Random-poll your wine friends for the most despised grape variety and it’s likely Chardonnay will come up, just behind Lambrusco, possibly head-to-head with Merlot. Chardonnay has seen it’s heydays in the 90’s, rich, oaked, affordable and ubiquitous to an extend people started speaking of Chard’ennui. So soon enough there came the backlash, with people ordering ‘ABC – anything but Chardonnay’. Semi-educated wine lovers though would still be ranting over Chardonnay while having a glass of Chablis or Champagne.
Admittedly, I have been sceptical when a friend suggested we should go and have a Chardonnay tasting. During my last wine tours in Germany I had bumped into and tasted a number of quite agreeable Chardonnays (for instance from Weingut Bettenheimer, Weingut Wittmann, Weingut Knewitz in Rheinhessen) – and I think she was very right: it’s time to give Chardonnay another go.
Chardonnay is officially featuring as one of the Big Six wines – side by side with Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Knowing Chardonnay and the other big five is literally part of one’s wine ABC. Together they make about 80% of the world’s wines. (Which is a bit sad, given that there are thousands of other varietals out there making beautiful wines – but that’s another story).
What made Chardonnay so successful is that it is growing virtually anywhere, being super adaptive to climates and soils. Look up maps for Chardonnay growing regions and you will find it globally as present as some fast food chains. Besides making for an easy growth, Chardonnay grapes like a proper massage in the cellar and will respond very happily to winemaking techniques, such as oaking, maturation on lees, and malolactic fermentation.
It really looks like Chardonnay is facing an uphill battle, given the trend to less intervention in cellars, emphasis on terroir and natural wines. But then its versatility could come to the rescue: while still carrying the mark of a globalised wine varietal, Chardonnay is able to carry very local traits.
A co-blogger on Vinepair suggested to ‘stop hating Chardonnay and start looking for a bottle you like’. So, yes we’ll do that: we are lining up a starter tasting, a start-from-scratch world tour of Chardonnays with sound representatives from a maximum spread of regions. If this offers the delights we are hoping for, we’ll delve further into old world vs new world, oaked vs unoaked flights.
Can’t wait to give ol’ Chardy a chance!