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Chardonnay: Worthy of a Second Chance?

Chardonnay is a grape that is often unfairly maligned. Some wine drinkers have such a strong aversion to this sadly misjudged grape, that the acronym ABC, (Anything But Chardonnay), has been heavily over-used in recent years. There is even a dedicated society calling themselves ‘The ABC Club.’ However, Chardonnay comes in many different guises. For example, did you know the Chablis is, in fact, made completely from Chardonnay, or that Chardonnay is the principal grape variety in Champagne?

It would not be fair to hold Australia entirely responsible, but, unfortunately, those heavily-oaked Chardonnays which were exported across the world in the 1980s and 1990s, were most likely the catalyst of the misrepresentation of what is, in reality, quite a neutral variety of grape. Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape varietal in the world, favoured by winemakers due to its versatility. Often described as the ‘chameleon’ grape, its flavours and characteristics are mainly due to how and where it is grown, referred to by the French as terroir, as well as how it is treated in the winery.

Cool climate Chardonnays grown in areas such as Chablis in France or Mornington Peninsula in Australia tend to be fresh and crisp. They are rarely fermented in oak, steel usually being preferred as it maintains the fresh fruitiness of the wine. Chardonnay is also the most widely grown grape in England. Here, the chalky soils, which are similar to the soils of Chablis and Champagne, give the wine a lovely minerality, making it a perfect grape for the production of sparkling wine. If you haven’t tried an English sparkling wine yet, you really don’t know what you’re missing!

Chardonnay is also the most common grape grown in the highly esteemed Burgundy region of France. Areas such as Meursault and Pugligny-Montrachet, along with the famous Pouilly-Fuissé appellation in the Mâconnais, produce some of the most elegant wines around, many of them commanding top prices. The climate is slightly warmer here than in Chablis or Champagne due to its more southernly location, giving the wines of this region the fuller, riper flavour of peaches and pears.

Needless to say, there are many New World Chardonnays that are also excellent, often offering great value for money. Sonoma and Oregon in USA produce beautifully elegant Chardonnays, somewhat similar to the styles found in Burgundy. Casablanca in Chile also produces some lovely, refreshing Chardonnays due to its cooler climate – wines produced here will often have citrus and stone-fruit flavours and can be oaked to a variety of levels. Walker Bay in South Africa is another cool climate area due to its coastal location and good quality high-acidity Chardonnays can be found here. Obviously Australia cannot be ignored – there are some excellent examples of Chardonnay to be found in areas such as Margaret River and Yarra Valley.

If you prefer your wine to be fuller-bodied, with more tropical fruit flavours such as mango, pineapple and papaya, then a hotter climate Chardonnay is what you should look for. These wines are commonly produced in areas such as Napa Valley in California, or the inland areas of South Africa’s Western Cape, whose styles are much more likely to have been oaked.

Despite its reputation, the popularity of Chardonnay is increasing. With such a huge variety of different styles and flavours, there is a Chardonnay for everyone! Whether you prefer crisp and refreshing, full-bodied and oaked, or even sparkling, your only job is to find the Chardonnay that suits your palate. Together, we can work on banishing that ABC Club once and for all!

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