The greatest dry white wine grape in the world,it has weathered the swings of fashion, commanding a position of rare integrity. White Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne and much of the New World owe a great deal to this wonderful grape.
The wine drinking world is still very much in love with Chardonnay. It remains the greatest white grape variety there is. Of course, it has been abused but like a thoroughbred horse or pedigree dog it is largely human intervention and mis-handling that has caused the aberrations. Anyone who has been lucky enough to enjoy a glass of Australian Chardonnay while watching the sun set across Sydney Harbour or a glass of Chablis whilst touring the vineyards of Burgundy will know that Chardonnay simply cannot be beaten.
Chardonnay has toured the world with ease and there probably isn't a wine producing country not currently experimenting with different uses for this grape. The very finest expressions of Chardonnay certainly hail from Burgundy but New Zealand can produce examples with similar elegance and balance and Australia (particularly in the Adelaide region and in the Margaret River) is thrilling the world with slimmed down versions of their 20th century classics. Meanwhile California is re-inventing their take on Chardonnay with reduced concentration and increased elegance. Equally we should never forget the role that Chardonnay plays in the world’s great sparkling wines, not least Blanc de Blancs Champagne.
Any variety capable of producing such diversity of styles has to be impressive. It's oak friendly (alas, all too often oak chips) and responds well to contact with the yeasty lees that impart flavour and body in many white wines. Above all, the best Chardonnay will age for many years, often decades, to release rare and unique flavours.
Today the general trend is towards less intervention in the winery and a 'less is more style'. Amen to that!
Dean Harper on Chardonnay: Given the myriad of styles that can be made from this grape variety, it must be one of the most versatile in the world. It is no coincidence that during the wine revolution of the past 20 years, it has been planted in every major wine region in every wine producing country. The secret of its success is this versatility – it is reasonably easy to cultivate, it gives the wine maker tremendous scope for wine styles and it is a friendly variety to drink, unlikely to have acidic sharp edges. In the Burgundy and Champagne areas it can produce some of the greatest wines in the world, elsewhere it can produce anything from a lean crisp un-oaked wine to a fuller-bodied wine full of depth and complexity and capable of some oak ageing – and of course it can be made to make some fabulous sparkling wine. Typical characteristics are supple, buttery wines with generally low acidity with flavours of citrus, butter, honey, vanilla, and butterscotch.