Time to get back on the chardonnay, old chap

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Gone off chardonnay? It’s time to get back into it. Here are some tips to get you on your way. 

First of all chardonnay is always best with food. Its richness, body and texture can be sickly to many but with food it makes sense. It’s a versatile food wine that will match with an array of dishes. We tend to drink wines as a ‘drink’ and perhaps chardonnay doesn’t fit in here, whereas pinot gris and sauvignon blanc are perfect for quaffing. Serve it with dinner and you’ll find its good side. 

The problem with the statement ‘I don’t like chardonnay’ is that it simplifies the wine and doesn’t take into consideration the notion of place or terroir, as the French say. In New Zealand there is a huge range of styles, from Central Otago’s lighter, refreshing and crisp cool climate wines to Hawkes Bay’s warmer climate riper, bigger and often more oaky versions. When you think that just about every wine-producing country in the world produces chardonnay, there is a massive amount of choice. Something for everyone. 

Many of chardonnay’s flavours are winemaker-influenced. It is the white wine that is often treated like a red with oak aging, lees stirring (where the dead yeast cells left after fermentation are stirred through the wine to add texture) and malolactic fermentation. The latter is used for the vast majority of red wine but only a few whites, and nearly always for chardonnay. It converts the harsher malic acids to softer, creamier lactic acids. It is responsible for the ‘buttery’ aromas in chardonnay. 

Whilst these methods add richness and complexity to the wine, they have in the past been over-done and can make the wine unbalanced and difficult to drink. New Zealand has moved away from this and with more experience, better clones, vine-age and possibly just good old-fashioned effort, chardonnay has become one of NZ’s best value varieties. 

Finally, if you want to really get back into chardonnay, start with Kumeu River. It really is New Zealand’s best, often compared to white Burgundy and widely available and affordable. It has all the bells and whistles of chardonnay, all in perfect harmony. Fresh and clean, rich and full-bodied but with a light enough touch to be moreish. Sort of zesty lemon and peach, burnt toast, cream and hazelnut, all combined but distinct. Amazing now, but brilliant at five years old. What more do you want from a wine? 

The current release, the Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2008, is concentrated and delicious. Kumeu River also produces three single vineyard chardonnays.

You can find out more about the wines and taste notes at Paul Tudgay’s Wine Down site

Paul Tudgay is the Queenstown Resort College business hospitality manager, a part-time wine appreciation lecuturer and fulltime connoisseur