How I love You Chardonnay*

Frequent visitors and the observant amongst you will notice that recently I have been writing less frequently than normal. This is simply because of the hectic pace of my work during the build up to Christmas – bah, humbug!

However I have had a good many wine experiences of late and will be writing about some of them as soon as I can.

In the meantime I thought that I would share a thought and a few wines with you.

Reappraising Chardonnay:

It saddens me that so many UK wine consumers limit what they drink to such a narrow range and what I mean is illustrated by a common reaction to Chardonnay. If I had £1 for every time someone told me that they used to enjoy Chardonnay, but now drink Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, then I could easily afford a new car! Some people start shaking their head at the mere mention of Chardonnay, as though to even consider it will make them liable to arrest by the taste-police.

Why can some people not enjoy new grapes and yet still sometimes drink the old? Wine does not have to be one or the other. A true appreciation of wine is about broadening your horizons, not simply looking somewhere else.

Chardonnay is without a doubt one of the great grape varieties and it is capable of producing delicious wines at all price levels and in the widest array of styles. It produces very different results when grown somewhere cold from somewhere warm, yet thrives in both. Amongst many other places Chardonnay is equally at home in the cool of Chablis, Champagne and New York’s Finger Lakes, the moderate climate of Burgundy, coastal Chile, South Africa and New Zealand, as well as the full range of climates in Australia – one of the finest Chardonnays that I have tasted recently was the magnificently complex and elegant Cakebread Reserve Chardonnay from California’s warm Napa Valley. Stylistically Chardonnay produces everything from wonderfully crisp and zesty wines that are all about the cut of acidity, to softer, easy drinking fruit-forward styles as well as great complex wines with nuance and sophistication. I think that many UK consumers assume that Chardonnay only produces oaky, overly ripe, almost sweet, gloopy and fruity wines – this is certainly not the case.

It is a shame that a grape capable of  such variety has become something of a guilty pleasure. Here are some very different examples that have impressed me recently:

2010 Lourensford Chardonnay
Stellenbosch, South Africa

The nose gave off delicate peach and cream notes together with some herbs, you could really smell the ripeness and know this was a soft and fruity wine.

The palate was soft and rounded with juicy fruit and a touch of toasty, spicy oak just fattening it out and giving some complexity and stopping it being simple, juicy and easy drinking. It was balanced further by some lovely apricot-like acidity which made it clean, fresh and lively.

A delicious wine that could easily win many people back to the simple and pure delights of well made ripe and fruity Chardonnay – 88/100 points.

Rather usefully the wine seems to go with almost anything. Lourensford recommend it be served with sea bass roasted with rosemary and lemon, I cobbled together a sort of rough and ready version using talapia in place of sea bass and it works very well – if you want the recipe, just ask – however the wine is also very good with soft and semi-hard cheeses like Brie, Port-Salut and EmmentaI, a ploughman’s lunch and Pringles.

The Lourensford Estate – looking towards Somerset West and False Bay

I have visited the beautiful Lourensford Estate and have to say on recent showing they are just getting better and better – a producer to watch I think.

£8.49 a bottle – stockist details available from Hatch Mansfield Agencies.

My second Chardonnay took a quite different approach:

2010 Craggy Range Kidnappers Vineyard Chardonnay
Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand

This too offered some stone fruit aromas, but greater complexity and nuance crept in here – a Burgundy drinker might well enjoy this wine. The vineyard is right by the sea in this otherwise pretty warm bit of North Island. That coastal influence slows down the growing season, which results in more freshness and acidity – giving a citrus note – in the wine than, minerality too and even a touch of ozone. Its freshness made it clear that it was from somewhere cool.

The palate was wonderfully elegant, yes there was fruit – nectarine giving texture and succulence, but really this was about structure and tension. Tension between the ripeness and the fresh acidity, tension between the careful use of oak and the minerality, this made the wine feel very alive and complex – just the way I like it. The oak was superbly integrated and not dominating in any way, just 5 months and very little new wood at that.

This is a very Burgundian style, bone dry and crisp, with oak and lees ageing just adding nuance rather than dominating.

A glorious and fine Chardonnay that shows the delicate side of this wonderful grape – 91/100 points.

Again I would say this wine could partner a wide array of foods, even your Christmas dinner, but its delicate nature would make it perfect with light dishes and cheeses at the softer end of the spectrum.

I have yet to visit Craggy Range, but they are a hugely impressive estate. To me they seem to produce wines that balance beautifully ripe fruit with a delicacy and lightness of touch that takes their wines to a high level of sophistication and elegance – do try them if you can.

£15.95 a bottle from Formula Wine. Further stockist details are available from their UK agent: Louis Latour.

And Now Chardonnay the Remix:

We are used to Chardonnay being blended with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier for Champagne and sparkling wines, but for still wines many consumers look askance at blending Chardonnay with anything. True it is almost always on its own when used in its home turf of Burgundy, but even that is not quite as clear-cut as many think. Some Pinot Blanc hangs on in even some of the famous villages of Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune. Elsewhere, of course, Australia has success with Chardonnay-Sémillon, South Africa, Chile and even some areas of Southern France have been known to blend Chardonnay with Sauvignon – often very successfully in my opinion – but the most intrigueing Chardonnay blend I have ever tasted is most certainly:

2010 Raimat Abadia Blanc de Blancs 
D.O. Costers del Segre, Catalunya, Spain

A Chardonnay-Albariño blend that is surprisingly good. Albariño is one of Spain’s star white grapes whose home ground is cool, green and wet Galicia on the Atlantic coast. Raimat is in Catalunya and often produces wines that have a touch of the New World about them – if you want to know what that means to me, the focus is fruit, softness and drinkability, there are no hard edges. Albariño is often quite a light wine, but here it is grown in sunnier Eastern Spain, so the fruit is richer and the Chardonnay component gives it some extra fat on its bones, indeed the ripe fruit gives the impression that it isn’t quite bone dry – although it is. The result is a lovely, soft, succulent wine with peachy, nectarine fruit, an intense ripeness and juicy quality all kept in focus by a seam of fresh balancing acidity. In many ways it reminds me of wines made from Galicia’s other star white grape, Godello.

A deliciously approachable and interesting take on Chardonnay that slips down effortlessly, if my bottle is anything to go by – 87/100 points.

£7.49 a bottle from Hercules Wine Warehouse & Wine Rack. Further stockist details are available from their UK agent: Codorníu UK.

These three wines are all delicious, if very different and show what a wonderful and multi-talented grape Chardonnay can be. From fun, easy drinking and fruit forward wines, to softly stylish through to delicate, sophisticated and complex examples like the Craggy Range – Chardonnay can do it all. No one interested in wine, at any level, should totally ignore Chardonnay.

* My title is taken from the Cerys Matthews song ‘Chardonnay

9 thoughts on “How I love You Chardonnay*

  1. Hi Quentin – thanks for your kind words on our Kidnappers Chardonnay. It’s always exciting to hear from those who have appreciated our wines from across the globe!
    You’ll certainly have to make Hawke’s Bay the first stop on your next trip to New Zealand – we’d love to show you around the winery and introduce you to some of our other wines.
    Natalie Corkery
    Communications Manager
    Craggy Range Winery

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