One of the unexpected pleasures that comes from broadening your personal wine palate is the confidence you gain to return to a more travelled path with a better perspective. Case in point: enjoying chardonnay.
Popularity can be a curse in any business because it usually means everyone wants your product. In the case of chardonnay, global demand saw many vines established in vineyards where they never should have been planted. The resulting, boring wine shaped the image of varietal chardonnay wine for decades, taking it a long way from its original Burgundian home where the winemaking rule of thumb is: less is more.
Whether it was too sweet, too oaky, too rich in alcohol, or all three, the old New World chardonnay that everyone reached for - as late as a decade ago - has undergone an extreme makeover. The results are exciting.
Once you have experienced the liveliness of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, the crisp clean vivacity of the Loire Valley's Sancerre offerings or the cool, lean, modern coastal labels of Chilean sauvignon, you will demand that same vivacity in your chardonnay.
Similarly, after tasting German riesling, Italian cortese (used in Gavi), South African chenin blanc and, closer to home in British Columbia, our super fresh rieslings and pinot gris offerings, your palate will demand similar dynamism in your chardonnay.
For those willing to change and mix modern thinking with ancient practices, we have a whole new spectrum of delicious tasting chardonnay to choose from.
This week we present a number of possibilities in time for summer's late arrival. All you need do is add the poultry (chicken, turkey or quail) or seafood. Halibut or swordfish, line caught of course, are an excellent pairing. Likewise, seafood pasta and risotto dishes work well with chardonnay, as does the creamy texture of polenta. Don't forget local Dungeness crab and a little drawn butter - it's a match made in heaven.
Australia may seem like an odd place to begin our modern chardonnays, considering some of the oak bombs of the past, but the Penfolds Koonunga Hill Chardonnay 2010 ($16) fits the bill with its citrus, green apple skin, pear and honey aromas and its fresh, crisp, palate marked with baked pear, green apple skin, nectarine, butter and grapefruit flavours. A skinnier, cooler style chardonnay, Koonunga Hill is still sourced from multiple districts with significant contributions from South Australia's Clare and Padthaway sub-regions.
If unoaked and organically grown fruit are important you'll love the Cono Sur Organic Chardonnay 2010 ($14.50). Expect its trademark clean fruit with gooseberry and passion fruit aromas mixed with just off-dry fruit flavoured with citrus, guava and passion fruit notes and a swath of minerality. Talk about a wine that over-delivers.
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