Wine 101 - The New Chardonnay Paradigm

Posted by Chrish Peel on 6/1/2012 to Wine 101
I had an epiphany recently. Reading the first edition (1987) of Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide, I suddenly realized how Paul Cluver's $20 Chardonnay had managed to not just win but to utterly dominate three extremely important international wine competitions, wiping the floor with such celebrated wines as Penfolds, Yattarna, and Leeuwin Estate Chardonnays five times or more its price.

Of course, it took me a while to connect the dots...

What Parker said was: �When one tastes the likes of Penfolds Grange Hermitage ($35) or a Rosemount Show Reserve Chardonnay ($16-$25), there is no doubt that these two wines are among the World�s elite.�

Now, the point isn�t (or isn�t entirely) that Grange now costs (and sells quite well for) $550� while stores can�t give away the Rosemount Show Reserve for $10. The point is Parker wasn�t alone in his assessment. I was in England at the time, and the 1984 Rosemount Show Reserve was THE wine sensation of 1985. Every critic from stodgy old Michael Broadbent/Hugh Johnson types to no-bollocks everymen like Oz Clarke just couldn�t get over how this Chardonnay managed to deliver the creamy-rich deliciousness of mature white Burgundy so much sooner�and for so much less. And in such boundless quantities.

And it wasn�t just Rosemount. THE California Chardonnay of the 1970s was Chateau St. Jean �Robert Young.� And on a minor note, the demand in the Loire was for the more aggressive Pouilly-Fume rather than the more ethereal and winsome Sancerre.

But it isn�t the Rosemount or Chateau St. Jean that�s changed. In fact, the Robert Young Chardonnay is as impeccable (and enjoyable � for those still willing to try it) as always. And the Rosemount isn�t that far off what it was. But we�ve moved on. No �wine people� I know get excited over such Chardonnays today�at all.

In a way, it seems that �quality� red wines have devolved (along big, brutish Neanderthal lines) in the past three decades, while white wines - or at least Chardonnays � have become ever more sophisticated. (Though not without a few evolutionary hiccups.)

And while a few wine critics (okay, one) may command the tides, most of them (and most wine show judges) just try to scurry out ahead �to keep their critical heads above water. So when they�re presented with a quantum leap in Chardonnay evolution � a wine that packs an uncanny degree of true 
Burgundian flavor in a lithe, lower-alcohol (13%) and only minimally oaky frame � well, how can they resist?

And that�s where I was mistaken. It may not be showy wines that win wine shows anymore. Audrey Hepburn�s in; Anna Nicole�s out.

And Cluver Chardonnay is the ultimate Chardonnay of this more sophisticated style. As Jancis Robinson says, it�s �very, very classy�fine-boned acidity and silky in the mouth, a dancer on pointed toes.�

And the 2010 Cluver Chardonnay is both the richest and the finest Cluver Chardonnay to date � one which given sufficient time will, as the South African Platter Guide put it, �unfurl in polished, chic splendor.� 

What more could one ask in a $30 Chardonnay? (Cluver�s suggested retail through its previous importer.) How about to be just over half that price?

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