“Chardonnay and the Quality Divide”
Chardonnay, chardonnay how I love you Chardonnay As I reach to hold you with my trembling hands
In my hands my trembling hands Chardonnay, Chardonnay you’ll be glad to hear me say I will never need you more than I do now In my hands my trembling hands
When I’m sad sad and blue
You are my friend constant and true
I dedicate this line to you
And I would like to take you home with me
Chardonnay, Chardonnay I’m in love with your bouquet
You’re so cold but you so beautiful tonight
In my hands my trembling hands
“Chardonnay” Written by Cook/Cornwell and performed by Cerys Matthews. Re-discovered by James Hocking
It’s the world’s most popular white wine, it’s planted and successfully cultivated everywhere, it produces some of the most sublime nectars ever created (Think DRC Le Montrachet, Marcassin Vineyard!), yet still seems to have such a stigma surrounding it in certain markets. Why?
Well the answer is quite simple. Oak. In it’s freshest form, the Chardonnay grape can be described as a citrus, tropical, refreshing style, with bags of natural acidity. Think about two key wines made with Chardonnay – Champagne and Chablis. Both relying on their delicate, crisp notes. Poles apart sit the Grand Cru’s of Burgundy and their new world counterparts from California, Australia, and California (see where this one’s going!), with ripe fruit, allied to the delicate vanilla, woodsmoke and subtle nuances that new French oak bring, albeit at a price. So here we have two styles made from the same grape and both very individual.
Now we come to the reason as to why Chardonnay is reviled by many. Most of the varietal that we see on the shelves in the supermarkets is made from fruit of a poorer quality level in the first place. Well, that’s OK in the purest form as at least the wine will have acidity and depth of flavour. Then, the juice is placed in a tank and filled with sawdust chips of oak. A cheap, efficient way to oak wine without costly barrels. The result is a sweet, low-acid, sticky wine with aromas of sawdust, tastes of sawdust and a long, lingering finish of, er, sawdust. No wonder we’re all put off!
So, what can you do? Well personally I would avoid the cheapest (sub 5-quid) bottles, especially from the new world, trade up to around £8.00 or more, and rediscover village Chablis. As a VERY general rule, spend a tenner or more and the wine has seen a proper oak barrel. And so it should!
The two wines pictured both fall into the ultra-high end, French-oaked category. Moone Tsai is from the Charles Heintz winery, Sonoma Coast and Talley is from much further south. Both are currently in stock and both are in my opinion amazing.
Director of Wine