Now in truth the grape never went away, it was really the fat oaky styles that we abandoned, says Leslie Williams.
If you think you don’t like the grape you need to give it a chance as it can vary huge depending on where and how it is grown.
Chardonnay has been grown for a millennia between Lyon and Dijon and as far north as Champagne and it takes its name from a village in the Macon in southern Burgundy near Uchizy.
DNA analysis shows it to be a natural crossing of Pinot and Gouais Blanc just like a bunch of other grapes including Gamay.
Chardonnay is versatile, it lacks a dominant flavour of its own and the wine it produces speaks of the place, the climate and the winemaker.
In its purest form in Chablis it can be almost like Sauvignon and remember that Sancerre and Chablis share the same regions Kimmeridgian clay-limestone soils.
Last Autumn I tasted my way through the wines of the La Chablisienne cooperative which is one of the most reliable producers in France.
Founded in 1923 they now have 300 growers in every appellation and are remarkably consistent.
The focus is on expressing the soil and they have fully embraced the ‘minerality’ of their wines from grapes grown on the chalky slopes of the Serein river.
The word ‘mineral’ is a little contentious these days but refers to aromas that are distinctly not floral, fruit or vegetable based but akin to the scent from a stone plucked from a river.
Most Chablis has very little oak except at Grand Cru level but don’t let oak scare you as if carefully used it can enhance and develop the natural flavours in Chardonnay.
While La Chablisienne Grand Cru Chablis may set you back €70, this is often significantly less than you would pay for wines of similar quality from the Côte-d’Or.
The 2011 ‘Les Preuses’ and ‘Chateau Grenouille’ are both stunning with the former being more feminine and floral and the latter more smoky and voluptuous.
Sadly pricing for Chablis will be going up by as much as 20% later this year due to a disastrous run of vintages in the region with hail and storms so buy up the current vintages while you can.
BEST VALUE UNDER €15
Jardin des Charmes, IGP Coteaux de Beziers, France — €10.95
Stockists: Vintry Rathgar, Martins, McCabes, Ardkeen, Independents.
From a large but quality focused producer in the Languedoc (their In Vino Erotico red and white are also worth trying — O’Donovans stock them at €15).
This inexpensive charmer has ripe pear-drop and tropical fruit aromas, pineapple and grapefruit and softer pear flavours on the palate and a clean fruity finish.
Fleurie André Goichot, Beaujolais, France — €12 (was €20)
This is on special offer in SuperValu for the next couple of weeks along with some interesting beers in the craft beer sale.
Beaujolais is geographically part of Burgundy but considered separate as they grow gamay (and chardonnay) rather than pinot noir.
This has soft, juicy, raspberry-scented fruits and a dry textured finish.
Cave de Lugny Macon-Villages 2015, Burgundy, France — €12.95 (was €15.45)
Stockist: O’Brien’s stores nationwide
The Macon is the most southerly part of Burgundy and here chardonnay is softer and fuller flavoured compared to what you will find in chablis.
This is a reliable co-op and I like the soft melon and pear aromas here plus the rich full-flavoured character.
Try this with some mussels in wine and cream.
BEST VALUE OVER €15
La Chablisienne Chablis “La Pierrelée” 2015, Burgundy, France — €19.95
Stockists: O’Donovans, JJ O’Driscolls, 1601, World Wide Wines, Cashel Wine Cellar, Vintry, 64 Wines
Entry level Chablis almost never has oak contact so is the very purest expression of Chardonnay.
This is stainless steel fermented (with secondary malo-lactic fermentation also in tank) and has lovely pure bright lemon-lime and slate and washed pebble aromas.
La Chablisienne Chablis 1er Cru “Vaulorent” 2012, Burgundy, France — €34.95
Stockists: O’Donovans, JJ O’Driscolls, 1601, World Wide Wines, Cashel Wine Cellar
The ‘Grand Cuvée’ general Premier Cru is like a grown up version of ‘La Sereine’ with more focus and elegance.
Of the ‘lieux-dit’ the Vaulorent I think is my favourite — tense and structured, ripe and complex with smoke and mineral aromas and a supple dense palate.
Domaine des Gerbeaux Saint-Véran 2015, Burgundy, France — €26.95
Stockists: Vintry Rathgar, Selected Independents, www.burgundydirect.ie
Conor Richardson of Burgundy Direct has some wonderful producers on his books including this from the Drouin family in the Mâcon (watch also for their Pouilly-Fuissé).
Aromas of greengages and ripe gooseberry tinged with pine and young pear and melon, full flavoured and elegant with nice tenseness and ripe pear coming through on the middle palate.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved