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How Chardonnay was finally taken seriously

So the question this week is how did Chardonnay become so popular anyway?

Let’s first look at a bit of history. What is the difference between Old World and New World wines?

Old World wines come essentially from Europe, and in Europe things have been fairly traditional for a very long time.

Wine was made in Greece and Turkey and probably the Middle East thousands of years ago.

The Romans were responsible for spreading the art of winemaking through Europe and certainly because they couldn't grow it here, imported wine to England during their time in this country.

Around the 1600s the world was beginning to be explored, and from this time on settlers took viticulture to the new worlds that were being found.

New World wines then are wines made in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Americas, and all those countries that have been recently settled by Europeans.

The Chardonnay grape turned out to be one that grew very well in many areas.

But it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that Chardonnay began to be taken seriously. Plantings were established in Australia and in California in a small way. Fast forward to the mid-20th century and the world’s demand for wine began to accelerate.

Winemakers were beginning to compete and the Chardonnay grape was perfect for producing white wine. Some tried to produce bigger and more oaky flavours and in these sunny and hot places Chardonnay made huge flavours full of stone fruits guava and passion fruit.

As demand grew, huge plantings were made and smart marketing became the driver.

It worked. In the early 90s in the world’s wine bars, ordering a glass of Chardonnay was considered very stylish. Nowadays customers are looking for lighter wines such as Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and increasingly Riesling.

So huge sales of Chardonnay were driven by the New World wine business.

In the Old World, the traditionalists producing Champagne, Mersault, Puligny Montrachet and Chablis (all from the Chardonnay grape) are finding their sales increasing as New World Chardonnay has reduced a little.

It is a fascinating story and one that isn't fully played out yet. We are going to see New World Chardonnay refined and refined until it rivals many of the classic Old World styles.

Wines of the week
Plantaganet Omrah unoaked Chardonnay (£11.95) – beautifully fruity Chardonnay from the Great Southern region south of the Margaret River near Perth.

Innocent Bystander Chardonnay (£10.99) from the Yarra Valley in the Victoria region of Southern Australia – a perfect example of restrained oaked Chardonnay, which comes close to the French style.

By Nick Shill
Published: February 6, 2012


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