To coincide with International Chardonnay Day and the launch of a new pop-up wine bar from Hardy’s Wine on 23rd May, we talk to wine blogger and expert Belinda Stone from Miss Bouquet about why the grape is back in trend
Why did Chardonnay get such a bad name?
Consumers fell out of love with Chardonnay because it became too much of a good thing. Chardonnay was everywhere; it went from a wine enthusiast’s favourite to a mainstream commercial commodity. People tend to blame Bridget Jones, but I think it was the coining of the phrase A.B.C. (Anything But Chardonnay) that put the nail in the coffin: people remembered it and unfortunately it just stuck.
Why is it now back in favour?
Winemakers of the previously oaky, butterscotch style of Chardonnay which went out of fashion have responded to the rise in popularity of a fresher style of white similar to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, by creating a much leaner and more elegant Chardonnay with less oak. In the warmer Chardonnay producing countries like Australia they’ve been more selective with where the grape is grown, focusing more on cooler climates, which produces wines that are less alcoholic, less heavy in style and fresher as a result.
There has also been a general shift in attitude towards Chardonnay and wine as a whole. A recent survey revealed that 18% of people believe Chardonnay’s reputation is improving and 18% of people are drinking more Chardonnay than they were just one year ago.
There’s been a recent boom in ‘trendy’ wine bars and events across London in particular and we’re seeing consumers become much more discerning about their tipple of choice, as well as the younger generation taking an interest in wine as a whole. Australian wine brand Hardys are launching a pop-up Chardonnay wine bar called the 1853 Club, to celebrate International Chardonnay Day on 23rd May – there is a definite trend and passion for wine at the moment which is exciting.
What has taken its place as the ‘anything but’ grape?
Merlot had it’s ‘anything but’ moment around 2005 but different wines and grapes hold different appeal to different audiences depending on taste, occasion, preferences etc. One could argue that Pinot Grigio might be the next wine to become the ‘anything but’ grape as many of the Pinot Grigios on the market tend to lack any flavour at all. Which is another argument in favour of Chardonnay as many of these wines offer just the right level of character and intensity – it’s not too much, it’s not too little, ensuring drinkers are always guaranteed a delicious mouthful.
What regions should we be looking to buy good value Chardonnays?
Australia is the ‘King’ of excellent value Chardonnay. My favourite for value for money has to be William Hardy Chardonnay blended in South Australia. It’s a blend of cool and warm climate fruit, it has a hint of oak and a fruitiness and freshness that all good Chardonnay should have. My favourite to splash the cash is the iconic vintage Eileen Hardy Chardonnay – if you can get your hands on it!
What food would you pair it with?
The great thing about Chardonnay is that it’s a hugely versatile grape so there is a style of Chardonnay to suit every season and pretty much every dish. Light, cool climate fresh examples of Chardonnay like Chablis will go well with seafood and fish. Richer, oakier styles go well with creamy dishes like carbonara and a British favourite fish & chips. An all-round winner for any type of Chardonnay is roast chicken. The fresher, younger, unoaked styles are great for quaffing on their own and some of the more complex and intense Chardonnays like Eileen Hardy Chardonnay is such a mouthful, it’s almost a meal in itself!
What should we look for when choosing wine in a pub or restaurant and aren’t familiar with the domains?
Grape variety is the next best thing but if there are a couple of wines made from the same grape but produced in different countries then think about where the wines are from. If they’re from hot countries then the style is more likely to be big, ripe and fruity, if it’s from a cooler climate then it’s likely to be more elegant in style, fresher and lighter. You can then hopefully narrow down the list to find a style of wine that you’re in the mood to drink!
Do you think wine is seasonal? Often people drink more white or rose in the summer for example? What are good summer reds instead?
I think that different people have different preferences with their wine choices dependent on the weather, the occasion, what they’re eating and so on. That said, a chilled glass of white or rosé is always the perfect tipple for a warm summers day in the garden or at a picnic. You can also find some light reds which are perfect for those occasions, my favourites are Pinot Noir (from pretty much anywhere) and Beaujolais, they’re good served at room temperature but pop them in the fridge for 30 minutes before serving and try them chilled too, you might be surprised to find that a red wine can be refreshing too!
What wine region are you excited about at the moment?
I think the Australian wine market is producing some really interesting and varied wines at the moment as wine makers are adapting their techniques to provide some really delicious options for wine lovers. Areas which I am particularly fond of include Adelaide Hills in South Australia which has been producing some amazing Sauvignon Blancs as well as Western Australia which has been perfecting some of the country’s finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
What’s your ideal food and wine pairing?
I love a lightly oaked Chardonnay with fish and chips, one of my favourites is William Hardy Chardonnay which makes the perfect accompaniment – I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that! It also wonderfully complements good old-fashioned, British cheeses. I’m actually working with Hardys wine to launch a pop-up for Londoners, to experience unique chardonnay and cheese pairing tastings for International Chardonnay Day. It’s called Hardys 1853 Club open bank holiday weekend (23rd – 24th May). Wine lovers will be able to try a diverse menu of Hardys’ Chardonnays, alongside a specially paired menu of Alex James’ very own artisan cheeses from the ‘Alex James Presents’ range.
I’ll be holding tasting sessions – spaces are limited so book online now at Hardy1853Club.eventbrite.co.uk!
Hardys’ 1853 Club opens its doors for a limited time only from 23 – 24 May at No.5 Great Newport Street, London. WC2H 7HY.