Byline: Olly Smith
Ever heard anyone saying 'ABC' when ordering their bottle of wine? Anything But Chardonnay is what it stands for. To me, that's a massive, catastrophic, point-missing shame. Imagine a Formula 1 driver saying, 'I love driving but I hate cars.' Chardonnay is one of the most versatile white grapes on the planet. It produces bone-dry steely wine such as Chablis, richer wines such as Montrachet and, of course, bubbly such as champagne.
Cheap Chardonnay can of course be vile, just like cheap Pinot Grigio can taste like licking a drizzly windowpane. All I ask is that we make an effort to differentiate between quality Chardonnay and dross. If you've genuinely sipped a topclass white burgundy or blanc de blancs champagne and still insist 'ABC', then fair enough, but if you haven't yet tasted a decent Chardonnay, give it a second look before you diss it for good.
Probably the biggest problem for the anti-Chardonnay lobby is the grape's negative association with oak. When a wine is aged in oak barrels, it can take on a vanilla-like flavour that, if overdone, swamps the wine and obliterates subtlety, elegance and complexity. However, when handled sensitively, oak can flesh out a wine, add layers and bring out hidden qualities in your drink. Think of oak as being like a picture frame: you want it to support and enhance the central image, not dominate it.
In the Eighties, we Brits guzzled a massive amount of oaky Chardonnay, consuming it as an aperitif or a drink at the bar. This did the grape no favours. When the tide turned in favour of Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc, poor old Chardonnay got left at the door.
Heavily oaked Chardonnay was never designed to be an aperitif or bar drink; it works far better with food.
France produces Chardonnay in all shapes and sizes, but its spiritual home is Burgundy. The subtle differences in vineyard sites across the region send fans into twirls of delight. There are those who go mad for Meursault, who pine for Puligny-Montrachet and who go crackers for Corton-Charlemagne. Chablis has its fans, as does Pouilly-Fuisse, and you can find decent Chardonnay elsewhere in Limoux and Champagne, where it sparkles for a living.
It would be a mistake, however, to think that only France produces fine Chardonnay. Eileen Hardy Chardonnay 2006 from Australia, [pounds sterling]19.99 at Ocado, is amazingly complex and vibrant. Alternatively, you can get a sensational glimpse of Chile's potential by investing in a bottle of Maycas del Limari Quebrada Seca Chardonnay 2007 - [pounds sterling]20 from The Wine Society. Quebrada Seca is the kind of wine that demonstrates near perfection in balance, with flavours that last so long you may only need a single sip to last you an entire afternoon. I highly recommend it.
Then there's New Zealand to consider, with winemakers such as Mahi and Kumeu River producing terrific Chardonnay. …