Chardonnay. The most popular grape variety in the world.
To borrow a theme from another beverage, if chardonnay made women, they would be as classy and steely-cool as Lauren Bacall; or as honeyed, rounded and voluptuously-complex as Marilyn Monroe; or maybe satin-lip frothy, but pin-bright and sparkling with a Grace Kelly-like elegance; or perhaps as fruit-laden as Carmen Miranda, all pineapple, peach and apricot.
It’s a grape which chameleon-like, changes its personality more often than Imelda Marcos changed her shoes.
Which is why winemakers love it and why someone declared that today, May 24, should be Chardonnay Day. I read one wag saying online, what’s next? National Riesling History Month?
Perhaps the marketeers felt that chardonnay needed a leg up in the reputation stakes. It’s a big, white non-aromatic grape, so there’s lots of juice. It’s not fussy where it grows. Like a model on a catwalk, it’s versatility allows it to be dressed up and down, poked prodded and tousled with oak and technical processes, but it just gets on with parading itself in its many guises. Therein lies the problem.
Because the grape is so easy to grow, it has become overproduced and some poor quality chardonnays have flooded the market – see that puddle and those yellow warning boards in the wine aisles? That’s the chardonnay.
So there’s been a bit of a backlash with some wine drinkers. ABC – Anything But Chardonnay is their mantra. But here’s a joke. “Oh I hate chardonnay,” says the chap in the restaurant. “Got any Chablis?”
So if you’re like that chap, who didn’t know that the crisp, clean, apple and pear lines of Chablis are 100 per cent chardonnay then reconsider. Chardonnay is at the heart of the finest dry white wines from Burgundy. It is one of the three major grapes in Champagne. The trend is also gradually moving away from tree-trunk oaky wines.
Here’s my picks from a recent tasting at Vinea on Albert Dock in Liverpool and elsewhere.
Domaine Colette Gros Chablis 2009 (£14.99, Vinea) is crisp, with newly-bitten apple exploding on the nose and the palate with an excellent eye-squinting shard of acidity.
Jackson Estate Shelter Belt Chardonnay, Marlborough, New Zealand 2008 (£17.99, Vinea). Grapes can mature gracefully in the New Zealand maritime climate. This is smooth with a mouth-filling pineapple acidity.
Also from New Zealand is Villa Maria Cellar Selection Chardonnay 2010 (£12.49, Majestic) where tropical fruit is to the fore but it also has a smoky edge.
Wirra Wirra Scrubby Rise Unwooded Chardonnay, McLaren Vale, Australia 2011 (£9.99, Vinea) declares it’s for people who want chardonnay to reflect the vineyard, not the woodyard. It bounces with peach and citrus.
Monte Vallon Chardonnay IGP Pays d’Oc 2011 £7.99, Majestic or buy two for £6.99 per bottle until September 3). A delight from the south of France with aromas of peach and a hint of rich beeswax, with succulent rich apricot to taste.
Keep an eye out for Le Manoir Du Baron Chardonnay 2011 (£7.14) on the shelves at Asda from May 28, which is slightly toasty. Then there’s the Co-op’sSouth African Chardonnay 2011 which at £5.49 is a good value example of a fruit-driven style.