It’s amazing how out of favour Chardonnay has fallen in recent years. But in spite of evoking frowns and even dry retching at the mere mention of its name, is this much-maligned grape having a renaissance? Is Chardonnay finding its way back into the good books?
I’m always amused at the fashion cycles of wine. One day this variety will be in vogue, the next it will be so hated people won’t even buy it to clean their toilets.
Well, I’ve got a feeling Chardonnay is on its way back up. And for good reason.
Winemakers are finally listening to their customers and are cleaning up the way Chardonnay tastes and feels.
For years, the way to make Chardonnay was to make it big, floppy and buttery, with lots of oaky flavours. And this old style of drinking Chardy finally brought about its own unpopularity.
Recently, though, winemakers have done away with the woodiness and embraced Chardonnay’s natural acidity. Keeping the wine in steel barrels instead of oak, introducing minerally flavours that keeps the wine light, sharp and slatey.
Much better. Much more modern. Much more to the liking of the current Australian (if not worldwide) wine palate.
There’s still a long way to go in this renaissance though. We were in Mudgee recently, where the oldest Chardonnay grapes in Australia still grow. At one cellar door – Skimstone Winery – we tasted some excellent Chardy. Really tasty, easy to drink but beautifully complex too.
The people next to us were offered the same wines, but they turned their noses up in disgust when proffered with the Chardonnay bottle. They weren’t even willing to try it. Such a shame.
And it’s not just in Australia that Chardonnay’s making these changes. We were in California recently too. The States loves a big wobbly bottle of Chardy butter… or they did. The ones we tried there were delicious. They might even challenge California’s darling the Zinfandel for top spot. Maybe.
It’s very funny when a winery has these new-age Chardonnays on offer though. They pre-empt people’s revulsion with statements like “it’s not oaky” or “it’s nothing like those big ol’ buttery ones”.
Whenever I hear that, I don’t know who I feel sorry for more; the wine seller or the poor misunderstood Chardonnay!
So onto my recommendations. As I said earlier, there have been 2 wineries that have impressed us with their modern style Chardonnays.
Skimstone Wines in Mudgee and their 2011 wine made with cold-climate low-yield premium fruit. It’s a sharp, crisp wine that gives way more than your average Chablis style wine.
At around $25 per bottle it’s not too expensive – but you can only buy by the bottle from the cellar door in Mudgee, NSW. Otherwise it’s by the case of 12 at around $264.
Foley Estate in California have a number of locations for their grapes but the Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay – the 2012 Foley Steel Chardonnay – is excellent. Minerally, zesty and a bit flowery, it’s a great drink.
You can buy a bottle for US$30 or a 12 case is US$360.
The funny thing is years ago, when we first started drinking wine, our bottle of choice was an unoaked Chardonnay. I guess we were just ahead of our time.
What do you think of Chardonnay? Have you noticed it changing? What do you think is better: the old style or new style Chardy? Tell us in the comments!