Wine: Make an exception to ‘Anything But Chardonnay’


Chardonnay - Credit: Archant

Maybe it’s only to be expected, but the wine world does go round in circles.

Take the example of Australian chardonnay, deeply unfashionable not that long ago for being over-sweet, over-oaked and generally over-nasty – characteristics which prompted the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) campaign.

Now, the wine trade press is full of arguments that Oz chardonnay has become too lean and sour, and unappealing in the totally opposite direction.

Neither denigration is entirely true, but there has been some fire behind the smoke.

What is it about chardonnay that prompts such strong feelings? The answer is – as far as the grape itself is concerned – nothing.

Unlike riesling, for example, with its insistent citric-edged acidity, or viognier, where peach and apricot aromatics reign, chardonnay doesn’t shout its individuality.

It’s what is done to this “chameleon” grape that matters.

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Take practices in Burgundy, for example.

There are differences in soil and climate through the area, but those are minor on a world wine scale. Yet from the middle of Burgundy come great, rich chardonnay wines, often heavy in smart oak.

To the north and to a lesser extent the south, the results are crisp and mineral, often with little or no sight of a barrel.

Yet fine chablis is, rightly, as highly regarded as many meursaults (incidentally, the legend attributed to the ABC brigade is that in their ignorance of the grape they adored chablis).

The message from all this is that chardonnay cannot be unilaterally loved or condemned. Find the style you like and appreciate what the grower and winemaker have achieved.

And you may well find that pleasure outside northern France or Australia. Think New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, the USA, Italy, Spain, even southern France – all these wine nations, and more, are the source of splendid chardonnay.

Don’t, either, forget chardonnay-based fizz, where English sparklers can equal, sometimes better, blanc-de-blanc champagne.

Now for just a few specific recommendations, from among wines I’ve tasted recently.

If, like me, your taste is for no more than delicate oak involvement, try the Barraud family’s fine, fairly-priced Mâconnais wines (£14.50 upwards, case discounts, from Lea & Sandeman). In Waitrose (on offer at £9.50 this month) is the excellent Vignerons des Grandes Vignes 2014 Saint-Véran; and the Wine Society has a tempting, well-priced range, soaring up from The Society’s White Burgundy 2014 (£8.75), best-selling of all its wines.

Chablis 2014 is a great buy at all levels – a good starting point is William Fèvre Petit Chablis, classic minerality, good complexity (£80 for six,

Elsewhere in France, Limoux chardonnay 2014 in Majestic’s excellent and deservedly medal-winning own-brand Definition range (£10, in a mix of six bottles) shows fine, fresh, elegant style from a cool part of Languedoc; Definition chablis 2015 (£12.50, mix-six) is smart and well priced, too.

Spanish stalwart Torres makes the big, beautiful Milmanda (2011 £165 for six, – and from its Chilean arm comes Cordillera 2013 (£66 for six where the oak, though obvious, is balanced by a basket of stylish fruit.