Hooray for Chardonnay Spring 2021

A collection of Chardonnays today from several points on the globe but with extra focus on the US and Italy. We begin: 

FRANCE 

Anne Gros Bourgogne Blanc 2019, Burgundy. Behold the wisest spell to escape the wand of the She-Wizard. To avoid confusion, this isn’t the same as the $70 Bourgogne Blanc of Anne’s that I offered back in October. This stunning Chardonnay – a blend of parcels from the Côte de Nuits and Hautes Côtes de Nuits – finds Anne wearing her rare Négocient hat, purchasing fruit from her biggest fans and working her magic for a civilized bottle price. All grapes should be so lucky; this is the grapey version of finding the Golden Ticket in the Wonka bar. Fresh pear, Golden Delicious apples and chalk on the nose, a gorgeous melange of chamomile, rainwater and lime on palate. Chablis seems to be the north star, here – I’m quite sure I’d flag it as such were I blind tasted on this, the crisp acidity can see through walls and focuses the finish like a magnifying glass. Outstanding value, a great introduction to Anne’s oeuvre, will make your deck shine like a grail. 3 6-packs available, $51.98 +tax 

ARGENTINA 

Bodegas Chacras “Mainqué” Chardonnay 2018, Patagonia. Meursault’s Jean-Marc Roulot made this pure, focused Chardonnay to answer the question: What if you tried to make a white Burgundy on Hoth? The tempestuous landscape in South America’s southern, wild point (the indigenous population, first thought by Magellan to be giants, were dubbed the Patagon) throws all manner of curveballs at a humble grape-grower: dramatic temperature shifts, hail and heat waves, and yet Roulot manages to wrest some sort of elegance out of chaos every year. Aged in both oak and concrete, this 2018 experienced partial malolactic fermentation (they never control it, they just roll with what happens), so there’s a balance between brioche and brioche-with-a-laser-sword laying just underneath the Granny Smith, pears and jasmine on this expressive nose. The medium-full body brings tension, salinity and more brioche in case you didn’t get enough brioche. A lovely collection of opposites that’s so different each vintage. 97 points James Suckling, 12 bottles available, $71.98 +tax 

SOUTH AFRICA 

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2019, Hemel-en-Aarde. We weren’t supposed to get any of the miniscule-but-glorious 2019 vintage from Anthony Hamilton Russell: the tragic South African fires in early 2019, though less world-famous than Australia’s subsequent blazes, made life miserable and curtailed viticulture dramatically. The production was so small they thought they could only serve local markets for that year, but then (gestures broadly at everything). South Africa imposed an outright ban on alcohol sales, and while that really sucks for them it means more yummy HR for Jordan, so let’s rinse off that guilt with some good Chardonnay. Although usually destemmed, Russell crushed from whole bunches for this vintage to avoid the risk of smoke taint and employed the least amount of malolactic fermentation ever (only 10%), resulting in the most elegant and bright Chardonnay he’s ever produced, light on its feet without sacrificing the embracing intensity he’s known for. Limeade and candied pears line the crushed rocks on the fragrant nose, ending with just a hint of lemon danish and peach. 95 points Tim Atkins, 93 points Decanter, 3 6-packs available, $67.98 +tax 

ITALY 

Antinori Cervaro della Sala 2017, Umbria. The Antinori’s flagship white wine is a relatively young enterprise, seeing as the family started winemaking in the 12th century (I think my ancestors had contemporaneously discovered the Pointed Stick). The inaugural 1985 vintage could have been spread on toast to make an open-faced oak sandwich, but the ensuing decades have seen Cervaro evolve into an elegant, layered and powerful expression of warm-climate Chardonnay (with about 8% contribution from the local Grechetto grape). The Saharan 2017 vintage gave a nitro-boost to the wine’s weight and intensity, but the balanced élèvage (a portion spends 6 months in French oak, the rest in stainless) turned out a Chardonnay with a foot on two continents: the nose swims with the rich apples, pralines, stones and vanilla of Sonoma while the body holds that essential tension and agility of modern Beaune. This 2017 commands your attention so thoroughly, you might not even look at your phone for a couple minutes. 99 points James Suckling, 3 6-packs available, $79.98 +tax 

Gaja Rossj-Bass Chardonnay 2018, Langhe. Since Angelo Gaja is one of the fathers of modern Piedmont and Rossana (Rossj for short) is his daughter, I guess Rossj is… modern Piedmont? Figuring that out might take some time and a couple glasses of this luminous Chardonnay, grown in lower-lying (Bass) vineyards in Barbaresco and Barolo. Melon and white flowers bathed in honey – it’s quite a lovely, sweet nose – flow into a surprisingly structured frame and an almost Sancerre-ish, bracing finish. Not sure if this wine has made it into BC before, this is the first time I’ve seen it. Not yet rated. 2 6-packs available, $128.98 +tax 

Cantina Toblino Trentodoc “Antares” Brut Nature 2016, Trentino. From a snappy little organic co-operative in Trentino comes a brilliant shooting star of sparkling Chardonnay and a possible energy source to power cities of the future (diodes not included). From vines grown on the south-facing hills of Valle dei Laghi, the Chardonnay goes through the Traditional Method (can’t call it the Champagne Method because if you do, French spirits will visit as you sleep to turn all your snacks into cigarettes), spending 36 months on the lees after secondary fermentation. Full disclosure: I’m not always on board with the whole Brut Nature movement (no final “dosage” of sugar before bottling), I find that the more extreme cases are out of balance - just balls of acid that Somms dare each other to drink to see who cries first – but Antares Brut Nature is beautifully balanced and super-fab. Pastry notes are met by lemon meringue and river stones, gorgeous citrus and savoury saline mouthfeel, the finish is energetically zippy and zingy with persistent bubbles. Not often available outside of Italy, Antares is only rated locally: 4 Stars Vinibuoni d’Italia, 2 6-packs available, $55.98 +tax 

USA 

Hartford Court Chardonnay 2018, Russian River Valley, Sonoma. I hope Don Hartford doesn’t travel with armed guards ‘cause if I met him I’d just hug him without saying hello first. Giving Don good vibes would be reciprocal: for nearly 3 decades his wines have quietly showcased Sonoma’s generous, positive disposition without falling into lushness or simplicity – these are real, classic wines with great structure and length, they just have various fruits and spices falling out of their pockets and they feel that you should have some too. If ever a wine could be called “optimistic” this entry-level (!) Russian River Chardonnay would be a prime candidate, exuding honeysuckle, brioche, cream, apple, peach and pepper notes before unfolding into a rich, full texture-fest, lifting up at the end with a touch of grapefruit. Great minerality on all levels, too. The premium buyers in this company periodically get together to blind taste wines; this one blew us away and we valued it at twice the price (this new price has actually come down from near $60). #44 – Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2020, 94 points Wine Enthusiast, 6 cases available, $46.98 +tax 

WALT Chardonnay 2018, Sonoma Coast. Decadence liquified. This is the perfectly normal thing that happens when a pear and a vanilla milkshake love each other very much. Made by Napa’s Kathryn Hall from the Bob’s Ranch and Sangiacomo vineyards, the opulent nose – no need to compare apples to oranges ‘cause this has both – leads into a medium-bodied palate that shines a bit brighter than the nose suggests, just enough to boost the length of the creamy, pear-laced finish. Quite beautiful, in a confected, naughty way, and underrated in my opinion. 92 points Wine Enthusiast, 2 cases available, $61.98 

Arnot-Roberts Trout Gulch Vineyard Chardonnay 2017, Santa Cruz Mountains. The Simon and Garfunkel of single-vineyard California Négoce wines have outdone themselves with this cabin-in-the-woods style Chardonnay that I’d never blindly identify (blindentify?) as Californian. The Trout Gulch vineyard lies in the heavily forested southern Santa Cruz mountains, the whole area looks like the Slocan valley or western Kootenays, and if you’re thinking “I’ve never seen any wines from Castlegar”, bingo. The site is at the edge of the ripening window, sitting 4 miles from the ocean at 600ft and regularly beset by fog; climate change has made recent vintages more reliable than when Bernard Turgeon planted the vineyard in 1980, but there’s perennially a chance you won’t get a usable harvest. The years the vineyard gives you, however, are racing powder kegs of energy and density, like a Chablis that cloned itself and then ate that clone. Citrus and flowers rule the roost, with a robust, saline mid-palate and long, chalky finish. Refreshing now but I’d like to check back in 5 years to see what happens. 95 points Vinous, 2 6-packs available, $99.98 +tax 

NON-STOP CLASSIC HITS 

What follows is a brief listing of some wines that fit this theme and have previously been written about, but featured again for the benefit of those who’ve recently joined my Collectors List and may have missed ‘em the first time. If anyone requires more info, I’m happy to send over the original blurb to you. 

Nicolas Catena Zapata “White Stones” Chardonnay 2017, Mendoza, Argentina. 98 points James Suckling, 1 3-pack available, $133.98 +tax 

Nicolas Catena Zapata “White Bones” Chardonnay 2017, Mendoza, Argentina. 99 points James Suckling, 2 3-packs available, $156.98 +tax 

Shaw + Smith “M3” Chardonnay 2019, Adelaide Hills, Australia. 96 points Decanter, 96 points James Suckling, 12 bottles available, $56.98 

Ridge Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2014, Santa Cruz Mountains, California. 95 points Decanter, 8 bottles available, $95.98 +tax 

Olivier Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Gain 2015, Burgundy, France. 6 bottles available, $192.98 +tax 

Olivier Leflaive Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Gain 2016, Burgundy, France. 6 bottles available, $192.98 +tax 

Until next time, Happy Drinking!

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