It is undoubtedly grape royalty. But why do some people still turn their nose up at the thought of a Chardonnay? You actually do like Chardonnay – you just don’t know it!
It is undoubtedly the queen of the whites. Most planted white variety on the planet, and part of the finest wines in the world. It can fresh and lively, but also age wonderfully, and remain elegant.
Yet, say ‘Chardonnay’ out loud and part of the room may wince. These anti-monarchist ABC – Anything But Chardonnay – gang view Chardonnay as overly ripe, deep golden, drown in oak, and richly buttered. That perception has left many bypassing this great grape.
But I want to say to this group – you do actually like Chardonnay! You just don’t know it!
Have you ever said – “I love chablis”? Well, it’s Chardonnay. Love champagne? It’s most part Chardonnay (or all of it if you pick a blanc a blanc). Even the finest whites of the world – arguably Burgundy – are 100% Chardonnay.
So why the bad rep?
Much of the current reputation came from the styles of 1980s and early 90s. Back then, the grape was extreme popular, and Chardonnay almost became a brand in itself. The fashion of the day was big, bold underpinned by a certain ‘sweetness’. Makers, keen to capitalise on this fame, overproduced, over-ripe’d their grapes, and used a lot of oak or oak flavours. Many were keen to mimic the great Burgundy’s great offering, mostly unsuccessfully. This mass production led many to turn their noses up on Chardonnay once the fashion changed.
Have things moved on?
Yes, everyone has turned it down a notch. There will always be big, bolsey wines out there, but the general trend is for greater freshness and that big can still be elegant.
Chardonnay is actually quite a neutral grape – and takes on much of her character from the area in which she grows (or terrior), or what the winemaker does. This is the influence that you need to look out for. At its best, Chardonnay can deliver a thrilling, dry, full flavoured and savoury style wine.
Where is it made?
Everywhere. Chardonnay is a wine makers dream. It can be grown in the coolest climates like the UK (use for British sparkling) and France (Burgundy) to some of warmest climates in parts of Australia. It usually buds early in the season, making it ideal for sparkling. It’s a neutral grape which allows the wine maker to design the wine they want.
Which one to drink?
Chardonnay goes across the spectrum, and there really is something for everyone.
If you like it fresh and steely:
You like a fresh, lemon-lively citrus, steely style wines– you should head to the cooler climates like northern France.
Here you will find types like chablis, with made with 100% Chardonnay and from Chablis in the northern end of Burgundy.
If you still like it fresh, but with a bit of body:
If you like it fresh, but with a touch more body and riper fruits like melon, you can head to the south of Burgundy in the Maconnise. Here you still get the fresh lemon, but green apply in replaced by ripe white peach and more tropical fruits flavours as the temperature increases.
Other areas to look out for include Tasmania, Australia. An island off the south of Victoria, Tasmania has a cooler climate to the rest of the country and produces some very elegant examples.
Russia River, northern California, uses the cool breeze from the Pacific Ocean to give its bolder styles that freshness.
If you like it a bit richer and bolder:
Though it originally hails from cool-climate Burgundy, California Chardonnay is more pervasive in the American marketplace, which is why most wine drinkers associate the grape with this warm-climate, New World style.
Napa is warmer and sunnier, resulting in wines that are slightly more golden, fuller bodied, higher alcohol and less acidity that its French counterparts. The style here is concentrated, full bodied with oak.
Chardonnay makes up almost half of white plantings in Australia, who were one of the areas that fashioned that overly oaked style back in the day. But today, most wine makers have found a happy middle ground. The best regions for Chardonnay are Hunter Valley, Adelaide Hills, Margaret River, and of course a cooler Tasmania.