Our Head of Fine Wine and Spirits, Tony Salani, shows that the chardonnay grape is a lot more versatile than you may think...
20 September 2022
Evidence of winemaking, in what is now Georgia, shows that it was taking place 8,000 years ago. This was the Bronze Age, in the midst of pre-history and to put that into even greater context, the manufacturing of cheese wouldn’t be discovered for another 500 years! With no sign of crackers even close to being on the horizon.
The world of wine production has moved on a little from those early days. Storing grapes in clay pots in the ground over winter and opening them up to discover strange brews lurking, has made way to over 10,000 grape varieties producing around 250 million hectolitres each year, the equivalent of 1,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools filled to the brim! This is big business, and when profit is the primary objective, quality and craftsmanship can be marginalised in favour of quantity.
'Embrace the ubiquity of this little grape'
As a wine producer looking to make money, one of the things that you need is a grape that can grow in a variety of conditions, as this will give it, and your business, the best chance of survival. Therefore, a grape that is as happy growing in cool climates as it is in hot climates, and provides the winemaker with a neutral flavour and therefore a blank canvas upon which to create, seems the ideal choice. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you…Chardonnay!
The relative ease with which it can be grown successfully around the world makes it an obvious choice, but it also makes it open for abuse. Wine producers looking for a high volume of easily produced wine jumped at the opportunity to plant Chardonnay vines in all corners of the planet, producing wines with an instantly recognisable flavour profile. That recognition is what still gives it a ‘Marmite’ reputation. The very heavily oaked and buttery wines that were such big sellers in the 1990s were, on the whole, a high-quantity, low-quality product that was, to quote The Travelling Wilbury’s, ‘over- exposed…commercialised’.
While swathes of the wine-drinking public decided that they enjoyed this style, and producers made sure that it was available by the gallon/hectolitre, it also had its detractors with people going so far as to say that they hated it and would never drink it. It had become ubiquitous and a victim of its own success. With the desire for something different, it had become passé, with lighter, fresher wines such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio coming to the fore.
Is it fair to say that you hate all 20th Century Art because you don’t like Damien Hirst and his floating sharks? Assuming that the answer to that question is ‘no’, then there will surely be a style of Chardonnay that suits even the most sceptical of palates. In the hands of a skilled winemaker, this neutral-tasting and acidic grape can become something to enjoy and possibly even savour. Whether it is as one of the grapes that goes into your favourite Champagne, or sparkling wine, as the sole component of Blanc de Blancs. The cooler climate of Burgundy-producing crisp Chablis, or more intensely flavoured Montrachet. The warmer climates of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand all produce wines with flavours of peach and melon, or the hot climates of California and South-East Australia, who produce riper fruits with intense tropical flavours of pineapple and mango.
Embrace the ubiquity of this little grape, and if you are interested in a challenge, the next time you are in the market to buy a few bottles of wine, make them all Chardonnay. Explore the differences and remember that the grape provides the canvas; it is up to you to find which artist you like.
Our next Fine Wine and Spirits timed sale will take place from Friday 28 October until Sunday 6 November, with consignments closing Friday 7 October.
For further information please contact:
Tony Salani | firstname.lastname@example.org
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