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Challenging Perceptions - Chardonnay

Written by Nat Louis

The 1990s saw protests, movements and groups all over the world advocating their views, progression and modern beliefs. It was truly a time of great change, however arguably not all for the better.

A group of oenophiles, or wine enthusiasts, who were guided by the basic principle A.B.C or ‘Anything But Chardonnay’ set out to ruin perceptions of the wine variety.
Chardonnay has since been an unfashionable wine, replaced by a pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc as the ‘dry white wine’ of choice in many establishments around the world.

As the reputation took hit after hit from Bridget Jones and her devotion top Chardonnay in times of crisis to the show ‘Footballers Wives’ naming a character ‘Chardonnay’ the wine has suffered in sales and image. Despite all this, Nick, Sommelier to Scarlet is set on changing perceptions of this misunderstood wine.

Chardonnay has a rich and exciting history, with much speculation. Like a lot of grape varieties, some of the truth has been lost to time and the edges blurred between fact and fiction. Stories of Roman emperors gifting vines to countries, or crusaders bringing the vines from Syria on their return. Modern DNA fingerprinting points to Its most likely a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc. At some point in time cross breeding somewhere, most probably France and in particular Burgundy.

As times do change and the wine peaked in popularity the wine industry was forced to produce more chardonnay than ever before, which may have resulted in its downfall. ‘Supply and demand contributed massively to the sullied reputation. Wines are fashionable like everything else. People loved the oaky Aussie and Californian styles but producers cashed in on that and cut corners to keep up with demand. Using oak chips and staves to speed up the Oaking effect by increasing surface area. Often using a bad wine to begin with resulted in a bad wine with bad oak flavours. After a time of this consumers became tired of drinking bad Chardonnay and assumed all Chardonnay was bad.’

This point, described by Nick is the point we are currently living in, where Chardonnay is stereotypically for the Bridget Jones’ of the world and not the sophisticated and incredibly versatile wine that Nick knows it to be.

‘It seems funny to me to write a grape variety off because of an experience from 20 or 30 years ago. But we are creatures of habit and once bitten, twice shy it seems. Wine is so literally organic it changes all the time. As consumers we have to be a little more open minded. Times change. Wines change. Not all Chardonnay has seen new oak or indeed any oak.’

If you are an oenophile, or simply someone who enjoys a glass or two, Nick would argue that to ignore all chardonnays off the menu would be preposterous. ‘Start off with cooler climate Chardonnay. Stay local if you can. get tasters of a couple of fantastic examples of unoaked Chardonnay from Cornwall, the UK or France. Then explore further afield, Australia or South Africa. Get a good range from different climates and taste with friends making notes as you go. And don’t forget food! Chardonnay is such a food friendly variety.’

During your stay at Scarlet, if you have any questions about the various wines we hold and beyond. Please do have a chat with our team who will be delighted to offer their opinions. In the meantime, Nick has got some wine pairings to accompany Scarlet’s summer menu. ‘A really good example of cool climate Chardonnay is Knightor winery’s 2018. A superb year for winemakers generally throughout Europe. Our vineyards faired well from a long consistent summer. This wine still tastes remarkably fresh and that’s testament to good grapes, a savvy winemaker and a little of our friend French oak being put to use. It’s helped give the wine structure but not oaky at all. Beautifully crisp, green apples and a touch of that raciness, makes it versatile. Pairing well with chilled soup and light seafood starters.

And if you want classic Burgundy the creamier styles of the Macon and Chablis are sure to please. A richer style of wine, again with old oak giving the wines body and texture without the smoky vanilla. Try these wines with seafood like the John Dory or Hake dishes created by our Chef Jack Clayton. Perfect companions, and for those of you who like a full body, oaky expression, hints of the tropical and racy acidity try Languedoc Chardonnay like Limoux. Such a versatile wine and so different still. Seared scallops, charred mackerel and roast meats.

It would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention Champagne for it’s versatility. After all it’s built around Chardonnay finesse and acidity and cuts through richness so easily. For the purest expression, and winning combo go Blanc De Blanc champagne and oysters straight out the shell or panko bread crumbed and deep-fried.’

Trust me. There really is a Chardonnay for everyone.


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