Have you had a glass of Chardonnay recently?
HAVE you had a glass of Chardonnay recently? Perhaps you’ve enjoyed some delicious minerally, crisp Chablis or a soft round buttery example from Australia? These are the two extremes of styles of wines that this noble grape variety produces around the world. A range of wines exists between the two extremes too.
It’s not that long ago that Chardonnay was the preferred drink, especially in pubs and on supermarket shelves. However, this was short-lived as more and more Chardonnay was grown to supply the ever increasing demand for wine from this grape and especially at a low price.
To make the wine more palatable it was subjected to various methods of oaking. Note, not oak-aging but oaking which in crude terms is adding oak flavours. This cannot emulate the integrated elegant flavour notes of quality wines such as those produced in Burgundy or in Australia which spend time in oak casks to enhance the finished wines. The less expensive methods used for cheap wines included adding oak chips or staves like making tea!
This resulted in chunky wines with big buttery flavours from the very ripe southern hemisphere fruit used, that after the first “chewy” glassful were difficult to enjoy. The UK palate started to look for alternative styles of wine and this lead to the Pinot Grigio phase that is starting to wane now too.
New Zealand Sauvignon has been in vogue for a while but now this is beginning to pall and it was never a contender to supercede Pinot Grigio as it is always in a higher price bracket.
There is a grape verity that can step into the breach – Chardonnay! Away from the cheap supermarket Aussie chardonnays there have always been some stylish wines made from this grape.
In its homeland of north eastern France, particularly Chablis and Burgundy, it is the dominant grape and likes local chalky limestone soils. In Chablis it produces the delicious crisp, refreshing wines with a fruity minerality on nose and palate. It is often a surprise to people that Chablis is made using the Chardonnay grape as it is so different to the softer, buttery New World wines that have dominated wine sales.
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Try the Chablis la Colombe at circa �11 a bottle or for a stylish quality example the straight Chablis and Premier Crus from Simonnet Febvre are excellent examples of classic minerally refreshing wines from that region.
Further south in Burgundy, the serious wines from the Cote d’Or including Montrachet and Rully from the Chalonnais for example are exponents of how judicious oak-aging can enhance the innate quality of the Chardonnay wines in this area.
The resulting wine is elegant, well-balanced and integrated in style, though at a higher price point a due to the cost of the new oak barrels and time spent in oak before sale.
However, a forgotten group are the most exciting Chardonnays in the mid price bracket between �7 and �10. Wines from the South of France where the improved quality of the grapes grown enables very refreshing wines with pure fruit flavours including some tropical fruit flavours to be found.
Look out for Les Volets Chardonnay from the Languedoc Rousillon at only �8.59 offering great value and a lovely drink that receives a gentle touch of oak or the Old Coach Road Unoaked Chardonnay from Seifried Estate in New Zealand at only �9.99 per bottle.
In the southern hemisphere Chile has always offered well made Chardonnays in the price bracket such as wines from Viu Manent at �9.99 for the Reserva and the Nostros Gran Reserva at �11.99.
Winemakers in the Margaret River, Western Australia, and Mornington Peninsula region of the state of Victoria are now renowned for quality Chardonnays with Burgundian traits of judicious oak aging and this is also found in many New Zealand Chardonnays too, such as the Te Mata Woodthorpe and Elston wines that are well worth a try.
Chilean and South African chardonnays are also in this style category and prices range from �6.49 for those such as Norte Chico every day unoaked Chardonnay to the full on Rustenberg oaked version.
As there are so many different Chardonnays available on all wine shop shelves, don’t leave them there, give them a try as an alternative to Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, it’ll be a lovely surprise.
Julia Jenkins is the owner/director of Flagship Wines, an independent wine merchant based in Hatfield Road, St Albans, winners of the New Zealand Independent Wine Merchant Award 2010 and a finalist in the 2012 Regional Merchant category at the International Wine Challenge Awards.
Julia has been in the wine trade for more than 25 years and prior to starting her own wine company gained experience retailing, buying and marketing wine for companies including Thresher, Booker and Sainsbury‘s where she launched their wine mail order business.
Flagship Wines in St Albans was initially a mail order company and as the business grew it moved into retail premises on Hatfield Road in early 2004. They now have nearly 500 wines in their range including a carefully selected range of spirits and bottled beers. They sell from the shop, via mail order and from www.flagshipwines.co.uk