2 min 45 sec read
Cheers to Chardonnay! Follow the recent history - from heady heights of popularity to the butt end of jokes... like a phoenix it rises again.
ABC? It all began in California… when, from the 1980’s - early 2000, the wine industry became lazy (in my humble opinion!) and fed into the upward consumer trend in wine drinking. Encouraged by the success of sweetened and fruited beer, cider and cocktail drinks, with the up coming millennial generation, companies such as Kendall-Jackson (a prolific American winery) created similar-styled wines.
In terms of winemaking, Chardonnay is a very forgiving grape - both in the vineyard (easily grown and prolific) and the winery, where it can be easily manipulated into the ‘favourite’ style of the consumer.
Usually, Chardonnay grapes produce a juice that, when fermented, creates wines with notes of crisp Granny Smith apples and in some cases tropical notes like pineapple. However, through the use of secondary fermentation, the malic acids (the tart, sour, green apple notes) are transformed into lactic acid notes of cream and butter. In addition to that, fermenting and maturing/storing Chardonnay juice in oak barrels (instead of stainless steel) imparts additional notes of oak, vanilla, toast, caramel, and butterscotch.
Kendal-Jackson ran all the juice through malolactic and then stored the wine in oak barrels. The result was a buttery, creamy, toasty wine. And this was a hit with the mass market! They sold so much Chardonnay that other wineries quickly followed suit.
Suddenly Chardonnay was ‘cool’, trendy and everyone was drinking it.
Like all trends, it made it’s way across the Atlantic and was embedded in the UK by the time I started at Waverley in 1998.
In the middle of my 4 year shift at Waverley, just as I started as wine buyer - we commissioned a big piece of research into UK wine-buying consumer habits.
The Chardonnay culture was so embedded in the UK conscience that we named one of our consumer profiles as ‘Chardonnay Girl’. She was young, overconfident, brashy (not classy) and loud - a bit like the Chardonnay styles we were seeing the masses drinking in the UK.
Then came the naughties - when I, along with one of my VF co-directors, Philippa, worked at the European office for Treasury Wine Estates, an Australian producer responsible for 2 of the best-selling Chardonnays in the UK at the time - Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay & Rosemount Chardonnay. We simply couldn’t get enough juice across to satisfy UK demand!
But then (around 2005-2010) a new trend that had been sweeping the US - arrived in the UK - the ABC movement (Anything But Chardonnay) where consumers had sickened themselves with the full fruited, heavily oaked and sweetened styles of (mainly Chardonnay) - and moved towards drier, fresher, cleaner, fruitier styles that spawned our love affair with Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon blanc etc
These varietals have enjoyed huge success and been the darlings of the wine trade over the last 10-15 years - but now I’m seeing a change/ predicting a new trend - where consumers are moving away from these one-dimensional, homogenous styles and looking for more multi-layered, complex styles - which is playing right back to Chardonnay in it’s more natural state when it’s not over manipulated.
There are reasons that Chardonnay is the ‘King of White Grapes’. It can be grown in many places throughout the world with different climates and soils and the wines are very good at showing the different influences of each climate and soil as long as the use of oak is balanced and the natural fruit sugars are encouraged and not dumbed by excess Tate & Lyle processes sugar. Chardonnay which was previously uniformly boring, is now an exciting wine to taste again.
Our Luxury case highlights some of the different flavours Chardonnay can produce from around the world - showcasing wines from Australia, South Africa, France and even Slovenia.
Have fun comparing and contrasting!