Samui Wining & Dining
Classy or Trashy?

Chardonnay is back… and unfortunately, so is Bridget Jones.


Page-26After years in the doldrums, Chardonnay is in favour again with critics and consumers alike. Indeed, it was revealed last year that the much-loved Richard Briers had left £250 in his will for Peter Egan, his co-star in the British TV sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles, ‘to spend on Chardonnay’. But it hasn’t been an easy ride for the Chardonnay grape. Its heyday was in the 90s, thanks to successful marketing and the increasing availability and popularity of wine by the glass in bars and pubs. The Chardonnay grape is so easy to grow in many climates, that it was produced in huge volumes. And in some cases, the quality suffered. So in many ways, Chardonnay was simply a victim of its own success. It had the dubious distinction of being the favourite tipple of the fictional comic character Bridget Jones. Then there was the humiliation caused by a shady character called Chardonnay, featured in the trashy television series Footballers’ Wives! Not surprisingly, eventually the wine became associated with the mantra ‘ABC,’ which in case you don’t know is, “Anything But Chardonnay”. Those of us in the trade, were quietly amused by diners in our restaurants at the time, who snobbishly insisted they were ‘ABC,’ then ordered a Chablis or Meursault, both of which are made with Chardonnay grapes!

      Thankfully we live in more enlightened times, and at last, Chardonnay is justifiably winning back the respect of the wine consumer. British supermarkets found their Chardonnay sales rose by 16 % in 2013. And the US wine market is also reporting major sales increases. This is could be partly down to changes in the way Chardonnay is produced. Modern versions are aged in stainless steel tanks, not oak barrels, and are crisp and refreshing, in tune with the recent preference for Sauvignon Blanc. Personally, I am very pleased for the growers of great Chardonnays that it’s back in vogue. The good ones never deserved to go out of fashion, as anyone who has a taste for top white Burgundy or premium New World Chardonnays will know, it’s a spectacularly food friendly wine. And particularly so when it comes to fish and seafood. I always thought that saying you're bored with Chardonnay is a bit like saying you’re bored with chicken or bread. There’s good and bad chicken, fabulous bread and truly awful bread. But you don’t reject it outright because of the bad stuff.

      I love the new Australian Chardonnays. They still shine through with Aussie sunlight, but they glitter in a way the old ones did not. If you taste them in the morning, you want to drink them for breakfast (and I promise I do not feel this way about many wines). It’s all about where the grapes come from, and a move towards cooler climate vineyards. The grapes in the Australian Chardonnays I want to drink are likely to have come from Margaret River on the west coast, Tasmania, or Adelaide Hills in the South.

      One important aspect to remember about Chardonnay, when pairing with food, is that it’s not just one wine. Getting the best out of a Chardonnay depends on its style and where it’s made. Whether or not it’s oaked, and how mature it is when you drink it. Here’s some food pairing suggestions for the three different styles.

     Young, un-oaked, cool climate Chardonnay. Such as: the classic and most austere example of this is Chablis, but other young white Burgundies would fall into this category.

       Good matches: they’re perfect with light and delicate food, like gently cooked shellfish, steamed or grilled fish, fish pâtés, chicken and light pasta or risotto dishes. They also go well with creamy vegetable soups. Finer, more intense examples such as Puligny-Montrachet can take on sushi and sashimi, or delicately spiced fish or salads. Chablis is particularly good with oysters.

         Fruitier, un-oaked or lightly oaked Chardonnays. Such as: Chardonnays from slightly warmer areas and made in a more contemporary style - smooth, sometimes buttery with melon and peach flavours. Examples would be inexpensive Chardonnays from the south of France, Chile, New Zealand and South Africa.

         Good matches: slightly richer dishes than those listed above, but ones where a degree of freshness in the wine is still welcome. Fish pie and fish cakes, any simple salmon preparations (poached or with a buttery sauce), lobster, chicken, pork or pasta in a creamy sauce, ham or cheese-based salads such as Caesar or chicken salads that include fruits like peach or mango, and mild Indian style curries with buttery sauces.

         Full bodied, oak-aged Chardonnays. Such as: barrel-fermented, barrel-aged or ‘reserve’ Chardonnays, particularly top end Australian, New Zealand and Californian.

         Good matches: again similar dishes to above, but can take an extra degree of richness. Sumptuous dishes like eggs Benedict, or even a steak Béarnaise, fine rich fish such as turbot, grilled veal chops, vegetables like red peppers, corn, butternut squash and pumpkin, and Cheddar cheese dishes. You can even drink a rich Chardonnay with seared foie gras.

         What Chardonnay is not so good with. Smoked fish and meats, light fresh cheeses such as goat or sheep’s cheeses, which are better with Sauvignon Blanc, or an aged red, respectively. Seared salmon or tuna, which are better with a light red, like Pinot Noir. Tomato-based dishes, which are better with dry Italian whites or reds. Chinese food is better with German Riesling. And unfortunately, Chardonnay is not good with pungent Thai flavours, any much sweeter fuller-bodied well-chilled white or rosé wine will match better.


Peter James


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