The Thursday before Memorial Day (which is the last Monday in May) has been designated National Chardonnay Day. We believe the “national “ bit refers to the USA, but what the heck, we’ll join in!
Chardonnay still suffers from an image problem originating from the 1990s when a lot of mass-produced and overly oaked Chardonnays hit the supermarket shelves. Thankfully, chardonnay today is more refined, and winemakers aim for lean, clean and totally unoaked or so gently and delicately oaked that the natural flavours and aromas are merely brought together and balanced.
So as National Chadonnay Day looms on the horizon, here’s my choice of three different supermarket Chardonnays.
Wine One - Morrisons ”The best” Petit Chablis, £12
The Chablis region of France sits at the northern end of Burgundy, and only grows chardonnay grapes. The Chablis area covers thousands of acres, but it's the grapes grown at the northern-most point that go into making a "Petit Chablis."
At 48 degrees north, Petit Chablis grapes don't get the same sunshine other French varieties enjoy, but what they lack in fruitiness, they make up for in cool, subtle flavours that make for a deliciously crisp, refreshing wine.
Chablis wines are extremely dry and are famous for their mineral taste, which comes from the unique "Kimmeridgian" soil. This soil has very compact layers of limestone and clay marl containing abundant fossils of marine organisms in the occurrence of tiny oysters. These marine sediments brought by the sea there are 150 million of years and this is said to give us the mineral taste of Chablis wines. Subtle aromas of citrus and green apple and makes for a refreshing summer number.
Wine Two - Vasse Felix ('Felius') Chardonnay- Waitrose and Majestic Wine, £12.99 (Mix Six)
Our next chardonnay takes us to Western Australia, where the area of Margaret River boasts a town known for boutique wine producers. Whilst the area is responsible for 3% of Australian wine, it produces 20% of the country's premium wines.
Margaret River is on the coast, south of Perth where it enjoys a humid Mediterranean climate, cooled by fresh sea breezes that produce high quality fruit flavours in the grapes.
The Vasse Felix winery is Margaret River’s founding wine estate and was established in 1967. It acquired its name from a seaman called Thomas Vasse, who was believed to have drowned when swept overboard from his vessel in 1801. To bring luck to the winery, the word "Felix" was added, meaning "lucky". However, the grapes on the first vines planted were destroyed either by rot or got eaten by native birds, so a peregrine falcon was brought in to scare off the birds.
This also proved disastrous, as the peregrine flew off into the woods on its first release, never to return. The peregrine lives on as a depiction on the wine labels, and thankfully the winery is thriving in 2018.
Unlike the chablis, this chardonnay is full bodied, having been fermented in french oak barriques (smaller than barrels to concentrate oak flavours better). The wine has been allowed to undergo its natural malolactic fermentation to produce buttery and toasty notes.
I have served this wine at a couple of tastings and it's fair to say that opinion was divided. For those that love an oaked chardonnay, they said this was bliss, but there were others who were less impressed with it.
This example is the "Filius" Chardonnay, but Vasse Felix also make a more premium chardonnay with a brown peregrine on the label. This wine will set you back around £28, and is available from online sellers, Laithwaites wine and the Sunday Times wine club.
Wine Three - Honeycomb Journey's End Chardonnay, M&S, £9
In South Africa, the region of Stellenbosch is synonymous with wine. Nestled between huge granite mountains and the ocean, there are many premium producers.
Journey's End Vineyards have been run by the Gabb family - originally from Shropshire - since the mid-90s. For this chardonnay, winemaker Leon Esterhuizen selects grapes grown on prime cool coastal sites in Stellenbosch, freshened by the cooling and cleansing south-easterly wind, known locally as the ‘Cape Doctor’, which comes in from the Atlantic Ocean.
Carefully ageing the wine for 6 months in French oak brings subtle complexity and finesse to this rich but still refreshing wine. It is scented with subtle, aromas of toasted almonds and moreish flavours of fresh apples and peach. Beautifully balanced, the wine is ready for drinking and will keep for 3 years.
So, take the opportunity to dive into a Chardonnay this national day, and I hope you find a new favourite!