Wednesday, 26 March 2008

The Two Faces of Chardonnay

Chardonnay is what vintners call a “malleable” grape as it can make wine in a variety of styles reflecting the wine maker's art and the terroir in which it is grown. It originated in Burgundy and is used to make the great white Burgundies, Chablis and Champagnes. In Jura, Chardonnay is sometimes treated to the same type of flor yeast found in Sherry and it is used to create vin de paille dessert wines.

Champagne, Chablis and Burgundy account for more than three-fifths of all Chardonnay plantings in France. The next largest concentration is found in the Languedoc. It is one of the most widely planted grape varieties and became immensely popular in the 1980s and 90s. In 2002 there were 66 British babies named Chardonnay and another 14 named Chardonnay; in 2003 there were 91 Chardonnays born in the UK.

The style of Chardonnay in the 80s and 90s was the oaked variety – buttery and with flavours of vanilla, caramel, cream, smoke, spice, coconut, cloves and cinnamon. There was a global backlash against the grape as Chardonnay flooded the market and the phrase ABC was coined (Anything But Chardonnay).

Yet there is Chardonnay . . . and there is Chardonnay – the unoaked variety, made in steel vats which is completely different to the oaked variety. It can have the flavours of tropical fruits such as mango and pineapple but more commonly has those of apple, pear, almond lime blossom and citrus. They are bright, brisk and minerally with palate cleansing natural acidity.

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