All things Chardonnay: say goodbye to the ABC club

Dubbed ‘the winemaker’s grape’, Chardonnay is loved by wine aficionados the world over for its sheer versatility. But somehow in the past few decades, this same varietal became public enemy number one.

Big, sickly, over-oaked styles from the New World have a lot to answer for. Those working in both the On and Off Trade will have experienced, at least once, the customer who hates Chardonnay point-blank. The irony? They often like Chablis. But absolutely not Chardonnay.

Easy as ABC

Despite the boom in interest in wine in England from the 1960s onwards, there was still a general lack of knowledge among consumers. Chardonnay was a lucky grape – it’s easier to say than Gewurztraminer, there’s no regionality to confuse you (in the New World, anyway), and it was widely available. So one could open a wine list and order a Chardonnay confidently.

Bibendum wine educator Monica Allan explains: “Back in the 1980s, Australia in particular was mass producing big, often crudely-oaked Chardonnays full of vanilla, and overtly buttery.” By the noughties, consumers were tired of these heavy styles and their sweet, unsubtle oak – even if they couldn’t identify the problem.

This wave of consumers was grouped into the so-called ‘ABC club’, or Anything But Chardonnay. But this group is slowly ageing, becoming more educated, and diversifying their dinnertime repertoire.

No more haters

The average list price of Chardonnay increased by 10% in the last year in premium On Trade outlets*, recognising a shift in consumer preference. “Gone are the days of ‘Anything But Chardonnay,” says Paul Brown, Bibendum business development manager. “Opinions around Chardonnay are changing – and this is largely due to wineries, especially in the New World, evolving their styles to be leaner, with minimal use of oak."

“Premium Chardonnay from Burgundy has always been around at fine dining venues, but the category has suffered in pubs and casual dining. This is changing and we’re seeing Chardonnay move back onto restaurants’ core lists, becoming one of the preferred wines again.”

Monica agrees: “Nowadays when I ask my students about the ABC club, particularly the younger generations, they usually haven’t heard of it. There is a look of incredulity on the young somms’ faces as they consider why anyone would rule out this awesome variety entirely.”

A changing new world

We’re seeing more and more of an affinity with Chardonnay, and winemaking practices are returning to the balance and elegance perhaps more associated with the Old World.

“Now many Australian producers in particular are keen to claim their vineyards are cool climate, since this term has become synonymous with higher quality,” says Monica. “These areas (such as Yarra Valley, Tasmania and Mornington Peninsula) are moderated by Antarctic winds and/or higher altitudes, producing wines that are refined and elegant, with mouth-watering acidity, ripe fruit and a lean body. In reality, very few regions can be described as genuinely cool climate, but this is one way to move away from the connection of their wines to those that brought about the ABC club.”

From crisp to creamy

Domaine Jean Defaix Chablis

Chablis

Bright and refreshing, this classic Chablis is the epitome of fresh and lean.

Domaine Robert-Denogent Pouilly Fuisse Les Reisses

Macconais

Lemon, apple and ripe peach – just a hint of oak.

Josef Chromy Chardonnay

Tasmania

Fresh citrus, bright grapefruit and nectarine with subtle hints of walnuts.

Fraser Gallop Parterre Chardonnay

Margaret River

On the edge: Burgundian in style, Australian at heart. Fresh acidity and lightly-toasted French oak.

Catena Alta Chardonnay

Mendoza

Much riper. Pear, apricot and lemon meet flowers and smoke.

Walter Hansel North Slope Chardonnay

Russian River Valley

Getting hotter... Ripe, elegantly buttery, and full of tropical fruit.

Cooler-climate Chardonnay vs Warmer-climate Chardonnay

Fresh and lean Rich and ripe

Flavours:

- Citrus fruit like lime and lemon

- green fruit like kiwi and green apples

Flavours:

- More tropical citrus fruit like grapefruit

- Riper, tropical fruit like mango and banana

The oak:

- Tends to be used more sparsely

- Toasty, buttery and smokey

- Light vanilla

The oak:

- Brighter, more vibrant

- Vanilla-led

- Butterscotch and cream


Jess cut her teeth in the drinks industry throwing muddlers around behind the bar at Be At One. After a brief stint as an education journalist she found her way back to booze in the rather more sophisticated arena of wine, and was shown the ropes by the very best wine educators at Bibendum.

Leave a Comment

* Indicates a required field