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Variety Focus ➺ Chardonnay

Variety Focus ➺ Chardonnay

Don't Hold A Grudge

Chardonnay. As soon as the word leaves your lips – it incites a reaction from whoever you’re talking to. ‘Yum!’ or ‘Yuck!’. Depending on the wine on offer and the time period, both can be correct. There’s much to unpack on the politics of Chardonnay and the role it had to play in the globalisation of wine. But one thing's for certain – a good Chardonnay is something to be revered, a bad Chardonnay is something to be avoided. Luckily, Sometimes Always is here to be your gentle guide.

Chardonnay was thought to have originated in France’s Burgundy, where arguably some of the best expressions of a traditional Chardonnay still hail from. As a variety, it is relatively easy to grow in either warm or cool climates, budding and ripening early and producing high yields. Warm climate Chardonnays are generally more full-bodied with richer, riper fruit and bold flavours, where a cool climate Chardy is lighter in body with higher acidity and less pronounced flavours. As wine spread across the globe, Chardonnay was adopted by nearly every winemaking region – some more successfully than others.

At its peak in the 1980s, there were some very good Chardonnays being produced, however, there were others of lesser quality, with many cheaper, high volume, poor quality Chardonnays muddying the noble grape’s image. Many New World Chardonnays were dismissed by Burgundian purists and grudges formed, still unthawed to this day. Ice cold cognoscenti.

Times Are A Changin'

OLD GRAPE SHEDS NEW SKIN

So why does Chardonnay have the power to be so repellent?

Well, Chardonnay is a relatively neutral grape, making it very adaptable for a range of winemaking techniques. An optimist will see this as a wonderful thing, allowing the grape to be a blank canvas for the artist (i.e. winemaker) to work their magic. A pessimist will see this as a minefield for potential disaster – two bottles labelled ‘Chardonnay’ could taste very different to each other, meaning an understanding of the wine’s region, producer and price is almost necessary to provide some comfort on its possible production and quality.

Our best advice is If you find a producer you enjoy other wines from, chances are you’ll dig their Chardy, too. Most producers love Chardonnay and it shows in their (sometimes multiple) expressions of the variety. Since it is so versatile, it lets a winemaker really show their talents, which is why a barrage of poor quality Chardys 30 years ago couldn’t destroy its reputation forever.

Do us a favour – find one you like and give a sip to the scorned relative in your life to show them how times have changed. Pay it forward. Please.

Light & Racy

If you love a light white wine with floral and citrus flavours, then lean and minerally Chardonnays are your style. Wines that range in taste from a fruitier profile of yellow apple, fresh pineapple and mango to a leaner, more floral profile of white flowers, green apple, pear and citrus peel.
This flinty style doesn’t rely on additional flavours from oak and are wines made in a reductive (less oxygen) environment in order to preserve their freshness and acidity.

Key producers to look for: Luke Lambert, Cobaw Ridge, Chanson Père et Fils, Mac Forbes

Polished & Opulent

Producers are slowly moving away from 90’s style rich and buttery Chardys, taking the good characteristics and ditching the bad, and shifting towards a more polished and opulent approach. This style lends itself well to progressive winemaking from the next crop of superstar producers, which is what we search high and low for. Expect brioche, nectarine and roasted almonds to poke through in these wines. It’s where the old world (rich and buttery) meets the new world (lean and minerally).

Key producers to look for:  Shaw + Smith, Stargazer, Tapanappa, Voyager Estate

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