Chardonnay – The Come Back Kid!
Despite the best efforts of the ABC [Anything But Chardonnay] crowd, Chardonnay is making somewhat of a come back on the back of new lighter oaked, fresh and frisky wines that pair beautifully with oysters on the shell.
These new style chardonnays are pushing out the older, more traditional style that is well-oaked, buttery and rich. This new style is often aged in neutral oak, crisp and mineral-like with a low percentage going through secondary, malolactic fermentation.
So lets trace how we got to this….
Modern DNA fingerprinting research at University of California suggests that Chardonnay is the result of a cross between the Pinot and Gouais blanc grape varieties. It is believed that the Romans brought Gouais Blanc from Croatia, and it was widely cultivated by peasants in Eastern France. The Pinot of the French aristocracy grew in close proximity to the Gouais Blanc, giving both grapes ample opportunity to interbreed. Chardonnay is now one of France's great white wines, but not many people know this, as it is the grape that is used for “White Burgundy”.
Whatever its origin, the Chardonnay grape is the most widely grown grape in the world, having a wide-ranging reputation for relative ease of cultivation and ability to adapt to different conditions. The grape is very "malleable", in that it reflects and takes on the impression of its terroir and winemaker.
Like many grape varieties, Chardonnay first came to Australia in the collection of James Busby in 1832, but it only really began to take off in the 1950s. One of the first commercially successful Chardonnays was produced by Murray Tyrrell in the Hunter Valley in 1971. In the 1980’s, it really took off world wide, and Australia responded with a unique style of wine that was characterised by big fruit flavors and easy approachability. To compensate for our very warm climate, richness was enhanced by the heavy use of oak and acid was added during fermentation. In the early 1990’s its popularity peaked as it became the drink of the Bridget Jones generation.
But by the mid nineties, there was a backlash against the heavy, oaky Chardonnays in favor of lighter wines. It was about this time that "ABC" - Anything But Chardonnay, was heard on the streets and Chardonnays golden era was all but over.
Fast forward to 2012 and chardonnay’s share has dropped by almost half.
Chardonnay’s fall in popularity somewhat coincided with the invasion of sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, stimulated by a 30 per cent reduction in SB prices over that time, driven largely by retailer-controlled brand competition. But now we are witnessing a noticeable resurgence towards these new style chardonnays. Interestingly, this is reflected in the number of social media mentions of Chardonnay – a sign of the times.
Renowned wine critic Jancis Robinson states that “Chardonnay is arguably the varietal that Australia is best at currently. She notes that many new examples of Australian chardonnay are tighter and leaner than they used to be. The Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman also picked up on the trend towards what he describes as chardonnays with less alcohol, less obvious oak, more savoury flavours and smoother textures from wild ferments.
So there you have it. If you haven’t tried chardonnay for a while, we might surprise you. Check some out at http://www.grapesandlager.com.au/collections/wines-white-wine-chardonnay.
You might be pleasantly surprised!
Geez, is that the time? Must go - it’s just gone “Chardonnay O’clock”.