The fall and rise of chardonnay

Over the past few months more has been written about chardonnay's comeback than just about any other subject concerning the wine industry.

In the end, the people who drink wine determine the grape and style. They go off a certain wine or style and the bottom can soon drop out of its market.

As it did for chardonnay back in the 1990s, when many winemakers followed the Aussie example and started throwing just about anything made of oak into the mix (including grandma's old oak dresser I suspect), often just to mask some pretty ordinary fruit.

Suddenly it became fashionable (which some mistook for clever) to join the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) club and even more fashionable to drink pinot gris and sauvignon blanc instead.

The problem was that many chardonnay producers, when they finally did respond, did so by reducing or eliminating the use of oak and the use of a secondary (malolactic) fermentation to soften and add texture to the wine.

In other words, they produced sharper, fruitier chardonnays, wines more likely to appeal to drinkers of the new, more fashionable and one- dimensional whites. Which they did, but obviously not enough.

And they appealed even less to those who had already discovered the delights of well-made, well-balanced chardonnay, complete with oak and meal and buttered toast, characters that were not eliminated but moderated by those with the sense to do so.

Tim Turvey, of Clearview, in Hawke's Bay, is one of the country's best-known producers of no-holds-barred chardonnay.

He has lived through it all and now makes eight different styles, including the ballsy stuff on which the winery built its reputation.

"We have simply become more careful about the way our chardonnays are made.

"But essentially, we are still driven by our customers. Always have been."

Customers who now include the Fine Wine Delivery Company, in Auckland, one of the biggest wine retailers in the country, which last year combined with Clearview to produce a chardonnay for its new Collaboration series.

This week Jeff Poole was back in Hawke's Bay to help blend another, this one from the 2013 vintage, which will be made in larger quantities but once again in a style that combines the special creamy, even lightly buttered characters of chardonnay with the fruit from which it is made. And leaves enough sting in the tail to keep it fresh .

He calls it a response to what the customers want. And he should know.

After 17 years in the business, chardonnay remains the Fine Wine Delivery Company's biggest- selling white.

"And I believe much of the interest in chardonnay comes from customers who have come with us on that journey and others who during that time have learned more about wine, especially chardonnay," he says.

Let's hope that more follow suit.

For the record: The Collaboration chardonnay sells at $20 a bottle.

Some other chardonnays to try:

Neudorf 2012, Nelson Chardonnay, $30
Plays second fiddle to Neudorf's celebrated Moutere model but is in its own right a very classy and complete chardonnay.

Has had the full, traditional treatment , including a second softening fermentation. Rich and peachy with hints of meal and butter. Dangerously easy drinking.

Clearview 2012 Reserve Hawke's Bay Chardonnay, $38
When Tim Turvey set out to make this premium chardonnay, the aim was to produce something with a bit of grunt. This was the result -- a rich, deliberate oaky, vibrantly fruited wine that with age would develop lovely toasty, creamy characters. As it will.

Church Road 2012 Hawke's Bay Chardonnay, $15-$29
The latter is the recommended retail price but this wine has been selling for as little as $15 a bottle, which makes it a good buy, especially for a chardonnay which has undergone the treatment, to one degree or another, is reasonably substantial and has at least a lick of butter on the toast.

The Southland Times