Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Great Chardonnay Challenge

Talk about your dilemmas. I'd booked a ticket for the Australia Wine Appreciation Society's Great Chardonnay Challenge long before the dates had been set for the Canucks' playoff games. Sure enough, the fourth game against St. Louis - the game that could clinch the series for the Canucks - had to fall on the tasting night. There wasn't much of a choice considering the evening on tap but at least I was able to fit in the first two periods of the game before running off to the tasting. Tied game that it was at the time!!

This was the fourth in a biennial series of "world challenges" that AWAS has put on. It all started with a riesling tasting six years ago and it continued with a shiraz and a cabernet challenge. This year, AWAS had organized "7 premium wines from Australia" to be pitted against "7 top wines from the rest of the world" in a blind tasting. The ROW wines were actually a six-pack though because the Italian challenger was a non-starter as the bottle had been compromised, oxidized or something else more insidious.

The Aussie wines hailed from Adelaide Hills (3), Hunter Valley (2), Yarra Valley and Margaret River, while the ROW challengers were comprised of Sonoma, Russian River, Chablis, Burgundy, Argentina and the Okanagan bottles. Scattered amongst the wines were some veritable icons like Penfolds Yattarna, Leeuwin Estates Art Series and two Premier Cru wines. We were advised that, without doubt, this was the "highest calibre line-up" that had ever been put together for an AWAS challenge.

Now, to be straight up, I don't drink a lot of chardonnay. I'm not exactly ABC ("Anything But Chardonnay") but I don't run for it at tastings or at the liquor store. So, I'm hardly a judge on what a stellar chardonnay should taste like, but those in attendance that do know their chardonnay were quite effusive in their compliments while the wines were being discussed.

Since, I didn't sit down and enjoy a whole bottle, once again, I don't get to chalk anything up onto the list (and I might add that this seems to be happening far too much). However, it was interesting to note that, when the overall "scores" from the evening's challenge were announced, the top four wines and three of the four least favourites were all from Oz. The ROW wines pretty much filled the ranks from 5 through 11.

No one gasped in shock when the favourite wine of the night was announced as the 2005 Leeuwin Estate Art Series from the Margaret River region. In fact, we were told that it was quite "far and away" the highest ranked wine. I was intrigued that the Leeuwin Estates had been my first choice during the tasting as well. The Art Series is a wine that I've heard about and never tried - despite the fact that I have a bit of a "thing" going on with Margaret River. Never been Perth-side in Australia, but it's definitely on the Must Visit List. I'd been introduced to some of the region's wines when I first visited down under in 1996 and I couldn't get enough. They're not the easiest wines to find in Vancouver, so that just made them even more alluring.

On the other hand, it might just have been quite the surprise (or a great thrill, depending on how you look at it) that the top choice of the ROW wines - and number 5 for the whole line-up - was the 2006 Mission Hills Perpetua. It was the wine's first vintage and it was the most reasonably priced wine of the evening. Whereas the Art Series clocked in at $110 (not that it can be found in Vancouver), the Perpetua is readily found at $33. My "vote" likely didn't hurt Mission Hill's ranking in that I quite enjoyed the wine and marked it as second on my ballot.

I don't know if I'll be reaching any faster for the chardonnay after the evening, but I'm not devastated that I missed the second half of the game. It took overtime, but the boys won - even though I didn't down another bottle for the Golden Mile. I'll make it up though.

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