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Grape expectations: Chardonnay is the king of comebacks

The fightback starts here. I've designated the next two weeks 'Chardonnay Fortnight', which I'll devote to exploring this great but currently (among non-pro wine drinkers at least) unfashionable grape.

Once upon a time, Chardonnay was king; then it got overthrown for the 'promised much/delivered little' Sauvignon Blanc -- which itself is now facing a palace coup by the followers of Pinot Grigio, a shallow character with the staying power of Bonnie Prince Charlie after the Battle of Culloden.

The conventional wisdom is that Chardonnay's demise was caused by revulsion against the overload of mellow tropical fruit, curiously the very thing that attracted novice wine bibbers to the grape in the first place. Personally I don't believe this, although the surfeit of awful tinned fruit flavours, allied to clumsy oaking, that flooded the market on the foot of Chardonnay's initial success didn't help. Other pundits will tell you that people's palates became more sophisticated. Not so; in my view, the principal cause of Chardonnay's fall from grace was that 'the next big thing' was due. Enter Kiwi Sauv B with its gooseberries, green pepper and bracing minerality.

What people don't suss is Chardonnay's versatility. If you like the mean'n'green, with sharp acidity that cuts through oily food like Real Madrid through Spurs you can have it; if you want big, bold, bountiful and buttery, no problem. If you want understated elegance, and considerable refinement, you can have that too.

I kicked off 'Chardonnay Fortnight' with a very smart Chilean, Concha y Toro Amelia 2008, a €30 beauty, on special at Oddbins for €18. Now I don't know what the current state of play at Oddbins Ireland is, on foot of the UK crash, but if this comes down to around €15 in a 'fire sale' you should buy.

Next up, a very smart 'intro wine' from Jean-Jacques Vincent, who makes really mellow Pouilly-Fuisse. Vincent Macon Fuisse (O'Brien's €13.99), often seen 'on special', is grown from vines grown on the doorstep of its posh cousin and shows lovely ripe pear and baked Bramley fruit with a streak of stoney minerality.

At a Marks & Spencer tasting, I came across the utterly brilliant Lone Range Heretaunga Chardonnay 2009 (above). Made by the smart guys responsible for Craggy Range, one of New Zealand's finest, at €12.95 it has to be Buy of the Week. Cool, laid back, it would kick sand in the eyes of many a €20 Burgundy.

Trawling the web, I found support for my Chardonnay campaign. Curious Wines, from Kinsale, are running a 'Rediscover Chardonnay' month in April, offering a 20pc discount on a case, which can be mixed, with free delivery. Look no further than the charming, sensitively French-oaked Santa Alicia Reserva, a dragon-slayer at €9.99, but at €7.99, everyone should have a few stowed away.


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