Last week our wonderful wine columnist Libby Zietsman-Brodie weighed in in defense of Chardonnay, a grape variety often wrongly maligned by people who know enough about wine to have an opinion but not enough to have a correct opinion.
And quite right she was, so I though I’d throw my two cents’ worth in too, given it’s Chardonnay week. Over the last decade there have been countless clumsy conversations in restaurants and even in a few newspapers claiming that Chardonnay has had its day, that familiarity has bred disdain, that it has become a victim of over-exposure and varietal fatigue.
To cure this lazy cynicism, I turned of course to a man who helped develop software used in Iraq and Afghanistan to fast-track military intelligence, enabling troops on the ground to access vital information.
Dan Farrell-Wright combined his military-grade IT skills with his passion for wine to create independent Devon-based online wine and spirit merchant Wickhams, which sources the finest estate bottled wines from around the world, offering its customers specially curated collections. He doesn’t think that Chardonnay glamour is fading, and as a man who knows his way around both a wine cellar and a spreadsheet, he should know.
“Chardonnay is far from passé or common. How wrong many people can be,” he says. “The mass-produced synthetic oak and vanilla flavoured Chardonnay which was produced in the 80s and 90s was particularly damaging to Chardonnay’s reputation and it’s never quite recovered.
“But some of the best wines in the world are made from Chardonnay and Chardonnay is one of the three grape varieties most often found in Champagne. One of my favourite wines is Huxbear Classic Sparkling (£22.99), made from the holy trinity of sparkling wine grapes – Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. It’s produced at a small, fully sustainable vineyard in the Teign Valley. Ben and Lucy Hulland who together with their three-legged dog tend the six hectares of vines and produce impeccable English sparkling wine.
“More people need to drink Chardonnay!”
Chardonnay has an appropriately storied history for such a storied grape. It was smuggled into South Africa by wine producers constrained by plant quarantine regulations. The “Chandy Ring ” became folk heroes, although some of the early cuttings turned out to be Chablis-esque Alsatian Auxerrois Blanc rather than Chardonnay.
Over seven per cent of South Africa’s vineyards are now planted with Chardonnay, with the biggest plantings in Robertson, Swartland, Breedekloof, Paarl and Stellenbosch. Reliably quaffable labels include Bouchard Finlayson, Capensis, Creation, Hamilton Russell, and the Retief family’s Van Loveren, whose Shades of Chardonnay offering includes Rhino Run Chardonnay and its flagship Christina.
The best South American recommended to me are French-oaked Chile Pacific Ocean Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa and, from Argentina, Los Olivos Zuccardi. Both are available through Oxford Wine.
So jettison your preconceptions and put your trust in Wickhams, the grape and its growers.