Big buttery Chardonnay...
If you were to ask me what is the one style of wine customers ask for more than any other in our store, a strong contender would be full-flavoured, big buttery Chardonnay. The surprising thing is, it’s a style that’s quite difficult to find in today's wine world. It’s out of fashion, yesterday’s hero.
Wine, like fashion and food, is driven by trends and cycles. The ’90s were an exciting time for the Australian wine industry, a period of sustained growth and boom-time conditions. Wine consumption was on the rise and for those looking for a sophisticated bottle of white, Chardonnay was a natural choice.
Who could forget the big, sunshine in a bottle flavour of Rosemount Diamond label, Lindemans Bin 65 or Petaluma Chardonnay? Just think deep yellow, and the memories will come flooding back.
Sunshine in a glass, ultra-ripe, deep yellow in colour with lashings of oak and a soft and voluptuous mouthfeel, “I can’t believe it’s not butter…” as Fabio would say. Chardonnay that wrapped you up in a blanket and made you feel warm and fuzzy.
However, like baggy clothing, stonewashed jeans and grunge music, its time in the sun soon faded and its bold flavours were being shunned for the newer, sexier Sauvignon Blanc from across the ditch. The bigger they are, the harder they fall as the saying goes. Fast forward to today and it’s almost impossible to find a winemaker willing to make wine in that style, even though there is clearly consumer demand, such was the pain inflicted by its fall from grace!
Over time Chardonnay's pendulum swung to the opposite extreme, unoaked, lean, mineral, zesty and crisp. But things have gone too far and many consumers still yearn for the nostalgia-inducing flavours of ripe, buttery Chardonnay.
So what makes Chardonnay buttery? Here we need to delve into the world of ‘hands-on’ winemaking. The idea that the winemaker's touch should be felt in a wine. This idea is also hugely out of fashion, with ‘minimal intervention’, ‘natural wine’ and ‘lo-fi’ all the rage. Here the philosophy states that wines are made in the vineyard, and a winemakers job is little more than shepherding the grapes through fermentation, and into a wax-sealed bottle.
Back to hands-on winemaking, I’m going to gloss over a lot of the technical details, because, well, it’s technical and not very interesting to read about (that's what google and youtube are for). However, one term you may have heard used is ‘malolactic fermentation’ or ‘malo’ as we like to say in the wine game.
Along with a method called lees stirring or ‘bâtonnage as the French would say (stirring dead yeast cells in the barrel for extra flavour and softness) malo is responsible for most of that creamy, buttery mouthfeel, with friendly bacteria converting malic acid (think tart green apples) to lactic acid (think milk, yogurt, butter and soft cheese).
I almost feel sorry for anyone under thirty who missed this formative period of Australian winemaking history. I’m sure it would have been a great match for smashed avocado, with the creamy texture of avocado matched by the buttery texture of ‘old school’ Chardonnay. Breakfast wine indeed.
Which Chardonnay is buttery? For those in search of beautifully flavoursome, big buttery Chardonnay the below wines are our top picks from around the world: