This post was originally written for Vinspire and is re-published here with their kind permission.
Some grapes seem to divide opinions more than others. Chardonnay is certainly one of them.
One of the most widely planted grapes in the world, it has travelled from its Old World home all around the globe and finds itself growing in all sorts of different climates and temperatures. It is responsible for some of the most famous (and expensive) white wines in the world.
I would say that I am a fan of Chardonnay (although it will never take Riesling’s place in my heart as the greatest white grape), however like a lot of people I have had some some fairly mixed experiences. I have come to learn that Chardonnay can produce some truly exceptional wines… and some truly ropey ones.
You can imagine then how keen I was to attend an all Chardonnay wine tasting being hosted at my favourite wine shop, Theatre of Wine; this would be the perfect opportunity to learn about this grape and try some exciting wines from around the world.
Why Chardonnay Stopped Being Cool
In the relatively recent past Chardonnay became somewhat of a figure of fun. This was due in part to the mass production of cheap, heavily-oaked wines that were sold in supermarkets for the incredible price of £3 – £4; astonishing as these wines were often shipped from the other side of the world and considering that the tax on a bottle of wine in the UK is £2.
During the ’90s the “ABC” (‘anything but Chardonnay’) movement emerged, with John Major (rather dull British Prime Minister in the ’90s) coming out as one of its members. As Jason from Theatre of Wine noted, “when John Major tells you that you are not cool, then you are in serious trouble…”
The metaphorical hangover from this movement continues. There are still people who when you ask them if they would like a glass of white will say “Okay, as long as it’s not Chardonnay”. I have been known to somewhat mischievously respond “Alright, how about I buy you a nice glass of Chablis then…?” A little naughty, I know…
Why Do People Think They Don’t Like Chardonnay?
I think that a lot of Chardonnay’s difficulties/misunderstandings come from three main different areas:
- The fact that it is so versatile, and different in flavour profiles, from lean, steely Chablis to lush, tropical Aussie versions. There isn’t really one flavour profile for Chardonnay and as such it is unlikely that people will like every single style produced.
- Chardonnay’s most celebrated examples come from Burgundy, yet nowhere on the label for these wines will they even mention that they contain this illustrious grape. People may have heard people waxing lyrical about Corton-Charlemagnes or Puligny-Montrachets but they would potentially have no idea that they were drinking Chardonnay!
- Oak. This is probably the biggest single factor – in my experience, there is a fairly stark divide between people’s approaches to oak. Even in my family my mother will avoid wines that have had some oak at all costs, whereas my brother recently declared that he was in the “no wood, no good” camp.
So, with all of the above noted, what treasures did Jason and the team serve up for us to tackle some of the above?
Laurent Tribut Chablis 2011 (Burgundy, France), £21.10/bottle: classic Chablis: green apple, crunchy pear and a touch of peach on the nose; on the mouth, rather austere, bright with lemon. Unmistakably Chablis, but a little uninspiring for me. 5.0
Guillaume Chardonnay 2013 (Franche-Comté, France), £11.50/bottle: more luxuriant on the nose with candied pineapple and pear drops; on the mouth creamy, rich and juicy with notes of ripe peach. 6.0
Contat Grange Maranges Blanc 2013 (Burgundy, France), £21.80/bottle: subtle, slightly timid nose with a touch of peach; subtle oaky notes of vanilla. 6.0
Meunier Puligny-Montrachet 2012 (Burgungy, France), £32.00/bottle: really interesting nose with floral notes as well as ripe apricots, on the mouth it was truly elegant – complex yet understated, decent body yet bright with acidity, rich but balanced. A truly lovely wine. 8.0
Wiston Estate Blanc de Blancs NV (England), £28.00/bottle: a lovely classical English sparkler, zesty, vibrant and racy, on the mouth it was notably high in acidity with clean, bright lemon notes to it. Excellent. 8.0
Clos des Fous Locura I Chardonnay 2013 (Chile), £14.40/bottle: funky barnyard smell, not great on the mouth; certainly not my favourite of the evening. 3.0
Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara Chardonnay 2012 (California, USA), £20.70/bottle: slightly toasty and a little waxy on the nose, with a touch of peach coming through. On the palate it was rather decadent with ripe fruit mixed in with toasty, buttery notes. “Au Bon Climat” is the only way that I would want to use the acronym “ABC” for in terms of Chardonnay. 8.5.
Dexter Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2010 (Australia), £15/bottle: decadent mix of truffles, kaffir lime and hot butter on the nose. Beautifully balanced on the mouth with nectarines and peach coming through. 8.5 (I bought two bottles of this!)
Amares Chardonnay 2012 (Stellenbosch, South Africa), £14.20/bottle: somewhat subtle on the nose, which puts you off-guard for what happens when you taste – a big, bold, brazen smash with rich, buttery butterscotch notes. Won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I LOVED it – another one that I bought a bottle of. 7.5
Jean Milan Brut Nature Transparence 2007 (Champagne, France), £42.00/bottle: a bit of Blanc de Blancs Vintage Champagne to finish, lots of funky Chardonnay notes going on. Thoroughly pleasant, not sure it represented the best value, however, particularly how much I liked the English sparkler. 6.5
There you have it – a stellar line-up demonstrating the variety and breadth of Chardonnay as a grape. It really can take on a huge number of styles dependent on both climate and the winemaker’s preferences.
If you think you don’t like Chardonnay then I would urge you to spend a bit of time experimenting with different styles and regions – I’m certain that you’ll find something that you like!