

Easy, because Spurrier knows everyone, and so invited them up on stage. Difficult, because he may have felt in duty bound to be polite about the wine in front of him.

And these were no lightweights. Former Cos d’Estournel owner Bruno Prats sat in front of me (his Sol de Sol from the Malleco Valley was the fourth wine on the list), beside me was Te Mata’s John Buck, while Simon Barlow of Rustenberg was the other side of the masterclass room.

It was a fascinating start to the day. All the wines had earned their place in the masterclass. All were luminous in their way, whether it was the exotic spice of the Sol de Sol or the understated elegance of the Tapanappa (with its ‘wonderful, Sheffield Steel precision’, as Spurrier put it).

Steven Spurrier is a deceptively relaxed chairman. He is full of arresting descriptions and interesting anecdotes (how the extrovert character of Marimar Torres informs her wine, for example, more than her quieter brother Miguel does his), and has no qualms about criticising wines – even if the winemaker is sitting three paces away from him.

Surprise of the masterclass: Sol de Sol Chardonnay 2006, Malleco Valley, Traiguen, Chile

Bruno Prats described how he, Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux and Ghislain de Montgolfier of Bollinger decided to plant beyond the Biobio River, further south than even the Spanish conquistadores managed. Between the 36th and 40th parallel, this is the same latitude New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay. This was the most exotic wine of the day, a huge, fleshy, peachy, pungently spicy mouthful.

Tasting notes

Te Mata Estate Elston Chardonnay, Hawke’s Bay New Zealand 2007

Lovely pale lemon, light straw colour. Toasty oak and earth on the nose. Elegant minerality, wearing its 14% alcohol lightly. No buttery flavours but some burnt rubber. Delicious now but will last another 5 years. Spurrier suggested it should be drunk with oysters and shellfish

Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills South Australia 2007

Lemon yellow in colour with tropical citrus on the nose and a deep, dry acidity on the palate. Bigger than the Te Mata but at 13%, less alcohol– ‘this is the wine for the main course,’ Spurrier said.

Tapanappa Tiers Chardonnay, Piccadilly Valley South Australia 2007

Lemony green colour. Singular minerally, grassy nose, understated after the big wines before. ‘This is more Burgundian, straw-like, with marvellous precision,’ Spurrier said, pointing out that the Piccadilly Valley has 1200mm of rainfall – the same as Dijon.

Sol de Sol Chardonnay, Malleco Valley, Traiguen, Chile 2006

Bruno Prats said the richness of the minerality wasn’t that common in Chile. Exotic, wild aromas. A huge wine, dominating the palate. Very unusual. Delicious length.

De Wetshof, Bateleur, Robertson, South Africa 2006

Very different from what has gone before. The nose is clean and fresh and builds as the glass is swirled with floral lemony aromas. Bigger on the palate than the nose suggests. A slow-building palate with great depth of fruit and clean grassy flavours.

Rustenberg Five Soldiers, Helderburg Mountain, South Africa 2006

Mme de Lenquessaing, former owner of Chateau Pichon-Lalande, owns Elgin Estate ‘bang opposite’, Simon Barlow told us. This has a buttery, nutty, toasty, spicy nose and a lush and fresh tropical palate. Great acid length. SS: ‘It is reposed – a wine in its perfect drinking period.’

Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California 2006

Very open fresh hay nose. Very delicate slow-building palate, complex, with a sense of spice under the fruit. A robust wine, not oily but rich and dense.

Marimar Estate, Chardonnay, Don Miguel Vineyard, Russian River Valley, California 2006

Marimar Torres, sister of Penedes kingpin and former Man of the Year Miguel Torres, is ‘quite the opposite character to her brother’, Spurrier said. ‘Where he is reticent, she is quite the opposite.’ This comes out in the wine, he suggested. Very open spicy/fruity nose with some butteriness. An ‘almost flamboyant’ palate. Very long and exotic – and strong at 14.2% alcohol.

Umamu Chardonnay, Margaret River, Australia 2006

‘A palindrome,’ Spurrier read from the blurb, ‘inspired by balance and contentment’. Lime and honey on the palate. Rich and deep, with ‘a hint of Alsace (if they made Chardonnay in Alsace), like a very very good Riesling.’ Delicate, crisp acidity. Delicious

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay, Margaret River, Australia 2006

Leeuwin was the first big estate in this famous Western Australian region, where the 2006 summer was ‘the coolest on record.’ This is ‘the Grange of Australian Chardonnay,’ Spurrier said. Delicate yet forceful nose, an ‘incredibly intense’ palate full of spice and blossom.

Return to the New World Decanter Fine Wine Encounter page

Written by Adam Lechmere