Exploring Chardonnay: A Global Comparison

Maison Louis Latour Ardèche Chardonnay
Maison Louis Latour Ardèche Chardonnay

When I was in University many years ago, I purchased a bottle of Maison Louis Latour Chardonnay, that was on their entry-level scale.  That wine sparked my interest in French wine.  In some “New World” regions, Chardonnay has been more recently planted, while other locations have had Chardonnay vines for over 100 years.  Over time, through the wine trade’s many wine tastings, plus my experience with the now-defunct, South World Wine Society, I tasted Chardonnay made in many different countries.  But I always view French Chardonnay, from Burgundy in particular, as my benchmark. 

For this article, I decided to pick a selection of Chardonnay wines, in a similar price range, around $20-$30, to see how my memorable Maison Louis Latour compares to Chardonnay from around the world.  The countries I picked for comparison were Chile, Australia, and USA (California).   Let me tell you about these wines.

Maison Louis Latour Ardèche 2020, France (BC $26.99)

Maison Louis Latour Ardèche 2020, France with wine in glass
Maison Louis Latour Ardèche 2020, France with wine in glass

From the winery, “Fermentation was traditional in stainless steel vats, temperature controlled with complete malolactic fermentation. Ageing for 24 months ageing in stainless steel vats. 25 year old vines. Unoaked.”  I was pleasantly surprised when I read that this wine was unoaked. The bottle is sealed with composite cork.  The Ardèche is a river that is a tributary of the Rhone River, which I did not know when I purchased this bottle.  

Appearance: A clear bright, deeper lemon colour in the glass.
Nose: Medium intensity aromas of citrus and toast, and touches of apricot, dried stone fruits, grape stem and some flintiness. With decanting, the fruit aromas stay the same, but you can add a touch of honey and lighten the flintiness.
Palate: Dry, fuller body and medium-plus flavour intensity.  Round with a thicker, buttery mouthfeel.  Citrus, stone fruit and toast with a touch of flint.  Light pepperiness that builds toward the finish.  You get pineapple flavour with air.  Restrained fruit flavours. The wine has a little lighter body and mouthfeel after decanting.  Light pineapple flavour along with touches of stoniness, toast, honey, and apricot.
Finish: A medium-plus length finishing with ripe stone fruits, some pepperiness and tartness.  With air you get pineapple and grape stem as well. The finish is unchanged after decanting.

To decant or not does not make a big difference for this quality Chardonnay.  Enjoy at your leisure.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Wakefield Estate Label Chardonnay 2021, Australia (BC $19.99)

Wakefield Estate Label Chardonnay 2021, Australia with wine in glass
Wakefield Estate Label Chardonnay 2021, Australia with wine in glass

From the winery, “The grapes for this wine come from Padthaway (70%) and Clare Valley (30%).  Barrel fermentation. The wine was matured for 20 months in fine-grained French oak barrels (10% new, the balance 2-3 years old) prior to blending and bottling.”  Under screwcap.

Appearance: A clear, medium-minus intensity bright lemon colour.  I noticed teardrops on the edges of the glass after swirling.
Nose: Medium-minus intensity aromas, with stone fruits the most, with lesser amounts of citrus, apple, pineapple and honey.  Some stoniness and a touch of floral or mint.
Palate: This wine is dry with medium-plus body and flavour intensity.  Round and soft with a thicker mouthfeel and buttery texture.  Ripe stone fruits plus pineapple on the palate, along with some bitterness and a hint of vanilla.  
Finish: Medium-plus length finishing with light stone fruit and pineapple plus touches of toast and butterscotch.

This wine is better after decanting.  You get more aroma intensity and flavours.  Delicious.

Rating: 4.5 stars with decanting.

Chalk Hill Estate Winery Chardonnay 2022, California (Sonoma County) (BC $29.99)

Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2022, California with wine in glass
Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2022, California with wine in glass

From the winery, “The 2022 vintage features Chardonnay from diverse sites within the Sonoma Coast, primarily: Foley Family estate and partner vineyards in Sonoma Los Carneros, Chalk Hill and the Russian River Valley. These sites have strong moderating influence of fog from the Pacific Ocean, and San Pablo Bay with sandy clay loam soils in the Russian River, and sedimentary clay loam soils in Sonoma Los Carneros…The fruit was harvested September 9th – September 28th in the cool, early morning hours to preserve vibrant fruit character. The wine was aged sur lie in 25% new French oak for 9 months.” Sealed with cork.

Appearance: A medium intensity, bright clear lemon colour.
Nose: It has light aromas of citrus, tropical fruit and touches of toast and oak.  Some grape stem and/or mint with swirling. The aromas bump up to medium intensity with decanting, you get more toast and some light tropical fruit aromas.
Palate: This wine is dry with medium-plus body and flavour intensity.  Round and soft with a thicker mouthfeel.  Restrained flavours of tropical fruit, light toast and touches of oak and pepperiness toward the finish.  Low acidity and a buttery texture. The acidity feels stronger with decanting, around medium.  Fruit flavours do not change.
Finish: A medium-plus length finishing with pineapple flavour primarily and touches of toast oak, butterscotch and pepperiness. A bit more acidity on the finish with decanting.

Not much difference with decanting, so open and enjoy at your leisure.  A restrained oaked Chardonnay.

Rating: 4 stars4.5 stars

Layer Cake Chardonnay 2020, California (BC $30.98)

Layer Cake Chardonnay 2020, California with wine in glass
Layer Cake Chardonnay 2020, California with wine in glass

From the winery, 2019 notes, which I assume will be similar to the 2020 vintage, “100% stainless steel fermentation…Select lots aged in 3-year-old, air-dried French oak. Our Monterey vineyards border the Santa Lucia Highlands. Shallow, granite-laced soils lend mineral characteristics and beautiful aromas of citrus blossom. Cooling winds flow in from Monterey Bay each afternoon and preserve the crisp acidity and delicate aromatics of the Chardonnay clusters. Our Santa Barbara vineyards are in the steep hills surrounding Los Alamos, in a canyon that leads directly to the Pacific Ocean. Sandy soils, bright sunshine and cool ocean breezes combine to lengthen ripening and extend hang time, resulting in the unusual combination of tropical fruit characteristics and great structure.” Under screwap.

Appearance: This wine has a clear, bright, deep lemon colour.
Nose: Medium-plus intensity aromas of pineapple (most), with lesser amounts of honey, butterscotch, pears and ripe, dried stone fruits.
Palate: Dry, lighter-bodied with a smooth, soft, round, light mouthfeel.  Medium-plus intensity flavours of pineapple and pears, with touches of oak, toast and butterscotch toward the finish.  This wine has a buttery mouthfeel.
Finish: A medium-length finishing with flavours of pineapple, butterscotch and touches of oak and pepperiness.  A thicker mouthfeel to the end.

A touch nicer with decanting.

Rating: 4 stars4.5 stars with decanting. 

Cono Sur Bicicleta Organic Chardonnay 2022, Chile (BC $17.99)

Cono Sur Bicicleta Organic Chardonnay 2022, Chile with wine in glass
Cono Sur Bicicleta Organic Chardonnay 2022, Chile with wine in glass

I was unable to find any additional information about the production of this wine from the winery’s website, but I can tell you that this wine is Ecocert organic certified, it is certified carbon neutral delivery and is vegan-friendly. Under screwap.

Appearance: A wine with a clear, bright, medium-plus intensity lemon colour.  Teardrops are visible when wine swirled in the glass.
Nose: Medium-plus intensity aromas of toast and pineapple, with a touch of oak and a hint of floral. No change with decanting.
Palate: This wine is dry with a light to medium body, a smooth and soft mouthfeel.  The acidity does leave a light prickle in your mouth.  Medium-plus intensity flavours of pineapple, some pepperiness and toast.  I also picked up a touch of stone fruits, peach in particular.  Buttery texture.  No change with decanting.
Finish: A medium-plus length finishing with toast and pineapple flavours, and hints of stone fruit and grape stem bitterness. No change with decanting.

A straightforward Chardonnay to enjoy.  

Rating: 4 stars

Comparisons to the Benchmark

First the similarities.  I noted that all the wines were fermented dry and all had a fuller body and buttery mouthfeel.  I believe all the wines underwent some amount of malolactic fermentation.  Pineapple was a common fruit note in all five wines.  Could it be a result of our warming climate?  The Maison Louis Latour though did show more stone fruit aromas and flavours than the wines from the other countries, so maybe still a little cooler climate than the New World areas.

The aroma intensity and level of acidity in the wines were all in the medium range. I mentioned earlier that the Maison Louis Latour Ardèche Chardonnay was unoaked, while the wines from the other countries received oak treatment.  The level of oakiness in the other wines was not overpowering, which I appreciate.  I enjoy the flavour of the grapes rather than too much toasty oak.  The most oak came from the two California Chardonnay wines, which is something I expected as this is the style of Chardonnay that California is known for.

I was hoping to find information on the soil type for each of the wines, so I could add that to this article.  I think it would have been interesting to see how prevalent limestone soil was for all the wines.

Overall, this was an interesting experiment.  The Maison Louis Latour Ardèche 2020 was my overall favourite, followed closely by the Wakefield Estate Label Chardonnay.  Both California Chardonnay wines were enjoyable but did have that extra bit of oakiness.  The Cono Sur Bicicleta Organic Chardonnay 2022 was the least expensive of the bottles and was the only one listed as using organically grown grapes.  Chile does have an edge on pricing and I did try to find the most expensive Chilean Chardonnay at a BC Liquor store.  It was simple and straightforward but was the most refreshing on the palate.  

Where Can I Buy These Wines?

BC Liquor stores carry these wines:

The Layer Cake Chardonnay 2020, California is carried by Everything Wine stores.

Author: mywinepal
Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Food also loves wine so I also cover food and wine pairings, restaurant reviews, and world travel. Enjoy life with me. MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.

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