I won’t lie. There was a time when I disliked Chardonnay. In fact, I belonged to that club, you know the one: ABC. Anything But Chardonnay. The mere thought of it conjured up notions of caramel-laden, barrel bombs with little acidity. Or pineapple sorbet slathered with burnt vanilla bean. Not appealing to my palate at least.
Then I was invited to a tasting of White Burgundies with Cono Sur’s French consultant, Martin Prieur. My palate was forever changed. Zingy acidity, balance, minerality and subtleity were the motto of these wines.
Times are changing. Wine, like everything, has its trends. Thankfully in Chile we are seeing that winemakers are making crisper, fresher Chardonnays. Balanced with the barrel, not seeking it to cover defects or turn it into a dessert-in-my-glass.
In fact, Chilean Chardonnay is booming in cooler coastal valleys like San Antonio south of Valparaíso, and the new, Northern darling, Limarí, where mineral and herbal notes produce wines with dazzling acidity and good mouthfeel.
This modern style of Chardonnay is so refreshing that it is perfect for summer time grilling, munching on corn-on-the-cob with butter, boiled lobster, crab cakes, steamed clams, ceviche, Chicken Caesar Salad, and virtually any picnic food.
Aquitania, Sol de Sol, 2006, US$22 (Traigen Valley)
Jokingly coined the “Four Wine Musketeers”, Aquitania’s owners include Paul Pontallier, the winemaker of Chateau Margaux; Bruno Prats, the former owner of Chateau Cos d’Estournel; Ghislain de Montgolfier, owner of Bollinger Champagne; and Chilean oenologist, Felipe de Solminihac. Aquitania’s wines (all of them) are intense, balanced, and expressive. Perhaps this is their dearest baby. An experiment that started on Felipe’s property in the south of Chile, today, it is the southernmost planted vineyard in Chile. The result? A lush nose with scents of lemon, peaches, hazelnuts, and some minerality. In the mouth, a rush of acidity that leaves your palate begging for more. It’s so good that it has been named for over six consecutive years the best Chardonnay of Chile. And, I may add, has converted many a non-Chardonnay drinker.
Get it: Oh the irony! You can score this in the US for half of what I pay at the winery in Chile thanks to Sherry-Lehman in NY: www.sherry-lehman.com (Note to S-L: hey, can you ship me a case to Chile please?)
Garcés Silva, Amayna Chardonnay 2007 (San Antonio Valley), US$25
This wine is all about elegance. It starts with subtle aromas like pear and white peaches backed with toasted almonds. In the mouth, it jumps out with a silky, seductive texture and dazzling acidity. It lingers on and on and on, with a lovely balanced flavor. Understated and graceful, this wine will enhance any crustacean or is a delight to sip alone. Boiled Maine lobster with drawn butter tonight, dear?
Get it: T. Edward Wines in New York imports Amayna: www.tedwardwines.com
Matetic EQ 2007 (Rosario Valley) US$20
Started by the Matetic Family in 2001, this new winery in its own valley (you read that right), makes striking whites. This Chardonnay is all about concentration. It has a tutti frutti scent on the nose: papayas, mango, quince with a slightly stony note. In the mouth, the barrel is present as it’s a young wine, but the freshness and balance shine through.The barrel brings in some caramel (on the border of my personal tolerance) but the overall flavor, when combined with food works. I loved this with creamy butternut squash soup or a cheesy pasta.
Get it: Check www.mateticvineyards.com for specific distributors in your state
Maycas del Limarí, Reserva Especial 2007 US$ 20 (Limarí Valley)
The new project of Concha y Toro up in the Northern arid valley, Limarí, the region near the coast produces astounding dry, crisp Chardonnay under the superb hand of winemaker Marcelo Papa. The first approach with this wine on the nose is sweet—like Chilean papayas which have a slightly melon, musky aroma. The barrel is present with hints of vanilla. There is a salty hue, that reminds me of an ocean breeze and the vines’ proximity to the Pacific. In the mouth though, the wine is light and crisp. Dry. Refreshing. It’s a delicious sip and good preview of what to expect from this new winery.
Get it: Concha y Toro distribution in the US via Banfi Vintners
De Martino, Legado Reserva Chardonnay 2007 US$15 (Limarí Valley)
Marcelo Retamal is commonly known in Chile as one of the winemakers searching for the perfect terroir for each varietal. He seems to have found the ideal home for his Chardonnay in the Limarí valley. This clean, straight forward Chardonnay delivers green apple notes, lean pear. In the mouth, it feels lush with clear mineral notes. Seafood like grilled diver scallops with their creamy, sweet texture and saline taste would really play beautifully with this wine.
Get it: Southern Latitude Wines
Casa Lapostolle, Cuvee Alexandre 2007 US$ 20 (Casablanca Valley)
This Chardonnay packs a punch. It is structured and wrapped around a zingy acidity that will push forward through even the most demanding dishes like Thai Curry or an oily fish like Halibut. The nose smells like a basket of perfumed Georgia peaches—the kind whose juice would dribble down your chin. Perhaps there’s a whiff, or two, of pineapple. In the mouth, it seriously is about this assertive structure. Yum, now I am daydreaming about Massaman Curry.
Get it: Your local wine shop or even the grocery store. Casa Lapostolle is one of the best distributed Chilean wineries Stateside.
Cono Sur Reserva Chardonnay 2007 US$18 (Casablanca Valley)
Young, simple, and all about the fruit, think about a perfect, ripe pineapple: sweet aroma followed by more intense flavor and sweetness in the mouth but then, BANG, hello acidity. The kind of acidity you can feel on your gums. This wine for me is reminiscent of a perfect piña mixed with a little citrus, spiciness, and minerality. Its all about fruit over wood though. Hallelujah.
Get it: www.wine.com
Cousiño Macul, Antiguas Reservas US$15 (Maipo Valley)
The only Chardonnay of the bunch hailing from the Maipo valley, this wine is a little bit of a wild card for me. It’s somewhere between a lemon drop and a green apple with some zestiness mixed in like crystallized ginger. In the mouth, it is creamy; lighter than other Chardonnays so it plays on more of the citrus and lemon notes. The acidity is bright and this wine could go with anything from buttermilk fried chicken to grilled swordfish and gremolata.
Get it: www.wine.com
Los Vascos, Chardonnay US$10 (Casablanca Valley)
Having a big pool party and want to serve a crowd pleaser? Look no more—you have found your winner. Fresh, juicy, and citrusy, this very simple Chardonnay has pineapple and kiwi flavors with a springy acidity. It drinks easily and will combine with everything from Asian shrimp skewers to barbecued spare ribs. Let the good times pour.
Get it: Los Vascos is imported by Pasternik, and like Lapostolle, is one of the most available Chilean Brands in the US market. Check your local wine shop.
Leyda, Single Vineyard Falaris US$14 (San Antonio Valley)
I am going to write this up even though I believe it’s not being exported to the US. If you see it, give it a whirl. Subtle and understated, this is a classic San Antonio Chardonnay with a citrusy nose with mineral overtones and a very present barrel (needs more time in the bottle in my opinion). In the mouth, more lemon and that silky, full texture. It’s a little toasty, maybe like chomping on some almonds . Looking online, you can get their Classic line in the US, which is one step down. Don’t blow it off though! The Classic is a well crafted wine, just with less hoopla (read: time in barrel) so it’s drinkable right now for only US$12.
Get it: Grapes of Norwalk