Wine Talk: A white for all seasons

Growers like it, winemakers like it and almost all consumers like it – Chardonnay, a good choice for every occasion.

Wine (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Chardonnay is a grape variety liked by everyone. Consumers like it because they can pronounce it, and the resulting wine is easy to drink. The marketing people like it, because it is easy to sell. The word chardonnay has almost become a brand in itself. The winemaker likes it because it is a comparatively bland variety when left on its own and only really comes into its own with the decisions taken during the winemaking process. So it is a winemaker’s wine. The grower likes it because it seems to grow well everywhere, in almost all wine producing countries, whatever the climate.
The wines have generous flavors and and an affinity for oak aging.
The greatest chardonnays in the world are those produced in the central Burgundy region of France. Names like Meursault, Puligny Montrachet and Corton Charlemagne represent the finest chardonnays in the world. However they won’t be called “chardonnay” on the label, but will be named after the vineyard or village.
These are wines that are exquisitely balanced.
They have an aroma of soft fruits like peaches, apricots and melon, a comforting rounded texture and a buttery, even nutty taste. All this is backed by a good acidity. These are wines that can also age and improve over time.
The alternative Chardonnay style is Chablis, situated north of Burgundy. The wines there are usually not barrel aged, and are leaner in style. The aroma will be more limes and apples and there will be a sharper, minerally acidity. The Alto Adige in northern Italy and New Zealand are other areas that make unoaked or lightly oaked chardonnays particularly well.
The chardonnays from Australia and California tend to follow the Burgundy style, but end up bigger, higher alcohol and more blowsy. Often the aroma will be more of tropical fruits and mango, and the sweet smell of vanilla from oak aging will be more prominent.
In the 1980s and 1990s chardonnay was planted around the world and though connoisseurs constantly hint at its demise, it still boasts incredible popularity. Many looking for a wine to follow will choose it because it is not astringent or acidic, and usually has nice fruit and attractive sweet oak flavors. At a commodity level it has become a more powerful brand name than any label from any winery.
Chardonnay was first planted in Israel in the 1980s. Yarden Chardonnay 1987 and Carmel Rothschild Chardonnay 1987 were the first releases. Though chardonnay is not as planted as much as sauvignon blanc, it is still considered one of the more popular dry white wines in Israel.
Chardonnay is also a grape variety used in making premium champagnes and sparkling wines. For example the Yarden Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine is made 100% from chardonnay grapes.
Israeli Chardonnays have gained good international recognition. First prize in the Grand Gold Medal competition was recently awarded to the Yarden Odem Chardonnay 2009 at Vinitaly. The finest recognition from a wine critic was the 91 points awarded to the “C” Blanc du Castel 2005 by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.
Regarding the matching of food and wine, there are basically three types of chardonnay table wines. The unoaked style will be perfect as an aperitif or to accompany grilled white fish. A lightly oaked chardonnay will be good with baked salmon, cod, chicken, turkey or cold meats. The fuller-bodied, oakier style will be able to match fish or pasta in a cream or butter sauce and poultry dishes.
Chardonnay is also the perfect partner for popcorn! Some of the finest chardonnays in Israel at different price points and in the different styles, are listed opposite.
Best of the Locals
ENTRY LEVEL Up to NIS 35 Barkan Classic Chardonnay 2009 Light, entry level chardonnay with good tropical fruit notes.
Binyamina Bin Chardonnay 2010 Well-made wine. Clean and refreshing.
BEST BUY From NIS 35 to 50 Private Collection Chardonnay 2009 Refreshing, only very lightly oaked. Apples and pears with good acidity.
Gamla Chardonnay Smooth, medium-bodied, creamy chardonnay with tropical fruit notes.
Segal Merom Hagalil Single Chardonnay 2008 Fresh, light to medium in style, Citrus and summer fruits nose.
BEST QPR From NIS 50 to 75 Yarden Odem Chardonnay 2009 Rich, concentrated, complex chardonnay from the organically grown Odem vineyard, on the Golan Heights.
Carmel Appellation Chardonnay 2009 Elegant, delicately oaked with peachy fruit and refreshing acidity. Good food wine from Upper Galilee.
Pelter Unwooded Chardonnay 2010 (NK) Clean, crisp chardonnay with appley aroma. Not aged in oak barrels
SPECIAL PURCHASE From NIS 75 to NIS 90 Yarden Katzrin 2008 Powerful, oaky, blockbuster chardonnay from northern Golan vineyards.
Recanati Chardonnay 2008 Nicely balanced between oak, fruit and acidity. Not too oaky.
LUXURY More than NIS 100 Clos de Gat Chardonnay 2007 (NK) Reasonably full bodied and opulent. One of Israel’s finest chardonnays from the Judean Hills.
C Blanc du Castel 2008 Can be excellent. Delicately balanced. Buttery, nutty and fruity, but nothing to excess. Go for the 2008 vintage, rather than the 2009.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine both in Israeli and international publications.