Taking its name from the village in the Burgundy region of eastern France, Chardonnay has become the most widely distributed grape variety in the world. That’s resulted in a distinctive and very drinkable white wine that's produced everywhere from England to New Zealand and from Switzerland to South Africa. In France the grape also provides us with the beautifully crisp Chablis and the newer Viré-Clessé appellation from the Mâconnais region.
Oaked Chardonnays (those which have spent time in oak barrels) tend to be more complex and layered with notes of vanilla and caramel while un-oaked wines are brighter and crisper.
Here to help you celebrate Chardonnay Day on May 26 is a selection of the best on the supermarket shelves and from online retailers.
1. Fog Head Reserve Chardonnay 2013, 14.5%: £14.99, Waitrose Cellar
A Californian Chardonnay from a Monterey County vineyard fronting the Pacific, this is named after the early morning and evening ocean fogs which, together with the sunny days, bring a complex but balanced array of fruit and citrus flavours to the wine, together with notes of butter and vanilla. Enjoy with poultry, pork or pasta.
2. Sainsbury’s Limoux Chardonnay 2014, 13.5%: £8, Sainsbury’s
French winemaker Jean-Claude Mas produces this rich and satisfying Chardonnay in the Limoux wine region of the Aude. Imbued with flavours of ripe apricot and peach with notes of oak and vanilla, it’s a great accompaniment to moules marinière or white rind cheeses.
3. Marisco The King’s Legacy Chardonnay 2012, 13.5%: £13.99, Majestic
Named after a forebear of the Marisco family who was, so legend has it, one of the 35 illegitimate children sired by Henry I, this New Zealand Chardonnay from the renowned Marlborough region has a suitably regal flavour that’s won it awards and recommendations. Think lemon, apple and nectarines and a flavour so bright that it brings a little bit of sunshine into your life even on the dullest day.
4. Christophe Camu Chablis 2014, 12%: £15.95, Yapp
This is a light and refreshing un-oaked Chablis from a sixth-generation Burgundian winemaker. Enormous amounts of fruit flavours with a smidgen of minerality in there, too. Enjoy it now with shellfish or chicken, or keep it for another three to five years to see those flavours grow more complex.
5. M&S Florent Rouve Viré-Clessé 2014, 13%: £13.50 (£81 case of 6), Marks and Spencer
A lightly-oaked Chardonnay from the south of Burgundy, this is crisp and dry with lots of peach, citrus and honeysuckle flavours in the mix balanced by a trace of minerality. A fine wine from the Viré-Clessé Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) created in 1999, it’s a splendid accompaniment for white fish or chicken.
6. The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Chablis 2014, 12.5%: £9.99, Co-operative Food
This was a silver medal winner in the International Wine Challenge and it’s not hard to see why. This attractively priced Chablis has crisp and clean citrus flavour with an underlying note of green apples and flint. Chilled, it’s the perfect drink for a warm summer’s day.
7. Vidal Legacy Chardonnay Hawkes Bay 2014, 13.5%: £34.50, The New Zealand Wine Cellar
Want to splash out for a special occasion? Made in limited quantities from grapes grown in the finest Hawkes Bay vineyards, this New Zealand Chardonnay is class in a glass, matured for 10 months in oak barrels and good to keep for another five to eight years. You get complex, textured and elegant flavours with citrus and roasted nut notes.
8. Chapel Down Kit’s Coty Estate Chardonnay 2012, 12%: £17, Harvey Nichols
Here’s a turn-up for the books: an award-winning Chardonnay from an English wine-maker. This oaked reserve wine is named after a Neolithic monument close to the Kent vineyard where the grapes are grown, but there’s nothing ancient about the taste with apple and citrus aromas and a buttery, melon flavour offset by a hint of minerality.
9. AOC Bourgogne Côtes d'Auxerre 2012, 12.5%: £12.99, Vintage Roots
The family of Jean-Louis and Jean-Christophe Bersan have been making wine in Saint-Bris in northern Burgundy since the French revolution. The no-nonsense organic Chardonnay grown on the vineyard’s limestone slopes is worth manning the barricades for. A fruity and floral nose and a beautifully balanced flavour make this an ideal summer drink.
10. Eileen Hardy Chardonnay 2013, 13.5%: £25.99, Waitrose Cellar
From one of Australia’s biggest wine producers comes the cream of the crop. Only the best grapes of that year are picked for this Chardonnay named in honour of the family concern’s grand matriarch. It’s deep yellow in colour with a green hue and lashings of nectarine and peach flavours balanced by a hint of lemon and a mineral flintiness.
11. Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2014, 13%: £22.49, Amazon
From grapes grown on stony, clay-rich slopes of the Hemel-en-Arde valley in South Africa’s Western Cape, comes this complex but bright Chardonnay with prominent pear and lime flavours and a streak of dry minerality. This award-winning wine goes well with shellfish or chicken.
12. Chardonnay Réserve Le Vin Vivant 2009, 14%: £24, Alpine Wines
Switzerland isn’t just skiing and banking. The Swiss make some outstanding wines and this oaked Chardonnay from the Cave de La Côte, a co-operative producing more than 200 different vintages, is one of them. Flavours of pineapple, lemon and apple mingle with vanilla and butter to create an intense and fruity bouquet. Enjoy it with some Swiss cheese.
13. William Fèvre Petit Chablis 2014, 12%: £12.92 (£80 for case of 6), Wine Direct
From the heart of Burgundy comes this junior (but no less engaging) version of the great Chablis appellation. A wonderfully light, unoaked and lively summer wine with its citrus flavours enhanced by a natural mineral element. Drink by itself or with oysters, shellfish, prawns or even the odd escargot or two.
14. Holden Manz Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2014, 14%: £24.99, Hennings Wine
A South African wine that’s fermented in French oak barrels resulting in a beautiful straw-coloured wine with a naturally fresh mineral and crisp taste and oodles of fresh grapefruit and citrus flavours. An ideal accompaniment to seafood (it’s great with salmon) or chicken.
15. La Motte Chardonnay 2014, 12.5%: £16.49, SA Wines Online
Here’s a South African Chardonnay made from whole-bunch pressed grapes from one specific site fermented in 300-litre French oak barrels. This adds a hint of wood and toasted nut to the glorious fruit and citrus flavours that envelop you. A fresh and enlivening wine that worth savouring with a simple summer supper of fish, shellfish or seasonal vegetables.
A Chardonnay is a good winemaker's rite of passage, whether it's French Chardonnay or Chablis like the Sainsbury's Limoux or the Christophe Camu Chablis, or from further afield, such as the luscious Eileen Hardy Chardonnay from New Zealand or the premier Kit's Coty Estate from the Kent vineyards. For a different take, try the M&S Florent Rouve Viré-Clessé or the organic Bourgogne Côtes d'Auxerre. Our Best Buy is the delicious Fog Head Reserve Chardonnay from California.
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