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The A-Z of wine: C - Chardonnay

Chardonnay, or as I like to call it affectionately, ‘Cardonnay’*. Perhaps wine’s most misunderstood grape. I have lost count of the number of times people have said ‘I hate Chardonnay’, and then proceeded to buy a Chablis – 100% Chardonnay without the word on the label.

Chardonnay initially found fame in France, particularly in Champagne, Burgundy and its satellites. Due to its extremely versatile nature it does well in a variety of climates, though can tend to make flabby wines with low acid in warm climates if not tended to properly. Most Champagnes are made from one or a combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and the white wines of Chablis and Burgundy are made exclusively from it. Even within this relatively small area of France, the styles differ hugely. The toasty, lean palate of Champagne is worlds away from the richer, oaked styles of the Maconnais, and the stoney, mineral wines grown on the limestone soils of Chablis are in a world (and a class) of their own. My favourite bottle of Chardonnay is from the Jura, where it’s given the regional treatment of ageing in half filled barrels with a layer of flor yeast, lending a subtle, yet distinctive nutty, saline quality which was amazing with some Comte cheese.

Will such success in France, Chardonnay, along with Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and so many other French varieties, was soon exported around the world, and by the turn of the century, had become synonymous (not necessarily for the right reasons) with buttery, heavily oaked Australian wine. This ripe, full bodied and creamy version of the wine wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but certainly made its mark on the wine world! I have to say I have rather a soft spot for this style (in moderation), but thankfully since then, winemakers in the New World have learned to reign the style in a bit, for wines of more finesse. There are now excellent Chardonnays coming out of South Africa, New Zealand, California and elsewhere.

So if you’re one of those people that claims not to like Chardonnay, perhaps as a hangover from the 90s style I referred to earlier, I urge you to try and explore this versatile grape variety again. I think it may surprise you!

*According to my favourite Aussie comedy sitcom Kath and Kim the word is French, therefore the h should be silent