Varie-tales - Chardonnay: A Thrilling & Grape Story
How often have you heard, “Anything but chardonnay” in response to someone being asked what they want to drink? We’re willing to wager that it’s more often than this noble grape deserves. So, let’s dig a little deeper and find out what chardonnay has got going for it and why you should aim to have more of it in your life.
What’s the story in all its glory?
Chardonnay is a Queen with a capital Q. One of the most widely planted white grapes on the planet, chardonnay is stylistically versatile and can thrive in a range of different climates. A lot of the time you can be drinking different expressions of chardonnay without actually knowing you’re drinking chardonnay. From Chablis, to Bourgogne Blanc, to Puligny Montrachet to Blanc de Blanc Champagne – there’s a lot of chardonnay going around (and that’s just in France!).
Chardonnay earns her crown because she’s a humble gal who isn’t afraid to showcase the talents of her maker. She can be moulded and shaped into a range of styles including the leaner and meaner styles, with notable examples coming from Chablis or Oregon, to the richer, buttery and toastier styles hailing from places like Meursault and Napa Valley. Chardonnay also has a natural affinity with oak – which when used tastefully can add so much texture and flavour to a wine.
So, what’s not to love? Good question. Because Chard is such a widely planted grape and is so versatile, there are a lot of styles out there that cover a very wide range of price points. From very entry level wines to ultra-premium. It can be a bit overwhelming and when you factor in climate, soil, winemaking and maturation techniques, you’re guaranteed to find at least one or two wines that aren’t your cup of tea.
What should you be looking out for?
There are a couple of things to consider on your journey for an outstanding chardonnay – climate and maturation.
The climate influences a lot of the flavours and aromas you’ll get from your glass. Cooler climates, such as Burgundy and Oregon will give you a wine with crisp, fresh aromas like green apples, limes and lemons. As you start moving to warmer areas the flavours in your wine will take on a more tropical note heading toward the pineapple, peach and mango territory.
Maturation is all about oak (or lack of it). You may be familiar with the heavily oaked chardonnay craze of the late 1980’s. If you don’t shudder at the thought, consider yourself lucky. In the right amounts, oak can be brilliant, making wines with toasty vanilla and “spread it on toast” butter aromas. But too much oak is a total joke and one that has put a lot of people off for life (but don’t worry, we’re bringing them back around with a blog like this). Nowadays, a lot of chardonnay is unoaked or very lightly oaked with the focus being on the purity of fruit and bright, friendly acidity.
What’s it good with?
Chardonnay’s versatility means it can pair pretty well with most things. The crisp and fresh bottles, well chilled, are perfect for poultry and light fish dishes and are great with creamier dishes, too. Chardonnay’s secret power? It’s the best excuse in the world for eating more cheese. For a hard cheese, have a richer chardonnay, with a bit more oak. For soft, creamy cheeses like Camembert, it’s all about that crisp, unoaked chardonnay. Just Lovely. And if you’re looking for a vegetarian option, mushrooms are perfect, as well as roasted vegetables such as sweet potato, squash and pumpkin.
What are the best examples?
We may be biased, but we’ve picked our favourites because they’re ruddy good, so no apologies here:
- Bon Courage Prestige Cuvee – A citrus and peach sensation
- Bourgogne d’Or, Samuel Billaud – Liquid gold that’s full of apple and citrus
- Lohr Chardonnay – Vanilla, peaches and cream – a fish lovers’ delight
- Mâcon La Roche-Vineuse, 2019, Julien Collovray - Bright citrus, butter and peach