May 24 marked International Chardonnay Day, celebrated in the Kingdom with a magnificent tasting event of a worldly selection of fine wines extracted from the noble variety at Est Bar on the capital’s Street 214.
The Chardonnay grape variety is arguably the most famous white grape variety of them all; as Master of Wine Jancis Robinson recalled, during the last decades of the first millennium, when New World producers began putting grape varieties on the front labels of their wines, it was Chardonnay that made the most friends.
It was at a time when Chardonnay became a name more familiar to the world’s wine buyers than any of the geographically-named wines this variety had for centuries produced.
However, Chardonnay is indeed a grape variety and not the finished article.
The traditional home of the variety is undoubtedly France where the names of the regions that produce Chardonnay wines have become synonymous with producing very high quality white wines; especially Champagne, Montrachet, Chablis and Meursault.
Whilst in the 1980s, Chardonnay wines from California in the USA, from Australia in regions such as the Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills and Margaret River and Chile from its many excellent wine valleys began to not only gather an international reputation for themselves, but along the way make good quality, affordable.
In Champagne, the variety is one of the three main varieties blended to make Champagne, the other two being Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Blanc de Blanc Champagne is Champagne made with 100 percent Chardonnay and the variety brings a richness to the mousse and that lovely nuttiness and biscotti character to the sparkling wines.
In Chablis where the grapes are grown in Kimmeridgian limestones which contain tiny fossilized oysters called ‘exogyra virgula’, the wines produced are medium-bodied with incredible intensity of fruit (apples and pear) and a tension between their power and the chalky acidity from their soils, these are amazing wines just perfect with shellfish.
Further south in Burgundy the variety reaches its zenith in Montrachet, where a single bottle can sell for thousands of dollars. There is a richness to the wines here, balanced by intense acidity and maturation in oak barrels which give add an intoxicating ‘match-head’ smoky note, they are incredible, complex wines perfect with all manner of seafood, especially salmon.