I was a bit late to the party with Chardonnay. As A, B, C (or Anything But Chardonnay) was taking hold, it was 1995 and I was just getting installed as Manager of my first wine shop.
This was Worcester, beautiful place to grow up and wine-wise very middle class and middle of the road. France, Italy and Spain was still very much where you looked for quality wine; the New World section was mostly Lindemans Bin 65, Jacob’s Creek and the odd quality wine that showed there was activity aplenty elsewhere – it just hadn’t really found us yet.
So as I was getting started, the sophisticated new adopters of Nether Wallop, Pratts Bottom and Kidderminster were already at the point where they had started rejecting the big oaky and full-bodied Chardonnays that were really all Worcester really new Australia and California for.
I didn’t notice, I was too excited!
The point to all this is that almost 20 years after that, plenty of people I know still have an aversion to Chardonnay whilst declaring their undying commitment to wines that are very similar in style to Chardonnays from places perhaps less familiar. As it happens, I got a lesson of my own yesterday when trying to prove the point that Chardonnay is not the devil in a bottle (and nor has it been for years)…
I’ve never been a fan of the bloke in the wine shop (not Dan Murphy’s!). He never says hello, goodbye or even thank you despite my spending at least as much in his shop as I do at the supermarket next door. Consequently I avoid him as much as I can. Anyway, I was trying to demonstrate the variety of Chardonnays that are out there by contrasting and comparing three examples and had been quite disappointed by the heavy Australian example I was initially recommended. Not because it was bad, but because it was light, fresh and well-balanced. Lovely, but I was after heavy and oaky!
So I went to buy another one to better illustrate the point but on scouring the aisles, all I could see was Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Margaret River and other cooler climate options. Upon asking the grumpy bloke’s much more pleasant colleague to recommend a really heavy, warm climate Chardonnay, she looked at me a bit blankly and said she’d find someone else to help me. Of course, it was him.
When I asked for the aforementioned big, heavy Chardonnay but under $20, he (predictably) skipped the pleasantries and not unlike like Darryl Kerrigan considering the price of jousting sticks, said (les predictably) “You’re dreaming.”
And there’s the rub: As a purchaser of Aussie wines, unless you’re spending bigger bucks, you’re going to struggle to find the very thing you’re trying to avoid in a Chardonnay, let alone run the risk of actually bumping into it! And if you’re actually looking for the bit, buttery ones you’re probably best looking to California.
So now I really can’t be bothered contrasting the two! The tasting notes for both are already posted and the obvious point for the fan of the crisper wine is that there is a Chardonnay out there for you. There’s loads of them!
If you’re one who still cringes over the memory of over-oaked (probably with chips, which are a very poor alternative to barrel ageing) and over-ripe wines that can’t refresh, no matter how much you chill them, I challenge thee:
Head to Dan Murphy’s, buy the Petit Chablis I recently reviewed and give it a go. Alternatively ask for another recommendation, but aim for something produced in stainless steel, to strip back the oak and vanilla and get a really crispy drop. You might be pleasantly surprised and if so, head closer to home and try some cooler climate Aussies. Who knows, you might even dare to order one in public!
As an aside, the grumpy wine shop fella gave the kids a cap each as we left the store and I had to reflect on whether I’ve judged him too harshly. Negative. Not only is he rude, he’s now trying to hook my children into the demon drink by seducing them with free merchandise! I might report him.
BTW, in case you care here’s a link to the Frank Prial article in 1995 that first coined the phrase ‘A. B. C.’