Grapevine: A versatile variety
Chardonnay is the fifth-most planted grape variety in the world, but it is planted in the most wine-growing countries of the world.
In Australia it makes up 15 per cent of total vineyard area and 50 per cent of the white wine crushed as of 2016. Despite its short period being out of favour it remained a very important grape around the world and is seeing its popularity come roaring back now. If you’ve been off the bandwagon for a while, International Chardonnay Day next Thursday might just be the excuse you need to dip your toe back in to the pond.
The fact that the grape is grown in just about every grape growing country is a testament to how versatile it is. It doesn’t have a very dominant flavour like, say, Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier does, and it can easily integrate flavours drawn from the full gamut of winemaking tools thus it makes a perfect candidate for new vineyard plantings where the grower may not yet know what is going to suit their site best.
Its versatility in the vineyard is demonstrated by its plantings across so many different regions – from the cool, marginal climates of northern France in Champagne, Chablis to the warmer climates of the Languedoc down south. Equally, if you were to name an Australian region whether it be cool or warm climate, you will likely find Chardonnay planted.
Few people tend to ask about the fine details of winemaking applied to most white grapes, yet with Chardonnay these are often crucial details in the decision to try or buy any given Chardonnay – it is by and large the flavours from winemaking technique that are the front of mind rather than fruit or varietal flavours. This makes it quite an easy grape to manipulate for the tastes of the market – during the 1990s and early 2000s bigger was better and the more toast, butter and body in a Chardonnay the better. By around 2010 this was very much out of favour and so too Chardonnay until winemakers swung the other way pursuing lower alcohol wines with crisp, dry styles showing minimal oak influence and lean flavour spectrums. We have now settled nicely between these two extremes, and yet again Chardonnay benefits from its versatility where most other white grapes cannot handle the stylistic change required to satisfy each and every change in popular taste.
As much as its versatility makes it an easy wine to enjoy for the broad middle ground of wine drinkers who tend to drink with the current trend, Chardonnay too can make the most precise compelling wines for the fanatics. In its lack of unique, dominant flavour character it can take on the unique characters of a vineyard no matter how minute they are – arguably the peak of this is found in Chablis, one of the trendiest wine regions at the moment, where vineyards are delineated and ranked for their distinctive qualities down to mere metres and which vary remarkably over similarly small distances. So too can it provide an interesting canvas for the varied styles within each Australian region, however we’re still in our infancy of this process compared to Chablis or Burgundy as a whole.
Mermerus Chardonnay 2019 – $26
A local winery that surprisingly continues to fly under the radar given their consistent quality has really hit the nail on the head for where Chardonnay is at now. The 2019 Mermerus leads with a mix of just ripe stone fruits, some barrel aging on its lees lends breadth and depth to the flavours and textures as it moves across the palate, the oak again comes in to play along with a small portion of malolactic fermentation through the finish, which is slightly buttery and smooth while well-pitched acid provides a clean and clear framework carrying the flavours from start to the long finish.