Anyone who ever worked in the wine industry must have heard these sentences hundreds of times; “I hate Chardonnay” followed swiftly by “But I love Chablis!” Well, Chablis is 100% Chardonnay so what is so terrible about Chardonnay that so many hate?
I blame two things- : bad reputation and too much oak, and the 1980’s can be blamed for both.
Let’s start with too much oak, shall we? Damn you 1980’s, you decade of big shoulder pads, even bigger permed hair and of course really big wines. By big wines I mean big fruits, big body and naturally big oak. Great white Burgundies- Pouilly Fuisse, Meursault or Puligny Montrachet were very expensive and so not your every day dinner wines. The public wanted the same taste, sans the price tag- and the wine makers gave it to them.
Throughout the 1980’s Chardonnays were gradually becoming bigger and richer. In order to achieve the big woody taste in cheaper wines, producers started adding wood chips instead of allowing wine to mature slowly in oak cases. This method, while somewhat effective, can give the wine body, colour and oaky taste. Unfortunately, it can also make the wine taste bad – too woody and acidic because the wine is not allowed to slowly soften, developing lovely nutty, buttery aromas so characteristic of high-end Burgundies or the great Californian Chards.
The 80’s boom in Australian Chardonnays – often called “sunshine in a glass” flooded UK market with lush, fruity and affordable wines. Cheap Chardonnay became something of a symbol for a permanently single, constantly moping 30-something-career girl- the Bridget Jones archetype, downing buckets of mediocre white every evening.
But this is 2016 and that terrible fashion is now over. Shoulder pads have returned to their normal seize and we are now striving for Carroline de Maigret effortless hair and in the same way wine trends moved forwards. The wine makers gradually eased off on wood chips. I hope that the bad rep of Chardonnay will finally end, and we will stop blaming bad wine making on this sophisticated grape.
I think that Chardonnay is great. It’s one of my favourite wine grape varieties (of course after Riesling, ☺), and I drink it often. What do I love about it? The variety of styles; there is so much a decent winemaker can do with it; the lushness and roundness even of non-oaked wines; the crispness, and the steely and mineral flavors of Chablis; the vanilla and nutty notes in barrel aged wines, and of course it makes the best Champagne.
Pulenta Estate Chardonnay VIII, Argentina Mendoza, 2014
This is a beautiful example of a well-made, gently oaked Chardonnay that is very well balanced between acidity, oak and fruitiness. Bridget Jones didn’t have that, trust me, or she would have done far less moping.
It’s really great stuff, rich and round but surprisingly fresh due to a clean zingy finish. The palate is packed full with tropical and stone fruit aromas with a gentle oak and touch of nutty, toasty notes.
Highly recommended and very affordable (£12 in Oddbins).