Chardonnay and other prejudices

I sometime get alarmed by a certainly flexibility of my prejudices. There’s also, admittedly a countervailing bit of smug satisfaction in feeling able to claim some open-mindedness. Such is the general cultural ideal, though frankly, I tend to subscribe to the idea that the value of an open mind is pretty much the same as the value of an open mouth: the point is to close it on something nourishing.

This is about chardonnay, to which I’ll shortly return.

But I’m getting old, you see, and I should be getting narrower and more humourlessly fixed, and I find the opposite is happening. I look at kids with silly hairstyles and even sillier clothes and rather horrifying piercings of their tender flesh and laugh kindly at and love them for it, instead of administering the censorious sneer I’d have zapped them with ten years ago.

Chardonnay. I could never quite sneer at it, but any admiration was theoretical in most cases, though occasionally there was a burgundy which would make me realise that probably I was wrong in making a generalisation.

As to wider closed-mindedness, I was relieved at my monthly tasting group tasting last night to note that at least some of my fixed principles remain firmly in place. Chris Williams (Meerlust, Foundry, much eminence) gave a blind tasting of 7 mature (10-15 year old) reds. “From three countries; two continents”. I disliked most of the wines, finding them mostly over-ripe, often over-oaked and at least a touch sweet-finishing. (My grumpiness was clearly in the minority, as was my feeling that none of the wines were European.) I thought of Australia, for the ones I most disliked, and South Africa for the others (though we’re not meant to include local wines in this group’s tastings).

It turned out that the three countries were Canada, USA (California), and Australia. I got the Australians, as I swear I usually do (despite being accused of ignorance by a better-informed person when I announced the principles on which I identified them). The Canadians were very much superior to the last (rather awful) bunch of Canadian reds I tried – quite a few years back, and I’m happy to admit that there indeed is a set of prejudices which needs substantial educative re-assessment.

Back to chardonnay, the cult of which in burgundy I still find difficult to understand (unlike burgundian pinot). I was rather delighted to read Jancis Robinson’s recent account of a comparative tasting between different vintages of New Zealand’s Kumeu River Chardonnay and some top burgundies, and not only because it pointed out how uninteresting NZ sauvignon blanc is. (Jancis: “Fourteen of us wine professionals tasted the wines in four flights of five or six by vintage – 2012, 2010, 2009 and 2007 – and the Kumeu River wine achieved the highest total score in each flight…. Three of the five 2007 white burgundies were past their best, with the Leflaive Clavoillon, the most expensive wine in the tasting, dead as a dodo.”)

My first big recent chardonnay pleasure was the Haskell Anvil 2011. So impressed was I by having discovered that I’d finished the bottle that the next night I decided to open Meerlust Chardonnay 2010 – but in fact found that to be too oaky still, and rather heavy and crude, so I switched happily to absolutely lovely Reyneke Chenin Blanc 2011. (Talking of chenin, at A Tavola restaurant on Saturday I ordered a bottle of Paardebosch Chenin 2014, which was totally satisfactory; my dinner partner remarked happily on how “mild” it was – thus noting the characteristic subtlety and penetrative gentleness of David Sadie’s wines; Paardebosch is a name which will attract much attention in years to come, believe me – prejudiced though I may be.)

But I returned to chardonnay tonight and confirmed my rather unexpected pleasure: Crystallum Clay Shales 2011. Drinking beautifully. Bottle disappeared – so please blame that excess for enthusiasm or grammatical lapses. If David Sadie can do no wrong (vinously speaking), much the same can surely be said for Peter-Allan Finlayson. What a pleasure and privilege to be writing about wines – and drinking them! – in the country where such people are having their way.

One thought on “Chardonnay and other prejudices

  1. Tim, just catching up on some reading. Thanks for the props on the Anvil. 27 year old vines now, giving up between 11 and 17 hl/h each year. Hardly commercial quantities, but the fruit is really smart and I think it is the closest thing to the ‘finished product’ of any of the single vineyard wines from Haskell. Must get a bottle of the 2012 to you. All the best.

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