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Anything but Chardonnay? 23 May is International Chardonnay day!

Celebrating Chardonnay this International Chardonnay Day

Chardonnay, often considered the grape of the world’s greatest white wines, is one of the most widely-planted and diverse wine varietals in the world. Yet, there's a curious paradox in the wine world: many wine lovers declare, "I love Chablis," while in the same breath, some might say, "I hate Chardonnay." International Chardonnay day is a good opportunity to explore Chardonnay in a global sense, take a look at the various styles of wine produced, and the challenges this grape variety faces in the era of climate change.

The Chablis vs. Chardonnay Dilemma

The statement "I love Chablis but hate Chardonnay" stems from the very versatility of Chardonnay as a grape. Chablis, a region in northern France, produces some of the most revered Chardonnay wines, known for their crisp, minerally, and unoaked (or, at most, partially-oaked) expressions. These wines are a very different expression to the rich, buttery, and heavily oaked Chardonnays that gained popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly in regions like California. On the other end of the scale, cheaper oaked styles, where oak chips gave the wine its flavour, arrived in Europe and enjoyed a period of great success (although they fell out of favour and haven't recovered their popularity. "Unoaked" is now often pointedly written on the label of a cheaper Chardonnay)

This divergence in styles is at the heart of the love-hate relationship. Chablis offers a pure, fresh, and terroir-driven experience, often showcasing high acidity and flavours of green apple, citrus, and flint. On the other hand, oaked Chardonnays, especially those from warmer climates, can be full-bodied with notes of vanilla, butter, and tropical fruits. Wine drinkers who prefer lighter, more acidic wines gravitate towards Chablis, while those with a palate for richer, creamier wines might favour New World Chardonnays.

Chardonnay's Global Popularity

Despite the mixed opinions, Chardonnay remains popular. It's planted in virtually every wine-producing country, with significant acreage in France, the United States, Australia, and Chile and emerging wine regions like the UK are also exploring the varietal. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in Chardonnay, particularly in the more restrained, unoaked styles. This trend is seen in the increased production of Chablis-like wines in regions outside of Burgundy, such as cooler parts of Australia, New Zealand, and California. Additionally, sparkling wines and Champagne made from Chardonnay are celebrated for their elegance and finesse.

Chardonnay is a versatile choice for food pairing. Sharper, mineral styles like Chablis are a perfect match to oysters and seafood, while richer oakier styles pair well with rich dishes with creamy sauces, especially noble fish like Turbot or Halibut, or a simple omelette with fresh truffle.

Climate Change

As with most grape varieties, Chardonnay is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Rising temperatures can affect the grape's acidity and flavour profile, posing challenges for winemakers who strive to maintain the characteristic balance and complexity of style.

In warmer regions, higher temperatures can lead to over-ripe grapes, resulting in wines with lower acidity and higher alcohol levels. To combat this, some winemakers are exploring higher altitude vineyards or cooler microclimates to preserve the grape's natural acidity. Additionally, innovative vineyard management techniques and adaptive winemaking practices are being employed to mitigate the effects of climate change.

We grow our Chardonnay at high-altitude in our Lagrasse vineyards of Château Auzines in the Corbières. The micro-climate is cool, with morning fog and high humidity in winter and spring, which keeps the natural acidity high. We harvest by night to preserve the freshness and we have a winery on-site so the grapes have minimal exposure before pressing.

Lieu-dit, La Croix Chardonnay

From the best plots at Château Auzines, La Croix is a low-production wine which is partially aged for 12 months in new oak. It’s a gourmet style, reminiscent of top quality Burgundy.

Cote 228 Pech Clamensou Chardonnay

Named for the average altitude of the vineyards above Lagrasse, this Chardonnay is partially (25%) aged for 3 months in new oak barrels, which adds a creamy texture to this fresh, mineral style.

This International Chardonnay day, why not raise a glass to Chardonnay, the grape that can be anything you want it to be.

Words by Laura Peterson


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