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Chardonnay - An Origin Story

How a giant of the screen changed the wine world for ever more...

WARNING - indulgent niche UK television references feature in the words to follow. Turn away now if these offend or upset you...

It is widely thought that Chardonnay is the world’s greatest white wine variety. Some will throw their toys out of the pram on behalf of Riesling whilst Mrs Wine Giant will turn her inflexible nose up at anything that isn’t from Marlborough, but all bar the latter can acknowledge that Chardonnay is, at worst, very much in the top two. It ticks the box for being malleable and happy to grow all over the world with all sorts of climates and all sorts of terroir, whilst also offering a propensity for complexity, age-worthiness and depth.

@Tim Mossholder

‘But how did all this come to be?’ I hear you ask. This is a fine question as until the early 2000s the name Chardonnay did not even exist outside the mind of Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus. For centuries vine growers across the globe grew these magical little spheres but knew them by a far less marketable name, which meant that only 32 bottles of chardonnay had been sold. Ever. In history.

What changed? Well, in 2002 Chadwick and McManus’ seminal work was released. For four years the UK TV viewer witnessed what Daniel Day Lewis called ‘the most perfectly constructed piece of modern art this planet has known.’, perhaps unaware that the landscape of television and the wider artistic world had been forever altered. Netflix was founded with the sole aim of finding or creating a programme of a similar level. $16 billion of debt later and they still have failed to get close to replicating the peerless ‘Footballers’ Wives’.

It goes without saying that we were all taken with the allure of temptress Chardonnay Lane-Pascoe. As were the WGNC (World Grape Naming Committee) who renamed the grape ‘Chablis’ after her – obviously the French didn’t play ball and so still use the old name. Committee President, Alfonso Merlianti, said at the time 'aligning the grape with a cultural icon who is so in tune with these wines can only lead to a resurgence in its popularity amongst the proletariat.’

The years that followed saw a surge in UK sales of Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and the explosion of Prosecco.

Whilst Merlianti’s predictions may not have panned out as hoped it is undeniable that this grape has been aptly named. Chardonnay the grape garners headlines in the wine rags as frequently Susie Amy’s portrayal of Mrs Lane – Pascoe did so in Variety, Backstage and the Radio Times in 2005. Not only this but the personality of the two are equally in sync – voluptuous, enchanting, enticing and busty. Yet, sneaky and underhanded, haughty, self-important and can leave you wondering what happened the morning after the night before.

The Wine Club’s penchant for Chardonnay sees us open one for the second week running with another one left in the case. The Concha y Toro Corte Marcelo Limarí Chardonnay, 2020 was chosen in homage of the very popular Wine Society’s Exhibition Limari Chardonnay, 2019. It’s made from the Quebrada Seca vineyard, situated about 30km from the ocean and owned by Concha y Toro (Chile’s behemoth, the Penfolds of South America). The soil in Limarí is high in calcium carbonate, which lends this chardonnay minerality and freshness. This wine is a blend of 70% tank fermented wine, for freshness and vibrancy, and 30% fermented in 228 litre Burgundian barrels, to contribute more breadth and weight to the palate. It brings bright mineral aromas and a fine, taut palate with a long finish. Last week I made the mistake of over chilling and was reminded not to repeat the error with this one when reading Simon C’s review on The Wine Society - ‘Initially made the mistake of overchilling this and was greeted with an abundance of acidity. Things improved considerably as the wine approached ambient temperature, becoming more floral with touches of salinity. A wine with a clearly discernible structure left me feeling I'd glimpsed the vintner's craft at work.’

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