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Return of the Chard

Cityscape talks to Pegasus Bay Wine's Edward Donaldson (left) and Waipara Hill Wine's Simon McGeorge (right) about the Chardonnay renaissance.

Winemakers

Once the darling of the 80s white wine set, Chardonnay fell hard and fast from grace, going from ‘It drink’ to ABC (anything but Chardonnay) almost overnight. Pop culture hasn’t been kind either, between Bridget Jones’ Chardonnay-fuelled escapades and Kath & Kim dropping the ‘h’ and introducing ‘Car-donnay’ to the world, but the once-maligned grape is now ripe for a comeback. So what went wrong?

Pegasus Bay Wine’s Edward Donaldson believes heavy-handed winemaking, over-the-top use of oak and Tall Poppy syndrome played their parts, while Waipara Hills Wine’s Simon McGeorge points to changing tastes and the excitement surrounding Chardonnay’s successor Pinot Gris’ arrival in 2003. Both agree that modern winemaking techniques have now re-elevated the previously cumbersome drop.

“A lot of winemakers have sought a much greater degree of balance between their ‘winemaking’ influences (i.e oak and malo) with their fruit characters, allowing people to see the fruit between the trees,” says Simon. “I think there’s also a greater desire to get more integration between the different flavour aspects, making the wines more seamless and elegant.”

So what should we be looking for in a killer Chardonnay? “Great Chardonnay is more than just fruit and oak. In my opinion it has a degree of minerality that gives it an extra dimension of complexity and interest,” says Edward. “I’m a sucker for a hint of ‘struck match’ in my Chard, something you often see in white Burgundy and are starting to see more in the best new world examples. I love drinking Chardonnay where the wine maker is pushing the boundaries, but hasn’t gone too far. It’s a fine line!”

For Simon it’s a combination: “Chardonnay can have many guises, but I always like to see good fruit expression complemented with well-balanced oak and in a style that works with the fruit. I’m a big fan and follower of texture, and Chardonnay should certainly exhibit weight, yet the natural acidity should always be there at the end to lift and brighten the finish. Whatever the style, it should be a wine of layers and complexity.”

For maximum enjoyment, both recommend a slight chilling before serving. Time to jump back on the Chardonnay appreciation bandwagon then!

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