Chardonnay seldom sets the wine lover’s heart into overdrive. More often, it sparks ‘been there, done that’ thoughts. The swinging ‘like it/loathe it’ pendulum has often meant that Chardonnay has been consigned to the spectrum of wine being avoided if you’re trying to impress a dinner date or a legion of wedding guests.
Have no doubt though, Chardonnay, the ‘marmite’ of the wine world, continues to gather a cult following—and for good reason.
The chardonnay grape is one of the most-common styles of white wine grapes, found all over the world in numerous wine regions. It encompasses a wide spectrum of flavours, aromas and taste profiles, depending on which region of the world it comes from. Burgundy and California could be considered ‘golden platforms’ for production, though.
Winemakers from other regions far and wide, such as Marlborough in New Zealand and the Adelaide Hills in Australia, capitalised on the growth of Chardonnay in the ’70s and ’80s, noticing how versatile it grows in varied climates and soil types.
Chardonnay’s origins are in Burgundy and Champagne in France. The most notable region for this grape in Burgundy is Chablis, where only 100 percent Chardonnay is permitted. Chablis, with its flinty, acidic character is a gentle style of chardonnay.
In many of the vineyards in the region (an example being William Fevre, which will set you back just under €20 a bottle), the wines are likely to be produced in steel tanks. Further South of Burgundy in Beaune, Chardonnay produced in villages like Puligny Montrachet and Meursault are often fermented and aged by means of oak barrels to add bold vanilla and toasted notes to its profile.
Contrastingly, in the Southern Hemisphere, boutique wineries like Bouchard Finlayson in the Hermanus region of South Africa (overseen by the talented winemaker Peter Finlayson), produce a new style of chardonnay. Combining New World characteristics of citrus and peach, along with the finesse of Burgundian oak-driven style production, these wine diamonds are gleaming. Missionvale, Bouchard Finlayson’s flagship chardonnay, is the closest wine you will drink to a Burgundy chardonnay, at a mere fraction of the price.
Chardonnay is a splendid wine for food pairing. Lighter-style, young, unoaked Chardonnays from Chile, for example, match wonderfully with steamed fish, vegetables and chicken. Richer, luscious, oaked styles go amicably with creamy textures, roast shellfish like lobster and scallops, and guinea fowl.
Ultimately, the unique charm and subtle flavours of this wine is gradually quietening the harsh criticism of the ABC (anything but chardonnay) movement in the early 2000s. With popularity of this once favoured wine resurging, complacency could be the hidden adversary for fans favourite Pinot Grigio and the much-adored Sauvignon Blanc.
Philip Dunne is Head Sommelier at Ashford Castle, Cong. Trained by the Court of Master Sommeliers, he is part of the team voted the Best Wine Experience in Ireland 2016 at the Restaurant Association Awards in Ireland.