Chardonnay - Love it or hate it, it makes some incredible wines
Chardonnay is the most planted white grape variety in the world. Because of the frequency of planting, wines made from this grape vary enormously in quality and price but when well crafted, it makes some of the finest single variety white wines the world has to offer. I will never forget the first taste of Le Montrachet that I was lucky enough to encounter back in 1986 when a very kind client opened a bottle of 1980 from Louis Jadot. It was but an infant but a real joy to drink.
The grape is said to be named after the village of Chardonnay in the Maconnais, a wine producing village close to the town of Tournus. Wines of that region are frequently made without any oak treatment, for which I am eternally grateful as I generally find that the finer, lighter styles of Chardonnay benefit from retaining the freshness and vibrancy that the grape can give. A little further down the road heading south are the vineyards of Pouilly and Fuisse where the structure and bold fruit that can be obtained from the grape here are more suitable for barrel fermentation even if there is also tank fermented wine in the blend.
Further to the north, are the fabled vineyards of the Cote de Beaune where the world’s finest Chardonnay based wines come from. Le Montrachet, Batard Montrachet, Bienvenue Batard Montrachet, Criots Batard Montrachet and Chevalier Montrachet are a cluster of single vineyards, all producing the finest of Chardonnay wines that would grace any cellar. But always remember the first rule of Burgundy, buy the grower, not the name of the wine. These all cost a pretty penny but will repay the patient with some time in the cellar. Back in the year 2000 I was privileged to taste a 1925 Le Montrachet from Champy’s cellar which was a graceful old lady but returned to freshness in only a few minutes in the glass.
Going a little further north again is the vineyard of Chablis, perhaps the world’s most famous white wine. When at its best, it is clean, crisp and mineral but beware, as it is so famous, growers can sell their wines with little or no effort so they are not all worthy of the money they will cost you.
Elsewhere in the world, Chardonnay produces anything from fresh, zingy and light wines through to soft barrel fermented offerings, to dreadful, insipid, tasteless wines that stink of sulphur. If the latter is what you’ve tried, don’t judge all Chardonnays by this yardstick. For something with a touch of oak, why not try the Rustenberg Chardonnay and if budget allows, try the 5 soldiers version. If something fresh and zingy is more your cup of tea, have a go with Macon Peronne from the wonderful Domaine du Bicheron or the Glenelly Glass Collection Chardonnay, again from Stellenbosch in South Africa. Please don’t stay a member of the ABC club (Anything but Chardonnay (or Cabernet)), after all one of the most heard phrases from our private clients is “I don’t like Chardonnay, I like Chablis’!!