You may have heard the phrase uttered near you at the bar, perhaps you have even said it yourself and ignored the twitch in the waiter’s eye. “A.B.C” is shorthand for “Anything But Chardonnay”, a hangover (in more ways than one) from the 1980s fashion for rich, heavily oaked wines.
This trend was taken to extremes and often done badly by mass-market wines, leading people such as myself (who, being pocket-poor in my early twenties drank the cheapest stuff) to declare Chardonnay was the devil’s own beverage.
However, I hold my hands up and admit my mistake because this just is not true. Unfortunately, “A.B.C” is uttered by people who actually do like Chardonnay and just don’t realise it. Not all Chardonnay is like sucking on a stick of buttered oak. Do you enjoy a crisp Chablis? An elegant Pouilly-Fuissé? Champagne? (Who doesn’t like champagne?!) Then you like Chardonnay.
Chardonnay is one of the most versatile grapes around and makes a spectrum of wine, sometimes under different names. It can be part of a blend, like Champagne where it is legally the only white grape allowed to the party (alongside red grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) and it can also stand alone to create Chablis, White Burgundy, Pouilly-Fuissé, Blanc de Blancs and of course, Chardonnay.
With an unfair reputation for being a buttery-fist of a wine, it is actually an incredibly neutral grape. A winemaker’s dream for adaptability, it also changes its flavours drastically depending on the climate and soil it is grown in. A hardy and adaptable vine, it is grown all over the world and fits in wherever it settles. It can make still or sparkling wines, it can be light and elegant or rich and full-bodied. In short, Chardonnay is a Chameleon and there is something for everyone.
This all means that when you are choosing your Chardonnay, looking at where it comes from is key. A Chablis can be all wet stone minerality whereas Napa Valley can create bread-and-butter pudding in a glass and there are a million versions of this one grape in-between.
If you prefer your white wines to be full of crisp green apples, lemony zing and flinty fresh then stick to cooler climate Chardonnays from Chablis, Austria or Ontario. In warmer climates like Mâcon in Burgundy it takes on riper fruit notes such as peaches and sun-warmed pears and in the hottest of areas like some of Napa Valley or Central Australia it can display tropical fruit notes like mango, pineapple and even banana.
Acidity decreases when the temperature rises so cooler climates will lead to leaner, steelier, more refreshing whites. Warmer regions tend to bring out the rounder texture of the wine, which winemakers may choose to enhance creating creamy, buttery Chardonnays. Oak aging can add flavours of butter, vanilla, coconut, baked tart and hazelnut and none of that is a bad thing. It just comes down to what you personally enjoy.
One of the mostly widely planted varieties in the world, its versatility means only wonderful things for food pairings. The important thing here is to think of texture and weight and match food accordingly. So, a steely, unoaked Chablis will go brilliantly with your light seafood dishes or crunchy goats cheese salad whereas a full-bodied oaked Chardonnay will be a pleasure with grilled meats, risottos and heavier creamier sauces. My favourite pairing right now is a glass of elegant blanc de blanc champagne with a smooth bloom cheese such as a baked camembert. The effervescent bubbles teamed with the creaminess of the cheese is a textural delight.
It’s not as easy as A.B.C. but it is a lesson worth learning. This little people-pleaser of a grape bends over backwards to create a huge variety of wines, so before you write it off as another 1980’s fashion mistake (personally, I am still a big fan of the shoulder pad) try a glass or two from different regions around the world and surprise yourself this International Chardonnay Day!
A Chardonnay For Everyone:
Crisp and Cool – Domaine Gueguen Chablis – Wine & Something
A classic Chablis for the purists. A cooler climate and no oak at all produces this steely fresh, beautiful wine with light hints white blossoms and a flinty minerality. Perfect pairing with white fish or a goats cheese salad.
An Elegant Burgundy Bargain – Olivier Leflaive Les Setilles – Corney & Barrow
Burgundy is arguably the most expensive wine region in the world, making this entry level White Burgundy with grapes from 2 of the 3 most prized regions, Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault a bit of a bargain. Green apples, pears and blossoms combine and some light oak aging adds a gentle creaminess to this elegant wine while retaining a fresh mineral finish.
Feeling Funky – Les Enracinés Mácon Chardonnay – The Surrey Wine Cellar
Burgundy may be seen as “old school” but this is a low-intervention version with no added sulphur from some hip new winemakers in the slightly slightly warmer region of Mâcon in Burgundy, Expect riper pears and honey, with a funky hazelnut note coming through the fresher floral flavours.
Take Me Somewhere Warm and Oak Me – Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Chardonnay – The Wine Reserve
Both fermented and aged using only the best oak barrels, this gorgeously balanced wine is crafted from Old Vines in South Africa creating smooth, rich flavours of sun-drenched peaches and pears alongside hazelnuts, a whisper of vanilla and ripe citrus peel.
The More Butter The Better – Bread & Butter – Majestic
Never has a wine been more aptly named. This is bread and butter pudding in a glass. A dry wine, this is not sweet but you even get those notes of vanilla and raisins. If you like some sumptuous oaking, the comfort of butter and a richly intense depth of flavour, this best-seller from California is the one for you.
It Has To Be Sparkling – Cave de Lugny Crémant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blancs NV – Waitrose
Winning the bronze medal at the Decanter Wine Awards this is a beautifully elegant bottle of sparkling wine made from 100% Chardonnay, with lightly brioche toasty notes and a freshly floral, honeyed palate. Do yourself a favour and serve this up chilled with a gooey baked camembert. Heaven.
Libby Zietsman-Brodie is the Founder of Bacchus & Brodie, an independent wine consultant and co-creator and presenter of Boozy & The Beast: How To Drink Better – an irreverent series on wine, without the snobbery. Instagram: @a_little_sip_of_me_time @boozybeastTV