Three different kosher Chardonnay Wines – none great – but all solid options
This past week I enjoyed my second Chardonnay in a row, along with a previously discussed Chardonnay as well. Chardonnay is one of those wines that can elicit reactions from people which is not congruent with their normal demeanor. Normally calm people may well enter into a tirade or strongly state – I do not drink Chardonnay! Or I do not drink white wine! I see this mostly on my Shabbos table and with friends when I am a guest at their tables. It makes my life very difficult, as I am very much a white wine lover.
The production of Chardonnay dates back to the time of the Romans, who brought Gouais Blanc from the Balkans, and over time crossed with the more aristocratic Pinot grape. The hybrid evolved, and the weaker clones died off, while many of the crosses showed hybrid vigor, and were selected for further propagation. With so much history behind it, one would think Chardonnay would have been a best seller around the world. Truth be told, in the US it was almost unknown, as France stood strong to its habit of labeling their wines with the bottle’s Chateau or origin rather than its varietal. However, soon after the French lost to the humble wineries of Napa in the 1976 blind tasting event conducted by French judges known as the ‘Judgment of Paris’, the Chardonnay grape quickly became a huge seller.
The sad thing is that success sometimes goes to one’s head, and leads to rather unfortunate outcomes. By the 80’s, America and the world was almost in a “Chardonnay-craze”, driving wineries around the world to rip up perfectly good vineyards to plant Chardonnay. Chardonnay quickly became the drink of socialites in the early 90’s, but just as Chardonnay was picking up steam, almost overnight it lost all of its luster. The market was drinking more red wine, and there was a backlash against heavy, oaky, New World Chardonnays in favor of lighter wines such as Pinot Grigio. There was a new fashion, “ABC” – Anything But Chardonnay, identified by Frank Prial in 1995. Oz Clarke described a view of Chardonnay as “…the ruthless coloniser and destroyer of the world’s vineyards, and the world’s palates”. The criticism was based upon the habit of wine makers to pull out or give up on local varieties in order to plant more Chardonnay, which offered potentially more income but lacked the uniqueness and character of local varieties.
The funny part though, is that ‘ABC’ is not based on taste, but rather on perception and the public battering that Chardonnay still seems to receive. Blind taste tests conducted by several highly regarded wine schools continue to show that America loves Chardonnay, to the tune of 3 out of 4 people. In the end, perception is not everything, and a good Chardonnay is a terrible thing to waste.
So, I tried a new Chardonnay with some killer Sushi, that my wife and I made by hand, and it was as goo, but nothing to die for. The wine is the 2010 Harkham Chardonnay. I have written often now about the Harkham Winery, the only kosher winery in Hunter’s Valley, in Australia. The wine was nice, parts of it was aged in oak barrels for two months and that reveals itself in the mouth’s roundness to start and over time the wood also appears. Though the wine is fruity, it is underwhelming in its fruit. It is not a fruit bomb, but to me it lacks the fruit that is evident in the 2011 Terrenal Chardonnay, from Chile. It clearly is in more balance than the 2009 Katamon Chardonnay that I enjoyed last week.
Actually, if you look at Harkham’s website, you will not find this wine. The first wine that Royal imported from Harkham, is on their website, which is the 2009 Harham Shiraz. The two newer wines, this 2010 Chardonnay and the 2010 Harkham Cabernet/Shiraz blend (a classic Australian blend that Israel is now copying) are new wines that seem to have been made for Royal. Either way, these do not seem to be sold in Australia. The Chardonnay is the first year for the Harkham winery, which also released an Aziza Chardonnay in Australia – the Azzia is their top-line label. The 2011 Aziza Chardonnay was well received by Jancis Robinson in the The World of Fine Wine – Issue 35, 2012!
Getting back to the Harkham Chardonnay, I thought about the fact that I had tasted these three Chardonnay recently and wondered aloud about how they compare to each other. The Harkham Chardonnay is by far the most balanced wine but also one lacking a zeal or zest for life. It has less fruit and less oak extraction, but as stated, good balance. The Katamon Chardonnay has great fruit and heavy toasted oak and may well be the best of the three, but the oak is also a bit overdone but still the fruit and body is there to balance it out. The fruit on the Katamon is nice but so is the clear and lovely oak extractions that add to the wine. Finally, the Terrenal Chardonnay is more sweet than the other two and it has no oak influence to lean on, but what it lacks in oak it has in fruit and more fruit! It also shows vanilla flavors which are quite nice along with good acidity and floral notes. In the end it is a close toss up between the three, but if I had to score it (and I did ). The Terrenal comes in first, the Katamon second, and the Harkham third. However, if you like sweet in Chardonnay like an Oil Refinery likes sparks – then go with the Katamon or the Harkham Chardonnay, or any of the other Chardonnay wines that we also like.
The wine note follows below:
2010 Harkham Windarra Winery Chardonnay – Score: B+
This is the first release of a Chardonnay from this winery and it is quite a fine one. The wine is not over oaked, though it would be hard to miss it. A portion of the wine was fermented and aged in oak for 2 months and then blended with juice that was fermented and aged in steel. The nose shows no influence of oak at the start, though it becomes apparent soon enough, along with lovely peach and apricot, melon, and kiwi, and loamy dirt. The wine is medium in body yet fills the mouth nicely with fresh cut grass and straw flavors, along with a hint of oak, and nice tart citrus. The finish is nice with vanilla, grapefruit, baked apple pie, and Asian pear.
This is a fine wine that is mevushal but does not show any ill effects from it. The fruit is ripe, tart, and bright, but balanced nicely with a hint of oak, and its influence. Drink now till 2013.