Depending on which side of the vine you stand, the ABC of Chardonnay is either ’Anything But Chardonnay’ or ’Absolutely Brilliant Chardonnay’!
Hugely popular in the 1980s and ’90s, our taste for ripe, buttery, over-oaky styles has taken a step back in recent years towards crisper, more refreshing varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio.
From an innocent bystander’s point of view (although I have to confess my heart belongs to Chardonnay!), this noble grape produces some of the most prestigious wines - and the secret is to buy from quality producers who make cleaner, more refined styles.
It’s worth noting that today’s Chards, barrels aside, are aged in metal containers for the fashion-forward, fresh and fruity drinkers.
For a dazzling glass of the golden stuff, I recommend Californian Chardonnay, where some of the finest vineyards are found north of San Francisco.
One of the sunniest wine regions in the world, its rich terroir produces top-class grapes which ripen evenly by day - and are kissed goodnight by the cooling fog of the Pacific Ocean as it moves up the valleys.
The glamorous Sonoma and Napa Valley produce some of the best Chards, and 2007 has been declared a rich vintage in this winelover’s paradise.
Robert Mondavi is recognised as being the father of the Californian wine industry, which was quite small until he built his Spanish-style winery in the 1960s and put the Napa Valley on the map.
He still makes some of the most prestigious Californian wines - the Robert Mondavi Woodbridge 2007 (£7.45, Sainsbury’s) is a great example. It has all the intense fruit flavours of the Chardonnay grape and a rich mouth-feel, without being over-oaky (it spends only five months in barrels).
Blessed with a touch of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Muscat to add balance, the lush layers of ripe pears, peaches and crisp finish will make ’Anything But C’ drinkers want to give it another go!
Closer to the coast, Sonoma County has the perfect cool climate for Chardonnay. The wines often have an intensity and purity that’s reminiscent of fine white Burgundy, which explains why they sometimes out-perform the French in blind tastings - much to the fury of our Gallic cousins!
Try the super Sonoma-Cutrer Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2006 (£14.99 at Waitrose, reduced to £10.99 until September 27) with aromas of melon, citrus and ginger. It’s nice and nutty, lightly-oaked with a long spicy finish and aged in French barriques. Excellent with pasta primavera on a ’special night in’!
Spoil your friends with a glass of Fetzer and it’ll be smiles all round. One of America’s favourite producers, it has been championing sustainability since the mid-1980s. Fetzer’s Valley Oaks Chardonnay 2008 (£6.99, Waitrose) is a stellar wine that’s easy on the pocket.
Love it or hate it, another A-list Chardonnay maker is Australia.
Neil McGuigan’s award-winning Chardonnays have set a benchmark for other producers by moving away from big oaky, heavy Chardonnay to more elegant styles for the modern wine-drinker.
For a taste sensation of new wave Australian Chardonnay, try McGuigan Classic Grey Label Chardonnay 2009 (£6.99, Majestic). I love its cheeky fruitiness with just a slight hint of oak and a nice zippy finish.
The Sonoma Valley is world-renowned for its exceptional Chardonnays, and so are its prices! Cue Tesco, which has sourced a first-class example so Chard lovers can experience the quality of this region. The Tesco Finest Sonoma Chardonnay (£8.99, Tesco) is barrel-aged for six months in American oak, and it’s wonderful with a smoked salmon starter and roast chicken.
It was bulk-produced Chardonnay from Australia that was partly responsible for the over-oaked style we’ve grown tired of! De Bortoli is another winery producing brilliant Chardonnays in a white Burgundian style (which is where the Chardonnay grape originated from). The De Bortoli Yarra Valley Estate Grown Chardonnay 2006 (£14.99, Oddbins - 20% off as part of a mixed dozen case, so down to £11.99 per bottle) is worth paying the little bit extra. Smoky with pure peach and citrus fruits, it’s a perfect partner with fish pie - and a nice reminder that Australia can make top-quality Chardonnay.
It’s British Food Fortnight (September 19-October 4), so why not support Old Blighty and match your wine to your plate! Camel Valley ’Cornwall’ Brut 2006 (£19.95, selected Waitrose and www.camelvalley.com) is a Traditional Method sparkler that’s served in Rick Stein’s world-famous Seafood Restaurant in Padstow and works brilliantly with traditional fish and chips. It’s very English and very delicious, but if that doesn’t persuade you to line it up with the salt and vinegar, maybe the maestro will - celebrated wine writer Oz Clarke says: "Fresh lovely bright, fruity style, good stuff!"
Throughout October, TV personality and wine expert Joe Wadsack will be hosting a series of ’Sparkling Wine Masterclasses’ at the luxurious Hotel du Vin and Malmaison hotels nationwide. Wadsack has hooked up with Spanish winemaker Codorniu to guide novices and enthusiasts through the winemaking heritage of the UK’s No 1 Spanish fizz. The flamboyant Wadsack promises to keep punters entertained, and their glasses full! To register and find out more, email email@example.com or call 01892 500 265.