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Spanish Chardonnay rivals finest Burgundy, says consultant Denis Dubourdieu

How refreshing to sit next to someone who enjoys such stratospheric success in their world that they attach no concern to staying on message.

They don’t come much more successful in the wine world than Denis Dubourdieu, owner of a clutch of Bordeaux estates and consultant, with his team, to some 70 high-profile estates around the world.

Dubourdieu was in town for a vertical tasting of Chivite’s Colección 125 Chardonnay. A passionate believer in Navarra’s ability to produce fine, cool-climate Chardonnays that will age alongside the finest Burgundies, he has worked with the company since the 1990s. The line-up of seven wines spanned the years 1996 to 2010.

His definition of great wine is that it should be able to age in every vintage, even lesser ones. Clearly premature oxidation has been an enemy of that, particularly in Burgundian Chardonnay, and Dubourdieu’s research team has done extensive work on identifying the causes and thus, how to avoid it.

Many winemakers blame the closure, he says, but that’s only part of the problem – and they should be getting to grips with it. ‘Many complain about the effects but like the causes,’ he commented drily. That said, the closure still counts. ‘A good wine is eternal – the killer is the cork. If the cork isn’t changed after 30 years, the wine will be dead.’

Scornful of producers who chase Parker points at the expense of expressing terroir, he also gave China short shrift, expressing the view that its fine wine buyers are still largely label hunting. Natural wines he dismissed in a few words: ‘I dislike them. I can’t drink them. They are dead when they are born.’

His advice to Spain’s producers: ‘Make wines that people want to drink, not taste.’

So, on a more upbeat note, is there any one place he’d love to work? The answer: not some emerging corner of the New World or Eastern Europe, but somewhere on his doorstep, Château Canon in St-Emilion. ‘It’s the best terroir in St-Emilion,’ he enthused. ‘My wife’s grandmother knew the previous owners and I’ve tasted older vintages like the 1959, 1961 – they are amazing wines.’ So has he told John Kolasa, Canon’s managing director, of his ambition? ‘Oh no,’ he replied. ‘I don’t ask to work with people. They call me.’

Amy Wislocki is managing editor of Decanter.

Written by Amy Wislocki

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