Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Best Chardonnays of the World - The 17th Annual Chardonnay du Monde® Wine Competition 2010

The 17th annual Chardonnay du Monde® wine competition was held March 10-13, 2010 at Château des Ravatys in the Bourgogne, France.

Chardonnays around the World

The best Chardonnays in the world come from the Bourgogne in France, but Chardonnay is grown wherever wine is made, from England to New Zealand. It is one of the most widely-planted grape varieties, with over 400,000 acres (175,000 hectares) worldwide, planted in more wine regions than any other grape.

In its homeland, France, Chardonnay is the second most widely planted white grape variety just behind Ugni Blanc, which is used mainly for the production of Cognac and Armagnac. The grape first rose to prominence in the Chablis and Bourgogne regions. In Champagne, it is most often blended with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Champagne, Chablis and Burgundy account for more than three-fifths of all Chardonnay plantings in France.

In the Bourgogne, Chardonnay is widely grown, including in 8 Grand Cru vineyards: The "Montrachets"-Montrachet, Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet, Bâtard-Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet, Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet as well as Charlemagne, Corton-Charlemagne & Le Musigny. The Bourgogne Chardonnays were long considered the benchmark standard of expressing terroir through Chardonnay.

In Chablis, Chardonnay is the only permitted AOC grape variety. Chablis winemakers want to emphasis the terroir of the calcareous soil and cooler climate that help maintain high acidity. The wines rarely will go through malolactic fermentation or be exposed to oak. The biting, green apple-like acidity is a trademark of Chablis.

In North America, Chardonnay found another region where it could thrive. Following Chateau Montelena's victory over Burgundy Chardonnay in the famous 1976 Paris blind tasting, Californian winemakers rushed to increase plantings of Chardonnay. In the 1980s, the popularity of Californian Chardonnay would explode so much that the number of vines planted in the State eclipsed that of France. The early trend to imitate the Bourgogne wines soon gave way to more rich buttery and oaked styles. New oak barrels were used to produce wines that were big in body and mouthfeel, and high in alcohol. In recent years, Californian winemakers have been trying to make leaner Chardonnay, using less oak and processes such as reverse osmosis and spinning cones, to bring the alcohol levels down.

In Australia, one of the first successful Chardonnays was produced by Murray Tyrrell in the Hunter Valley in 1971. The export driven Australian wine industry was well situated for the Chardonnay boom of the 1980s and 1990s. In recent years, there has been a shift in style from deep golden, oily wines to lighter, paler Chardonnays with more structure. Now being more famous for its Sauvignon Blanc production, Chardonnay was New Zealand's most widely planted grape variety until only a few years ago.

In Europe, Chardonnay has a long history in Italy; but for a large part of it, the grape was commonly confused with Pinot Blanc. It is now planted a lot in the north of Italy. In Austria, the grape varieties known as Feinburgunder in Burgenland and Vienna and Morillon in Styria were not identified as Chardonnay until the 1980s. In Germany, Chardonnay was slow to gain a footing being only officially sanctioned since 1991. In Spain, Chardonnay has been increasingly used in the sparkling wine Cava.

In Latin America, in the cool-climate wine regions of Argentina's Uco Valley and Chile's Casablanca, Chardonnay has started to develop a presence. In the 1990s, Chardonnay became the second most widely planted white grape variety in Argentina. In Chile, it has surpassed Sauvignon Blanc to be the most widely planted white wine grape.

In conclusion, the area planted with Chardonnay throughout the world is estimates at around 160,000 hectares, with the US and France accounting for about half of it, and Australia, Italy and Modavia for another quarter.

1. U.S.A. : California : 44 509 ha ; Oregon and Washington : 3 203 ha
2. France : 35 252 ha (Bourgogne, Jura, Champagne, Loire Valley, Midi, Charentes).
3. Australia : 22 528 ha (2004)
4. Italy : 11 800 ha
5. Moldavia : 8 000 ha
6. South Africa : 7 927 ha (2005)
7. Chile : 7 561 ha (2002)
8. Slovenia : 3 565 ha
9. Argentina : 5 155 ha (2005)
10. New Zealand : 2 449 ha
11. Spain : 2 200 ha
12. Bulgaria : 2 000 ha
13. Romania : 650 ha
14. Israel : 600 ha
15. Portugal : 500 ha
16. Hungary : 500 ha (estimation)
17. Greece : 500 ha (estimation)
18. China : 500 ha (estimation)
19. Other: Uruguay, Brazil, Canada, Austria, Morocco, Germany, Switzerland.

Styles of Chardonnay Wines

Chardonnay lends itself to almost any style of wine making from dry still wines, to sparkling wines, to sweet late harvest and even botrytized wines. The two winemaking decisions that most widely affect the end result of a Chardonnay wine is whether or not to use malolactic fermentation and the degree of oak influence used for the wine.

First, with malolactic fermentation, the harder malic acid gets converted into the softer lactic acid, which creates the "buttery-ness" that is associated with some styles of Chardonnay. The wines that do not go though malolactic fermentation will have more green apple like flavors. Second, oak can be introduced during fermentation or after in the form of the barrel aging. Depending on the amount of charring that the oak was treated with, this can introduce a "toastiness" and flavors that many wine drinkers mistake as a characteristic of the grape itself. These flavors can include caramel, cream, smoke, spice, coconut, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla.

Other important winemaking decisions include the temperature of fermentation and what time, if any, that the wine is allowed to spend aging on the lees. Burgundian winemaking tends to favor extended contact on the lees and even "stirring up" the lees within the wine while it is aging in the barrel. Colder fermentation temperatures produce more "tropical" fruit flavors.

The time of harvesting is a crucial decision because the grape quickly begins to lose acidity as it ripens. For sparkling wine production, the grapes are harvested early and slightly unripe to maintain the acid levels.

Best Chardonnay of the World 2010

The 17th annual Chardonnay du Monde® wine competition was held March 10-13, 2010 at Château des Ravatys in the Bourgogne. 887 wines were submitted from 37 countries and judged by 300 international experts. After four days of judging, the panels awarded medals to 296 participants.

Top 10 Best chardonnay du Monde® 2010

1. Austria, Chardonnay Morillon Trocken 2008, Weingut Johann Schneeberger

2. Greece, Ktima Tselepos Marmarias Chardonnay 2007, Ktima Tselepos & Co

3. France, Champagne Premier Cru, Blanche de Castille, Blanc de Blancs Brut, Champagne Colin

4. France, Vin de Pays du Val de Loire,Domaine la Morinière, 2009, Gaec de la Ragotière

5. South Africa, Lourensford Winemaker's Selection Chardonnay 2009, Lourensford t/a Cwp Wine Brands

6. Spain, Penedès do Chardonnay Colleccio 2008, Albet i Noya Sat

7. France, Champagne Paul Goerg, Premier Cru, Blanc de Blancs Brut, Coop. la Goutte d’Or / Champagne Paul Goerg

8. Germany,Chardonnay, Beerenauslese 2008, Winzergenossenschaft Auggen eG

9. Canada,Chardonnay,Ice wine 2007, Kalala Organic Estate Winery

10.France,Vin de Pays d'Oc, Domaine de Cibadiès - Cuvée Tradition 2009, Scea des Vignobles JM Bonfils


France obtains four Gold Medals with two Champagne Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs (Champagne Colin and Champagne Paul Goerg). It is also distinguished through a "Vin de Pays" of the Loire valley (La Ragotière) and a "Vin de Pays d’Oc" wine (JM Bonfils). However, none of its signature Chardonnays from the Bourgogne or Chablis are among the winners. Probably, they were not submitted.

Austria (Weingut Johann Schneeberger) takes first place with a dry still wine. Chardonnay is not a mainstream grape in Austria. Greece (Ktima Tselepos) takes the second place. Both are minor Chardonnay producing countries.

The German winner (Winzergenossenschaft Auggen) is a botrytised noble-sweet Chardonnay from a wine co-operative. The flagships of German wines are the noble sweet Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein. There is nothing you can do to prevent these wines from becoming noble-sweet. They are made either from botrytised grapes (the first two) or grapes that were harvested during frost. More specifically, in the first case, the fog in the autumn mornings at German river banks produces a fungal infection, botrytis cineria (noble rot), which removes the water in the grapes and adds a unique flavor. In the second case, the frost late in the year removes the water in the grapes when the temperatures fall (but does not produce the botrytis taste). This jewel on the basis of a non-traditional grape does not have the acidity that you can expect from a Riesling Beerenauslese, but is most likely almost obscenely sweet.

Canada made the list with an ice wine. In Germany, there is no guarantee for the vintners for the frost to come and to allow them to pick frozen, sugar-rich grapes to make the sweet and expensive elixir. So, it is always a risk to let the fruit hang and wait for the temperature to fall. In Canada, there is no such risk and this explains why Canada has become the leading producer of ice wine in the world.

Spain (Albet i Noya Sat) and South Africa (Lourensford) complete the list of winners.

No wine from California is on the list.

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