Our wine buyer Ed Betts says it’s time to rediscover the charms of Chardonnay, which was Britain’s most popular wine until it fell from favour with the ABC Club. Read his Thirsty Thursday blog:
For a long time Chardonnay was the king of white wines – a reputation built on the finest wines in Burgundy and a key part of the huge growth in popularity of Australian wines.
But it became so popular in the 1990s that some winemakers let the quality drop as they tried to meet demand with cheaper versions.
And as with most things that gain huge success there was an inevitable backlash. It became fashionable to say you were part of the ABC Club – Anything But Chardonnay.
Many white wine drinkers had grown tired of the overly oaked and full-on buttery taste of lots of the Chardonnay on sale in every bar, restaurant and supermarket at the time. And people started moving away to crisper wines. There was a surge in popularity of Pinot Grigio from Italy – a cleaner, drier, crisper, simpler style of wine.
Then people started going towards tropical styles of wine. Wines like Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand became popular – dry and crisp but with a bit more fruit and zestiness to them.
Wine growers have responded by making Chardonnay that really matches the taste profile lots of people are now looking for – and I’m truly impressed by the changes that have been happening.
If you haven’t tried Chardonnay recently, then it’s well worth a revisit.
There are so many great wines made from Chardonnay – from Chablis in France to Barossa in Australia. The white grape is also used in Champagne.
The range of styles is incredible; it can thrive in most climates and can be grown in pretty much every wine-making country – from New Zealand, Chile and South Africa to France, Italy and Hungary.
It’s such a versatile grape. It can make crisp dry white wines very similar to Sauvignon Blanc, or you can get a much more robust flavour from a Chardonnay that’s had six months in a oak barrel. It produces a wonderful wine with a nice vanilla smoothness to it – but if the oaking is done badly you end up with the type of wine that gave Chardonnay a bad name.
The difference in taste also comes down to ripeness of the fruit – if the grapes are grown in a hot country then the fruit gets riper quicker, and usually has a higher level of alcohol because there’s more sugar in the grape.
In cooler climates it has to work harder to ripen so it doesn’t have the same level of sugar in it, which means you tend to get a more acidic style and a bit of a crisper wine.
One of my personal favourites is our Extra Special Barossa Chardonnay from Australia. It’s aged in oak and has a delicious buttery character and a smooth finish with lovely crisp apple and apricot flavours.
Or from the other side of the world I would highly recommend the Etoile de Nuit Chardonnay from France. It’s crisp with a slight smoothness and has lovely pineapple and peachy fruit flavours. It’s quite similar to Sauvignon Blanc and really good value.
It goes really well with creamy chicken dishes – or with soft cheeses like Brie and Camembert.
If you still need to convince a member of the ABC Club I’d recommend setting up a blind taste test at home. Get your family and friends to try the wines without knowing what they are and see their reaction. I reckon they’ll be surprised. Some people just have it in their minds that they don’t like Chardonnay.
When I used to work in a wine store people used to say “One thing I don’t like is Chardonnay”, so I’d ask them if they like Chablis. They’d say yes – and I’d say “So you do like Chardonnay then!”