Chardonnay, the comeback kid
Would it surprise you to learn that on the recently released list of the most expensive wines in the world, a Chardonnay clocked in at number four? One bottle of Domaine Leflaive Montrachet Grand Cru from Burgundy will set you back $7,747 (around €6,600).
Yet Chardonnay is the wine that people love to hate. It has even got its own mean little acronym - ABC, 'anything but Chardonnay'. Having been hugely popular in the 1980s and 1990s, the tipping point came in 2001. Wine writer Oz Clarke puts the blame for its demise firmly at the tear-drenched feet of Bridget Jones, who medicated her broken heart with hefty glasses of the stuff as she meticulously recorded the units of alcohol she absorbed on a daily basis.
But it wasn't just that. The wine that had charmed the market as a taste of Burgundy at a fraction of the price morphed into populist whites that were groaning with oak, and packed to the high alcoholic hilt with sweet pineapple and vanilla. It was just too much, and Sauvignon Blanc, with its crisp acidity, became the white wine of choice; the perfect antidote.
Although you hear less ABC proclamations these days, it is not the first wine that you hear a table of people call for. Which is a pity, because the Australians have been making well-balanced, crisp Chardonnays for many years now - just try a bottle of Jacob's Creek Chardonnay and you will see what I mean. And in the last year, sales have gone through the roof in Australia, so this grape is poised for a mega comeback.
And sommeliers agree. I was at the monthly supper club in Sheen Falls recently, and the first wine of the evening was a crisp Chardonnay. Introducing the wine, which was lightly oaked and lean, the sommelier explained that there is a huge diversity of wines made from this wonderful grape. It went down a treat.
The thing is, if you don't like Chardonnay, it's more likely that you just don't like the way the wine has been made. Like champagne? Well then you like Chardonnay. It is one of the three grape varietals used in champagne and if it's a Blanc de Blanc, it's made from 100pc Chardonnay. Chablis is also made from Chardonnay, but is generally unoaked, so you get a crisp, white wine.
On the second night of our stay in Sheen Falls, Chardonnay featured once again. We ventured down into the wine cellar, which can be booked for private dinners for six to eight people. It really is quite special. A white linen-clad table was nestled between barrels and racks of impressive wines, and the table settings glimmered in the candlelight. This cellar once held the largest private collection of wines in the country and it still holds more than 3,000 very interesting bottles.
We were in for a Chardonnay treat. Jérôme Trq, the sommelier, talked us through the various wines, one of which was a Chassagne-Montrachet. This is a very beautiful wine from Louis Carillon & Fils, the last one to be made by this domaine before it was divided between the sons in 2009. But you don't need to spend a fortune to drink a lovely Chardonnay. I have three recommendations here, or ask your local independent off-licence for advice.
3 wines to try
Beauvignac Chardonnay 2016, Pays d’Oc, €10.49
13.5pc, from Molloys Liquor Stores, Ballyfermot, Clondalkin, Clonsilla, Finglas, Francis Street, Leopardstown and Tallaght, all Dublin
With a nod to Burgundy, this is a great price for a well-balanced Chardonnay which has plenty of citrus notes and acidity on the palate to keep it fresh, with the oak rounding out the flavour.
Domaine Begude ‘Terroir 11300’ 2016, €13.95 (reduced from €17.95)
13.5pc, from O’Briens
An organic Chardonnay from the Limoux region of France, this is beautifully structured with crisp citrus aromas and a fresh lemon acidity on the palate, with crunchy apple notes and a light touch of oak.
Joseph Drouhin ‘Drouhin-Vaudon’ Chablis 2014, €22
12.5pc, from Dunnes Stores, and Next Door off-licences
Bone dry, this is a whistle-clean, unoaked Chardonnay which has crisp lemon, grapefruit and apple aromas and a mineral core. For just a few euro more, try the Reserve de Vaudon which has a little more intensity.