After suffering years of backlash, Chardonnay is back in favour – Rob Buckhaven investigates the new, more demure version of the wine we all love to hate.
Like a celebrity becoming overexposed in the media, grapes suffer the same public backlash when they’re deemed too big for their stems. Easy to access and marketed with skimpy labels barely covering the bottle’s midriff, these new wave, nubile wines can go from pin-up to pariah at the drop of a screwcap.
Chardonnay is the highest-profile recipient of this dubious honour, celebrated and vilified in equal measure over the years. Having suffered A-list burnout, these grapes have been forced to reform their character and are now winning back our favour.
New World Chardonnay burst onto the world scene in the ‘90s, with every producer worth his salt riding on its bandwagon. Over the top, wearing too much oak and loaded with alcohol; this was a far cry from the demure and expensive Burgundian numbers. This new style wine tempted us with tropical fruit and butter flavours until we succumbed in our droves.
Spearheaded in Australia, this new ‘instant wine’ was dreamed up by canny wine producers who realised that if they made super-sized oak chip tea bags, they could achieve the sought-after buttery character quickly and cheaply. Production laws being more relaxed in the New World, the Aussies also quickly cottoned on that adding sugar would increase richness and make their wines more voluptuous. So, from a naturally pretty and appealing grape, Chardonnay was buffed, preened and inflated to artificial bleachblonde bombshell status.
For years Chardonnay’s global success was stratospheric; the easy-drinking style, eye-catching and simple to understand labels and inexpensive price tag made New World Chardonnay a popular addition to the weekly shop. That was until the public hit back; fed up with this brash, headache-inducing wine. Anti-Chardonnay fever followed, peaking with the formation of the ABC Club – ‘Anything but Chardonnay’. Bridget Jones was not a member…
After a stint of self-reflection, Chardonnay has returned as a more demure creature; Bikram yoga-lean and sporting more sensible clothes. No longer caked in oak, Chardonnay’s ripe fruit features and mouth-watering acidity now come thorough and, thankfully, we can see what a naturally refreshing and food-friendly wine it can be.
- South Australian Chardonnay is as it’s meant to be; lighter on the oak, with its fresh lemon and lime attributes left to shine.
- Chilean Chardonnay is Chardonnay in executive mode; dressed in lively peach with a focussed, flinty acidity.
- South African Chardonnay from the Western Cape is an oak-kissed party animal with a penchant for fish dishes.
- New Zealand Chardonnay tends to be passionate and feisty with a zesty, cool-climate acidity and bags of passion-fruit attitude.
- French Chardonnay is dripping with natural elegance and caramel oak; if this is your bag, then only a Burgundian glamour-puss will do.
Presenter and author Rob Buckhaven is passionate about food and drink. He appears regularly as a wine expert on TV, and as a newspaper and magazine columnist. He is a brand ambassador for Rathfinny Estate and can also be found hosting shows across the country, including the BBC Good Food Show, Taste and Jamie Oliver’s Big Feastival. Follow him on Twitter at @robbuckhaven