By Bruce MacDougall
It irritates me that chardonnay experiences a consumer backlash that’s undeserved. Restaurant servers are weary of patrons ordering “anything but Chardonnay”. But where did this backlash come from, and why?
Greed is the root of the problem. When Chardonnays from northern California began their rise in popularity and price, some lesser-quality producers manipulated their modest wine adding oak chips for a very short aging process. This hack produces a pronounced oaky flavour which attracts thirsty buyers looking for a deal. But the same wine remains underneath, causing knowledgeable consumers to turn up their noses at the obvious oak smell.
We have a number of friends who refuse any wines labelled Chardonnay, regardless of pedigree. But they love the elegance and power of a white Burgundy, not realizing it's made from the same grape, using similar techniques, including aging in oak.
(Fun fact: Until grape varieties were used to describe a wine, most were identified first by where the grapes were grown and then by the winery.)
Most of us know “Chablis” is a French wine; some also know that wine is made from grapes grown near the town of Chablis in Burgundy but many are unaware that all Chablis is made with Chardonnay grapes.
Over the centuries the Chardonnay grape became the source of the great wines of Burgundy, along with a wide range of wines from the sublime to the almost ridiculous. The grape is grown all over the world, vinified differently depending on conditions and the attitude of the winemaker.
Fleshy Chardonnays from California with tropical fruit and peach flavours, often aged in oak barrels, produce a sea of wines that are gobbled up by consumers. Winemakers in cool climates, including the wine regions of Canada, make crisp, fruity wines, some without oak, that have their own supporters. In between a mass of products flood the market.
As our Chardonnays come from a cool climate, the Canadian wine industry, following in Oregon’s Pinot Noir footsteps, has created an event known as I4C, short for International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. Anyone with an interest in Chardonnay should put July 19-21, 2019, in their calendar for wine education and fun.
Ready to re-embrace Chardonnays? Here are our favourites available in Canada. These wines are mostly unoaked with an enticing freshness and excellent value.
First, from Canada:
Henry Of Pelham Chardonnay VQA $15
Green apples and pears dominate in this fresh, zesty wine.
Inniskillin Unoaked Chardonnay VQA $14.
Initial sensation of ripe apples with hints of tropical fruit on the nose. Light bodied with pear and spice flavours.
Mission Hill Five Vineyards Chardonnay VQA $16.75
Quite light and crisp, this wine has a little more body. Peach flavours are nicely balanced with citrus and green apples.
The above Canadian Chardonnays demonstrate that in this style, we need not look further, but if we do, many others are produced in other wine-growing parts of the planet. We find an excellent example from the south of France:
Philippe De Rothschild Chardonnay Pays d'Oc - $13 to $15.
Quite pale in appearance, this wine has melon, pear and vanilla flavours balanced by a touch of citrus. Excellent length.
Then on to the Strathbogies Ranges in Australia:
Fowles Stone Dwellers Chardonnay 2016 $16.00 to $20.00.
Very sophisticated at this price point, crisp edge with fresh peach aromas and flavours that go on to a long-lasting finish. An elegant cool climate Chardonnay.