Friday, 12 December 2008

Christmas Wines To Drink With Cullen Skink and Fish Chowders: Montagnac Chardonnay

Chardonnay, the grape responsible for some of the world’s greatest white wines, has become so fashionable and familiar to consumers it is now an international brand. In bars and restaurants all over the world you hear people asking for "a glass of Chardonnay" – but it doesn’t all taste the same!

In fact, the variety of styles of Chardonnay continues to increase as winemakers experiment further and it is planted in an ever growing number of locations. Although it is planted everywhere now, from Lebanon to Argentina, some of the best value Chardonnays are produced in areas such as the Languedoc in the south of France.

One of the great advantages of wines from the Chardonnay grape is the ability to take on oak flavours from the barrels in which they are matured and sometimes fermented. However this was over-milked and some wine producers over oaked their Chardonnays – this was particularly the case in Australia and California, which went through a phase of producing wines so over-oaked that it was difficult to detect the flavour of the grape.

Although the consumers are now discovering the beauty of un-oaked Chardonnay there are still some wines that are drastically over-oaked, however; sometimes, one suspects, to obscure the mediocrity of the underlying wine. When you contemplate buying a bottle of Chardonnay, read the front and back labels carefully. Somewhere there will usually be a statement of the oakiness to be expected. Look for phrases like ‘barrel fermented' and 'matured in oak barrels'. Only tasting the wines will tell you whether they have got the balance right or to your taste.

You can see how wide the scope of the Chardonnay grape is when you realise that many of the world’s best sparkling wines, including Champagne, rely on Chardonnay as part of their blend. Chardonnay is also used to make the Chablis wines in Burgundy. The fact that Chardonnay grapes are used to make Chablis surprises many people who dislike the Oaked Chardonnays that have been mass produced using oak chips – I recommend trying Montagnac Chardonnay (£5.37) which is un-oaked, crisp and fresh – and half the price!

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