In the last decade California Chardonnay has made great strides ! But white Burgundy remains the benchmark to which all chardonnays are compared. Still the most planted grape in California, today many Golden State appellations craft outstanding chardonnay expressions. In both regions 2012 was a cool climate vintage that produced high acid wines of excellent quality, making this tasting the perfect opportunity to compare these two reputed Chardonnay locations. Should the Californians be riper and more intense, and the Burgundies more elegant and refined ? Think you can identify them ? The wines chosen for this tasting should confirm the high level of quality and aging potential of these two excellent Chardonnay terroirs.
At Les Conseillers du Vin we compared four white Burgundies to four California Chardonnays all from the 2012 vintage. The white Burgundies are reputed for their fresh and elegant style, while the California Chardonnays tend to be richer and fuller. Lately the California style has evolved towards leaner wines with more acidity and freshness. Comparing these two expressions of Chardonnay created a heated debate amongst the tasters present. Which were preferred ?
Results: The participants tasted in the usual blind tasting format a selection of 4 wines from each region to verify the style, balance, richness and aging potential of these great Chardonnays. To establish the order of preference of the tasting panel, 3 points were awarded to a first place vote, 2 pts for a 2nd place vote and 1pt for a 3rd place vote.
As mentioned above, the 2012 vintage in both areas, California and Burgundy, was a rather cool growing season that produced lighter wines with fairly high acidity. We can say that it was a fairly even playing field for this comparative tasting. Most of the participants agreed that the overall quality level of these eight wines was quite high.
The Top three wines were: # 5 Château Montelena, Napa Valley with 22 pts, followed closely by Littorai Thierot vineyard from Sonoma Coast with with 19 pts. Finishing third was the excellent # 6 Meursault 1er Cru Clos des Perrières from Albert Grivault with 18pts.. Except for wine # 7 Ridge Monte Bello vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains, all wines showed crisp acidity, great balance and subtle oak. It seems clear that the California expression of Chardonnay has evolved towards wines with higher acidity, less ripeness and oak. Surprisingly the two wines tied for last place were the most delicate (#4 Saint-Aubin 1er Cru Alain Chavy) and the richest and ripest (# 7 Ridge Monte Bello Vineyard). My top three wines were : 1- # 5 Château Montelena, 2- Chablis Les Preuses William Fèvre, 3- Littorai Thierot Vineyard. See below for my tasting notes.
The wines : Order of blind tasting:
1- Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses 2012, William Fèvre (Group score: 20 pts)
Typical pale Chablis colour. Very mineral nose with some citrus. Lots of refreshing acidity. An elegant, well balanced and youthful Grand Cru that will satisfy the Chablis enthusiast. Try again in 5 to 7 years. My rating: 94
2- Chardonnay Chloé Russian River Valley 2012, Dumol (Group score: 9 pts)
Superb fruity nose displaying apple and pear with a hint of oak. Showing good extract, rich full flavours and great potential (3 to 5 years). This fresh well balanced chardonnay is quite impressive. My rating: 93
3-Chardonnay Thierot Vineyard Sonoma Coast (Group score: 19 pts)
Lovely fruity nose with a kiss of oak. Finishing second, this lively and youthful white is a great example of the new style of California Chardonnay. Some obvious acidity assures freshness, balance and aging potential (3 to 5 years). My rating: 93+
4- Saint-Aubin 1er Cru Derrière Chez Edouard 2012, Hubert Lamy (Group score: 3 pts)
The most delicate wine of the tasting. Great acidity and balance. A very refined white Burgundy offering some ripe fruit and obvious minerality. Drinking well but will evolve favourably for the next 3 to 5 years. My rating: 92
5- Chardonnay Napa Valley 2012, Château Montelena (Group score : 22 pts)
The preferred wine of the tasting. A ripe and charming nose displaying some apple, peach and pear. Typical ripe flavours with lovely balancing acidity. Seductive mouthfeel and good length. Drink now or keep 2 to 5 years. My rating: 94+
6- Meursault 1er Cru Clos des Perrières 2012, Albert Grivault (Group Score: 18 pts)
A superb Meursault made by one of the top producers from this appellation. A very ripe 1er Cru displaying rich flavours. The nose offers some fruit with an obvious presence of oak. A lovely mouthfeel with good length. Try again in 2 to 3 years. My rating: 92+
7- Chardonnay Monte Bello Vineyard Santa Cruz Mtns 2012, Ridge (Group score: 3 pts)
The Ridge Chardonnay is true to the classic very ripe California style. Lots of ultra ripe fruit with some obvious oak. Full flavoured with soft acidity and a lingering bitterness/sweetness finish. For the fan of old school California Chard. My rating: 91
8-Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières 2012, Alain Chavy (Group score: 7 pts)
A beautiful Puligny with lively acidity and youthful fruit. Citrus and apple scents dominate. The high acid content assures freshness and great aging potential. A slight bitter finish brings more length and complexity. My rating: 93