May 26th is International Chardonnay Day for 2016. But it could also be the 23rd, and we saw someone in Australia saying it’s the 21st – so we’ve decided to make a week of it! Once the victim of fashion, like a pop-song that you’d listened to five hundred times too many, Chardonnay is coming back, and it’s tastier than ever.
One of the brilliant things about this noble grape variety is the sheer variety of styles you can make from it. Depending on the climate, soil type and winery wizardry, you can have everything from a laser-sharp, super lean blast of freshness, to a rich and luxuriant, fruity and creamy caress of silkiness. Often somewhere in between. And of course, it’s a key ingredient in the most elegant and gloriously tasty bottles of sparkling wine the world has ever known. It takes to oak like a duck to water, and adapts well to a range of soils and temperatures.
In the old world, Chardonnay’s heartland is Burgundy in France. In the north of the region is Chablis; seams of kimmeridgian clay run through this fractured region, and it is famed for super-fresh wines with high acidity, green fruit and floral characters. Top examples are very serious wines treated to either oak fermentation or partial oak ageing, but for the most part these are unoaked, crisp wines with stony flavours.
Further south in the Cote d’Or are some of the finest examples of Chardonnay you’ll ever find. Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Corton-Charlemagne; almost always oak-aged, the best wines have tremendous longevity and mineral freshness coupled with crystalline fruit and elegance.
The best value is often to be found in the Macon, which produces the bulk of wine in the region – generally unoaked or lightly oaked with slightly riper green and stone fruit flavours. There are pockets of brilliance in the Macon, though – such as Pouilly-Fuisse – where the wines can have quality to rival some of the Premier Crus of the Cote d’Or at a fraction of the cost.
The Languedoc in Southern France is building a reputation for world-class Chardonnay, too, particularly in higher altitude regions such as Limoux. These wines are far and away better value than can be found in Burgundy, and while they may not reach quite the same levels of elegance and complexity as the Cote d’Or, they’re not far off; the best are simply delicious and a true pleasure to drink. We sourced our Definition Chardonnay from this region for precisely that reason – outstanding quality without obliterating your wallet.
Outside France, but still in Europe, some top quality examples are grown in northern Italy, Sicily, and for sparkling wine in England.
Further afield, South Africa produces incredible Chardonnay in the Burgundian style, often scaling the heights of quality without the astronomical prices. Stellenbosch, Elgin and Walker Bay are the regions to watch for, with altitude and cool Cape breezes helping to rarify the wines.
Australia has eschewed the buttery, fruit-laden bombs of the 1990’s and in cool climate regions like Tasmania, Mornington Peninsula and Eden Valley we’re now seeing dazzlingly fresh wines with complimentary oak ageing. Margaret River has likewise staked a reputation for incredibly high quality. As a rule, Australian Chardonnay is fuller in body than its French counterpart, with riper stone fruit flavours emerging.
Next on the world tour is the USA. Best known is Napa Valley in California. Ocean-influenced mists and altitude combine to temper this otherwise warm climate to help winemakers produce excellent Chardonnays. Classic Californian Chardonnay is rich and fruit-led with popcorn and caramel aromas over toasty oak. It’s hedonistic and intended for drinking pleasure, but not without class. Head north up the West Coast and you’ll reach Washington state and Oregon, two regions making a name for more Burgundian freshness and elegant wines – cooler climates are their secret.
Finally, smart money gets very smart wine in Chile and in Argentina. Chile has a number of advantages – the cooling Humboldt current from the Pacific Ocean along the coast, and as you go inland, the foothills of the Andes. Chardonnay in Chile is produced in a range of styles, most are fruity wines with ripe stone fruit and tropical notes, and oak-aged wines range from bold and tropical with toasty vanilla to refined and delicate. Over the other side of the Andes, Argentina makes top-class Chardonnay at high altitude, where the long hot days are contrasted by cold nights, resulting in wines of great finesse.
All that, and we have barely touched on sparkling wines made from Chardonnay! Suffice to say, anywhere with a cool climate can make excellent traditional method sparkling wine using Chardonnay – usually in a blend with Pinot Noir and Meunier. England is the region to watch, though, with some incredibly fine sparkling wines emerging.
We’ve picked you out three Chardonnays that show the variety this grape is capable of. Start here, and enjoy exploring!
Ripe stone fruits, fresh green apple, ginger spice and toast with a smooth texture and hint of popcorn. This is textbook properly oaked Chardonnay that packs flavour into every sip with a delicious delicate freshness that keeps you coming back. If you like this, explore oaked styles from the New World or from the Cote d’Or.
Slate and stone, greengage, white flowers and fresh citrus peel with a slight lick of savoury cheese. Laser-fresh, the perfect foil to seafood, especially scallops or langoustines, also excellent with creamy cheese or acidic cheese. If you like this, try lighter unoaked styles from the Macon, or from England.
A Chardonnay dominated blend from England’s green a pleasant lands. Elegant, floral and citrus-led with toasted bread and pastry notes, bright and fresh acidity and a brilliant example of why England has a growing reputation for excellent fizz.
You can explore these Chardonnay wines and more online here.