“Oh, I don’t like Chardonnay.”
For quite a few years, the hard-done-by Chardonnay grape has received a pretty bad rap. For a fair reason, some would argue: years of (mainly) Australian producers over-oaking ‘chardy’ in this part of the world produced heavy, yellowy, woody wines in the 1980s and 90s. For quite a while there it seemed that suited the masses just fine - and what they wanted was a robust wine you could drink straight from the fridge… the heavier, the better. Producers were putting Chardonnay into both new and aged oak barrels - even stirring them with added oak chips, oak staves or even oak powder to impart even stronger wood flavours. It soon became fashionable to hate the yellowy, woody oaked Chardonnays, as the flavours were very distinctive, and quite often overpowering.
The swing against this inevitably came at the turn of the new millennium. When tastes began to change, people started to demand nuance, variety, more complicated and interesting wines and so it became quite popular to hate Chardonnay. Its demise was huge: the once-darling Antipodean export became the house drop of choice at local dive bars. Producers still produced oaked Chardy of course, but at the same time began producing unoaked vintages which were aged in steel rather than wooden barrels, letting the grape retain some of its natural, apple-like notes.
As you can probably imagine, critics have been historically unfair to the poor reviled Chardonnay grape, getting much more creative than the usual descriptors of ‘oaky’ or ‘buttery’. We’ve heard all sorts of creative insults… everything from “It’s like licking a tree”, “like a bad batch of beurre blanc” or even (our favourite!) “...too often it tastes like you just drank a tropical fruit smoothie blended with wood chips instead of ice”. Ouch.
It is, however, still one of the world’s most planted grapes, being used in many other styles including Champagne, Chablis and Blanc de Blanc - among many others! If you’re a fan of French Champagne, we hate to break it to you, but you’re therefore a fan of the humble Chardy grape. As for Chardonnay labelled as itself - many people choose to drink the often-reviled oaky, mature styles with roast chicken, woodfired pizza, creamy pastas, pork belly or great seafood - all foods which can do a decent oaky Chardy justice, depending on the vintage, region and oakiness of the wine in question.
So, here at Bottle Service. What do we think of poor old Chardonnay? Well, like most varietals, although there are a lot of similarities, different Chardonnays can be radically different from one another. Almost all Chardonnay wines in the world are produced dry - which means that although it’s ‘fruity’, there is very little to no sweetness left in the finished wine as the fermentation process converts all the sugar to alcohol. Dry wines which are higher than others in acidity (usually in the region of 1%) can taste sour to some people, and might account for some of its historical bad rep.
When you consider all of the factors, a Chardonnay can be (and is!) made many different ways, and it is one of the most common yet incredibly diverse grapes planted around the world. Not ones to discriminate, we love all styles of Chardonnay here at Bottle Service, but it’s important to understand that both taste and enjoyment are entirely subjective.
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