Chardonnay is back
We’re now enjoying wines made from this grape again after it gained a bad reputation in the 1990’s for the over oaky New World wines. As it has always made some very fine wines around the world it never really went away, just waited in the shadows for its time to be appreciated again.
Chardonnay is widely grown around the world, renowned for wines that are subtly aromatic, rounded, balanced and relatively easy to grow producing many styles related to climate and soils i.e. provenance. Winemakers like to prove that they can make quality wines from Chardonnay emulating the fine wines made from it in Burgundy for example with their elegance and complexity often from careful aging in French oak barrels. Chardonnay can be used to make a wide range of wine styles from the light, fresh apply unoaked wines often at the lower price points to the rich, mellow wines from California and Australia though restraint is often a key word now for Chardonnay resulting in leaner often more appealing wines.
Chablis & Burgundy regions in eastern France are recognized as the home of Chardonnay and some of the finest wines made from this grape. Chablis is renowned for its crisp minerally wines and Burgundy for a range of styles though more often for the mellow notes from oak aging as in the richer oaky notes of Meursault at the other end of the scale.
Further south in France in Limoux and Languedoc Roussillon Chardonnay grows well and is often fresh and unoaked or mouthfilling, refreshing and lightly oaked. A great alternative and good value alternative to the fine, elegant, and more expensive wines of Burgundy.
In California where chardonnay is widely grown the grapes are picked when very ripe producing the richer, mellow more alcoholic wines for which this region has developed a reputation. The wines are often sweeter in style to appeal to the local consumer. In Napa, Monterey, and Sonoma some wineries excel in producing some very fine wines from this grape all with a sense of provenance with Californian sunshine ripeness combined with careful oak aging that enhances the flavours.
Australian Chardonnay wines, now overcoming the ‘anything but chardonnay’ stigma is proving that it is a source of delicious well-made wines that are full of ripe fruit flavours balanced with fresh acidity and a hint of oak. The Adelaide Hills region in South Australia and Margaret River in Western Australia are home to many wines of this ilk such as those made by Shaw And Smith in Adelaide Hills, Vasse Felix & Cullens et al in Margaret River. Demand for high quality oaky full-bodied Chardonnays where the fruit quality, ripeness and fresh acidity are all integrated in the wine flavour is increasing and they are amongst the best of Australian Chardonnays.
Although New Zealand is best known for its plethora of Sauvignon Blanc wines Chardonnay is a key player in their wine portfolio especially in the Hawkes Bay area of North Island such as Te Mata, Canterbury and Marlborough such as Greywacke & Zephyr wineries. Here, some of the best producers have shown their skills in harnessing the natural zestiness, appley fruit notes found in NZ wines in their oak aging. This also applies in Chile and Argentina where the wines are often leaner and crisper rather than full of tropical fruits. South Africa deserves a mention too, as the home to many delicious Chardonnay wines.
Chardonnay also plays a key role in production of quality sparkling wines as seen in Champagne where it is often blended with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier though the Blanc de Blancs styles where it is used on its own are memorable for their quality too. Other quality sparkling wines from around the world are made using this blend and the methode traditionelle. This is seen in Tasmania, Franciacorta in Italy, Cremant wines from other French regions such as Burgundy and Limoux, Australia.
All in all, Chardonnay is a grape that deserves its recognition so don’t be put off by the ‘ABC’ movement, give them a go whatever your favourite style.