There’s a global Chardonnay revival underway – and it’s about time, too. The noble grape that reaches such sublime heights in Burgundy famously fell from grace through a mix of over-exposure (think Bridgett Jones and Footballers Wives) and overblown wannabes from the New World. And, I have to admit, for a while we all loved those styles. Sun-drenched, oak-laden, blockbuster wines that were so rich and buttery you could almost spread them on your toast, packed with flavor and ripeness that was so often missing in rival Chardonnays from the Old World.
Then the wheel turned and these big, blousy styles of Chardonnay were cold-shouldered in favour of something subtler. Fashion dictated that lighter, crisper, unoaked wines were a more sophisticated choice, so Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio became the staples of the chattering classes. But good old Chardonnay is poised to make a welcome return. In fact, its renaissance is already well under way. Except this time it’s typically leaner and cleaner, cut from a finer cloth that is more in tune with the subtle sophistication of our palates today.
This new wave of Chardonnay is all about crisp, elegant styles of wine, and Argentina is turning out some beautifully crafted examples. At their best, these are wines that serve as a sublime reminder that this grape produces many of the greatest white wines in the world. Peering through my various tasting notes on Argentine wines from recent trips and tastings, I’m struck by how often Chardonnay (like the famous Malbec) scales the greatest heights and garners the highest scores.
There’s no great mystery as to why Chardonnay performs so well in Argentina. The country’s high-altitude vines are in the perfect location to tease out the best from this noble variety. Ample sun ripens, certainly, but warm days are balanced by cool nights that allow the fruit to rest and capture the more subtle aromas and flavours in the grapes. Acidity, too, remains crisp and zingy, providing a refreshing ‘backbone’ to the wine, which also allows it to age with grace. Add in a lick of mineral complexity from the suitably poor and rocky mountain soils, polish with a very subtle hint of well-integrated fine French oak barrel, and the recipe is a clear winner.
Better yet, as Argentina is perhaps not the first country that springs to people’s minds when they are seeking out Chardonnays, many of the wines are good value.
As a rule of thumb, it’s the cooler, higher altitude vineyards of Mendoza that are producing some of the greatest Chardonnays. Wines that are ripe in flavor, yes, but also with a refreshing elegance and creamy depth, all knit together with a finesse that suggests – like good white Burgundy – these Chardonnays will continue to evolve with age. Look out for the wines from producers such as Catena Zapata, Septima, Tapiz, Argento, O. Fournier and many other leading estates besides for a taste of what’s on offer, and you won’t be disappointed.
As the global Chardonnay revival gathers pace, Argentina is fantastically well placed to compete with the best the world has to offer. And, for now at least, this quality comes at a price that’s hard to beat.