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What’s in a name? Chardonnay

May 23, 2013

ChardonnayWhat have these bottles got in common?

The two on the left are some of the most revered (and expensive) white wines in the world from Burgundy, the middle is from an area in France which has become synonymous with premium white wines which express the minerality of the Kimmeridgian clay on which they are grown and the last is a Chardonnay from a New World producer. You may or may not know that they are all made from the Chardonnay grape.

What’s your reaction to the word Chardonnay? Drink it often? Won’t touch it with a barge-pole? Indifferent? Well, today is international Chardonnay day (read more about varietal days and their hashtags here). I’m going to take you on a little trip down memory lane (especially if you are British and over a certain age, like me).

Chardonnay tasting

Baked Brie with garlic. Wine tasting in the garden.

The evolution of the UK’s wine-drinking habits is inextricably linked with Chardonnay. Two things helped the UK to become a regular wine drinking nation; wine in supermarkets and varietal labelling (i.e the grape variety listed on the bottle).  In the 1970s people who knew about (and could afford) wine had a cosy arrangement with a wine merchant; everyone else latched onto a few wine names that dripped exotically off tongue ‘Leibfraumilch’ ‘Piesporter’ ‘Blue Nun and Bull’s Blood. By the booming 1980s we’d seen the error of our ways and were ordering bottles of ‘Chardonnay’ in wine bars and restaurants, increasingly from the New World Wine makers who weren’t limited by any geographic areas  or rules and made varietal labelling king. As a grape, Chardonnay is famed for being expressive of where it is grown, it is not an aromatic variety and its flavours need to be coaxed out in wine making. The flavour that consumers were favouring in the 80’s had little to do with this, they were hooked on the vanilla, caramel tastes of oak, from the barrels that the wine was matured in. New World wine makers in particular responded to this trend. In cheaper wines oak barrels were replaced by immersing oak chips in the wine or even adding essence of oak. The world went mad for Chardonnay. Vines were ripped up and replanted. A character in Footballer’s Wives was named after it.


The UK (led by the press) has a reputation for building things up and then knocking them down. When Chardonnay’s reign started to fall its crown tipped quite dramatically. The ABC movement ‘anything but Chardonnay’ advocates took hold in the mid-90’s and its place as first choice was swept away in a tide of crisp, searingly acidic, fresh, unoaked whites such as Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. Geographical labelling worked in favour of wines such as Chablis, Poully Fuisse and even Montrachet.

This is all a great simplification of white wine drinking trends over the last forty years and Chardonnay remains one of the most widely planted grape variety in the world (160,000 hectares). However, take a straw poll of your friends and I bet you’ll find a fair old few who screw their noses up at the mere mention of this once revered grape.

The Hedonista has started a new monthly tasting get together and suggested we do a Chardonnay comparison. This was going to interesting. We all have prejudices but with blind tasting you leave them at the door.

Six wines from five regions; what difference would region, winemaking styles, price and vintage (meaning made from the produce of a single year) have on the taste of wines all grown from a single grape variety?

Chablis, Craggy Range Limestone Hill

First up we compared William Fevre Chablis 2010, Craggy Range Kidnappers Block Chardonnay 2011 and Limestone Hill Chardonnay 2012.

These three were tasted blind and were grouped together as having most in common with Chablis style of wine-making and expression i.e. little oak, some malo-lactic fermentation (leading to butteriness), perhaps some minerality. Strangely the Craggy Range from New Zealand had most austerity combined with high acidity leading me to think it was the Chablis (despite having tasted the Chablis earlier in the evening). I should have guessed as the William Fevre had citrus and honey notes on the nose and a buttery palate with a long-finish, although there were convincing mineral notes in the Craggy Range.  The South African Limestone Hill was the least liked with more overt tropical fruit flavours. It did pair amazingly well with Dina’s delicious fresh crab, avocado and mango dip.

Shaw and Smith, Altos del Plata, Meurseult

Next we blind tasted Terrazas Altos Del Plata Chardonnay 2010, Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay 2010 and Ballot Millot Meursault 2010, grouped for their central Burgundian characteristics. The Altos Del Plata was the least well balanced, lacking enough acidity to make it really interesting, although a well-made, easy drinking wine. Shaw and Smith wines seem to have a house-style which I can only describe as clean. The flavours are well-defined and I absolutely loved this wine with vanilla and citrus and all sorts of nuances on the nose, a smoky, nutty, ethereal palate with an enduring finish. The Meursault wasn’t everyone’s favourite which goes to show that the best wine is the wine you like. We were sitting outside and the warmth had started to emphasise the vanilla, almost caramel notes from the percentage of new oak used in the wine-making and the full-bodied yet elegant citrus and stone fruit palate with complexity and length. A wine to savour.

Wine tasting in the garden

The Hedonista pours and guides our tasting

Our tasting group of seven was very divided about which we liked best and it had little to do with price. South Africa and Argentina failed to thrill me but the tasting proved that good quality Aussie and NZ Chardonnay is righting any wrongs of past heavy handed wine-making. All wines were bought from MMI and here’s general guide to cost (before tax and in AED). William Fevre Chablis 2010 100 AED,  Craggy Range Kidnappers Block Chardonnay 2011 120 AED, Limestone Hill Chardonnay 2012 49 AED, Terrazas Altos Del Plata Chardonnay 2010 55 AED, Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay 2010 AED 155, and Ballot Millot Meursault 2010 210 AED

Some quick facts about Chardonnay

  • Chardonnay is one of the three main grape varieties used to make Champagne.
  • Chablis, Puilly Fuisse and Blanc de Blanc Champagne  are all made of Chardonnay.
  • Some Californian wines used to be called ‘Chablis’ until a trade agreement with Europe put an end to it in 2005.
  • Classic food pairings with Chardonnay are fish and shellfish; oysters and Chablis a particularly good match.
  • Aromas of this grape can be difficult to pin down; cool climate wines may show apples, citrus, smokiness ;warm climate pineapple, and tropical fruit.
  • May 23rd is #Chardonnay day – Please join me on Twitter #chardonnayday

Thanks to Sarah from The Hedonista for an excellent choice of wines and expert tuition, Drina from Eaternal Zest for hosting in her lovely garden and Chirag, Matt, Hamish and Radhika for great company.

  1. May 23, 2013 10:22 am

    I am not a wine drinker but you and Sarah are tempting me back to trying it, Chardonnay was one of my favourites when I did drink but Footballers wives is the one that it reminds me off, sad isn’t it?

  2. May 23, 2013 10:23 am

    Nice to be reminded of the excellence and heritage of the chardonnay grape … I’ve been saying to people for years, But you like Chablis … I don’t think the grape has got over the influx of some truly terrible New World ones 20+ years ago but articles like this will hopefully set the balance right.

  3. May 23, 2013 10:24 am

    Chardonnay is so refreshing and wonderfully fragrant. A great type of wine.



  4. May 23, 2013 10:42 am

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane – I remember when Bull Nun was the height of sophistication! I never jumped on the Chardonnay bandwagon though, always preferring a crisper lighter taste. Perhaps now is the time to leave my prejudices behind and experiment with some of the wines you have mentioned. I didn’t realise that the Chardonnay grape was used so much in Champagne.


  5. May 23, 2013 10:46 am

    The first glass of white wine I drank was New Zealand Chardonnay. It is nice to sip chilled furity and buttery Chardonnay to start an evening in the garden. Then I got a bit tired of the woody flavour over time and moved on to crispy and citrusy Sauvignon Blanc, but after tasting some great elegant Chardonnay from Montrachet, Meusault and Chablis during my stay in France, I got my taste for Chardonnay back. Thanks for the great article. It is soothing and inspirational to visit your blog probably because of the name of your blog and your smile, which are so inviting. 🙂 Eat with Me one day in Istanbul, perhaps 🙂

  6. May 23, 2013 11:11 am

    Great post! I’m sure we’ve all heard the “I love Chablis but hate Chardonnay!” statement before. I actually had a lady once put on a dietary requirement form that she was ‘allergic’ to chardonnay!! Hahaha

  7. May 23, 2013 11:14 am

    Hi Sally, my wife and I have become chardonnay converts for white. We holidayed in Burgundy last year and thought the wines really were outstanding. I even wanted to just drink one night when we were in a Michelin Restaurant! I don’t want to become a wine snob though and quite often try some Chilean chardonnays.

    I’ve had False Bay Pinotage, which is lovely. I was wondering from your photo at the top what your thought on the False Bay Chardonnay was.

    My wife is just leaving her job, and the girls asked what she would like as a leaving present. I told them, rather than champagne, a Louis Jadot Meursault 2008. £24 so the same price as champagne but an awful lot better!

  8. The Hedonista permalink
    May 23, 2013 11:17 am

    Lovely drinking with you on the night. I have to say, I adore Chardonnay – Like you, I see it as a wine that winemakers can really show their talents with. So many other whites are made in the vineyard (which involves many other talents of course), and I just lap up the complexities that can be achieved with such a versatile grape. In my opinion, anyone avoiding Chardonnay is ignoring 50% of the education required to understand white wine, and of course, limiting their palates. But, I also adore Riesling, and Albarino, and Cortese…. the list goes on.

    Great post as always

  9. May 23, 2013 1:08 pm

    Cheers! Chardy is my drink – I love a buttery, oaky, golden glass. Am thrilled to know chardonnay has its own day.

  10. May 23, 2013 2:12 pm

    Nice post, uncovering some of the erroneous beliefs about the Chardonnay grape. Fine Burgundies are now beyond my purse, but there is a wonderful wine, Prima Donna, from the nearby vineyard of Prieure La Chaume in the Vendee, that is 60% Chardonnay, which I love to drink. It has all the qualities that deny the prejudices so often held against that grape.

  11. May 23, 2013 2:56 pm

    Love your winey posts and Chardonnay remains one of my favourites.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  12. May 23, 2013 4:55 pm

    I like a wooded chardonnay and will have a glass later in celebration of the day!

  13. May 23, 2013 6:29 pm

    mmmm… wooded and buttery… i love a good chardonnay…
    what’s a good chardonnay??
    one i like!

  14. May 26, 2013 1:43 pm

    Took me a while to get to it… but great post Sally 🙂 Great read, especially about the history of vino culture in the UK. 🙂
    It was a lovely evening with great company.
    Oh also, it was baked camembert, not brie 🙂

    • May 27, 2013 8:59 am

      Whoops – will amend….just remember how delicious it was.

  15. May 26, 2013 9:11 pm

    Great write up. There are so many different styles of Chardonnay these days that I really don’t understand the ABC crowd anymore. Looks like those you tried were fantastic representatives!

    • May 27, 2013 8:57 am

      That’s down to my very clever friend The Hedonista – she’s great at seeking out interesting wines.

  16. June 2, 2013 3:29 pm

    What a busy, busy month! And such a delicious one to boot. Haven’t had the chance to visit Dubai yet, but I’m definitely bookmarking some of these venues when I do get a chance to visit. (And thanks for visiting my blog)

  17. May 5, 2014 8:46 am

    Je remarգue tout de suite que vous coոnaissez
    bien ce que vous avancez


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