The wine world is so broad, it's near impossible to explore every region, let alone the different styles in those regions. One category of wine I am always impressed with is Italian Chardonnay. The funny thing is, it took reading an article in the latest issue of Savour magazine to bring this to my attention. The focus of the issue was tools, techniques, and ingredients used by top chefs. Half way though the issue I came across a small list of Chardonnays that came highly recommended.
Two selections from this list fall into my top ten favorite Chardonnays, the Jermann Chardonnay from Friuli and the Gaja Chardonnay from Peidmonte. The Jermann Chardonnay comes from northeast Italy where the climate is continental, and the soils are white with calcium carbonate. The cold nights of Fruili help maintain acidity late into the season, while the soils impart a distinct minerality. When I first tasted the Gaja bottling, at an industry tasting, I thought they had poured me Pinot Blanc. The earthiness on the nose and delicate, yet rich texture on the palate was unforgettable.
Another Italian winemaker that has mastered the art of making great Chardonnay is Paolo De Marchi, of Isole e Olena. His winery is in the heart of the Chianti region and makes classic wines, in a very modern style. I was lucky enough to meet him during his visit to Washington last year. I was so impressed by his Chardonnay, I had to ask him how he created such a perfect example, from an area not exactly renowned for the quality of it's Chardonnay.
Paolo knew that in the hot climate of Chianti, producing top quality Chardonnay was going to take a lot of work. He travelled to Burgundy to learn how the best wines were crafted. He contacted vine growers in Burgundy to source clones that would ripen properly in the heat. In Burgundy the best wines come from southern slopes that get late day sun, so Paolo did the opposite, planting a dozen different clones on north eastern slopes, to protect the vines from late day sun. The results are quite impressive.
If you would like to explore Italian Chardonnay, any one of these wines is a great starting point.