The renown of the Chardonnay grape has now truly spread right around the world, but it has often been the subject of a love-hate relationship. It seems to come in cycles – when people fall out of love with the Chardonnay grape they may gravitate towards other grapes like Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier or Riesling. When they’ve had their fill of those, there’s a resurgence of Chardonnay.
There are several reasons for this ebb and flow. It can be hard to get quality, Burgundy-standard Chardonnay in far-flung corners of the world. Sometimes trends change, or there’s a new kid on the block. Many ex-pats living all over the world try to obtain Chardonnays they can rekindle their love for the grape with, but sometimes it’s just not possible.
Unless, that is, you live in the USA. Happily, Burgundy Chardonnays (and a great selection of red wines too) are supplied by Elden Selections to the States, meaning exceptional wines are on hand at very reachable prices. Great Chardonnay doesn’t have to be expensive. Elden works with a number of small producers and stocks a type of Chardonnay to suit every palate. Oaked, unoaked, youthful, older – the fun is in trying them until you fall in love with one.
Chardonnay is unique in that it will easily take on the characteristics of the winemaker, allowing them to really put their stamp on the wine. Take the simple but modern elegance of Domaine Oudin’s Chablis wines; starting at under $35 a bottle, they will remind anyone lucky enough to drink them why Chardonnay has stuck around, and what it’s capable of when it’s done properly. Then there’s Agnes Paquet, holder of an important parcel of vines in the appellation Auxey-Duresses since the mid-1950s and who produces a range of great Chardonnays, again starting under $35. And there’s a lesson in restrained use of oak from the Château de Vergisson, who use new oak very judiciously, and only on certain ‘cuvees’.
Those who can spend a little more will find Domaine Jean Fery’s organic white wines something to really write home about, especially his Premier Cru wines. And to really prove the staying power of quality, look no further than Jean-Jacques Girard. His family was growing grapes in Savigny-lès-Beaune back in 1529. Again, there’s something for all tastes and budgets – from under $35 right up to the superlative Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru. Never mind ‘anything but Chardonnay’ - those tasting these wines will be more likely to subscribe to the view of “anything as long as it’s Chardonnay”.
Chardonnay is globally popular now (covering nearly half a million acres worldwide) and has been so since its heyday in the 1980s and 1990s. But the use of oak then seemed to go from judicious to overdrive; in others the quality just wasn’t there, and a sort of Chardonnay-fatigue set in. It was simply everywhere, and mass consumption did little for the quality.
But in the end, Chardonnay has a deserving place in the wine world – and the quality has improved substantially. We’re now in a sort of Chardonnay renaissance. Burgundy has been the most consistent and as the spiritual home of the Chardonnay grape, still produces the best the world has to offer. But it remains crucial to know your producer, and Elden’s decades of relationships with the best of the lesser appellations means this has never been easier to achieve.