The 1980s staple is back, but with a newfound restraint and delicacy.
Appearing almost from nowhere, Chardonnay rocketed in popularity and was ubiquitous in the UK by the late 1980s. Then, we started to suffer from fatigue—the relentless ripeness and the overdone oak became too much of a good thing and left us yearning for something fresher, clearer and more stonily precise.
However, the grape that the fashionistas deserted, is now experiencing a revival with less oaky styles and a fresh, modern quality. Versatility is what Chardonnay is all about now; it is a grape that produces a range of styles for all tastes – from elegant Chablis (yes, it’s made with Chardonnay grapes) to full bodied with rich oak creaminess, it has so much to offer.
Here’s why we should ditch the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) mentality.
Why you should be drinking it
‘The big, blowsy, oaky style of Aussie Chardonnay does seem dated, but the best vintners have long been seeking greater restraint and delicacy,’ says Country Life’s wine critic Harry Eyres. ‘This is partly a matter of seeking out cooler, higher vineyards in places such as Tasmania (where Andrew Pirie, previously of Piper’s Brook and now of Apogee, makes Chardonnays of great finesse) and the Piccadilly Hills near Adelaide, home of Brian Croser of Petaluma. There is also a more nuanced approach to oak.’
Pierpaolo Petrassi, Master of Wine at the Waitrose Cellar agrees: ‘It’s no accident that some of the world’s most prized white wines are made from Chardonnay. This variety’s ubiquity (it’s the world’s 2nd most planted variety) is merely driven by the fact that both vine growers and winemakers love it! It can be picked early or late to make styles from crisp and lean to rich and opulent.
‘It is equally delicious oaked or unoaked and no variety is grown in more countries or in more diverse climates. The Chardonnay grape ripens reliably and yields sweet juice which is nonetheless balanced, with the acidity needed to create refreshing wines which match well with food. From easy-drinking well-made New World Chardonnay to the greatest Grand Cru Burgundies, this brilliant variety deserves its place on the list of noble wine grapes.’
What to drink
Hill-Smith Estate Eden Valley Chardonnay 2015 (£10.99; www.waitrose.com) is ripe and pineappley, but also has excellent acidity and some finesse.
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Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2015 (£15.99; www.majestic.co.uk) is a beautiful greenish-gold colour and has fresh acidity and an almost Puligny-Montrachet-esque refinement.
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Ten Minutes by Tractor Estate Chardonnay 2014 (£38; www.majestic.co.uk) is tremendously long, complex and interesting.
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Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 (£34.50; www.htfwines.co.uk), which shows gorgeous subtle toastiness, great length and intensity.
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Valle Antigua Chardonnay 2016 (£7.99; www.majestic.co.uk) is an easy drinking mid-week wonder.
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Cowrie Bay Chardonnay (£6.99; www.waitrose.com) has immediate appeal. Fresh and crisp with juicy nectarine and mandarin orange flavours it has a smooth creamy texture and a zesty finish.