January is (finally!) over and 2015 is fully in swing. By now many of our New Year’s Resolutions have fallen by the wayside, the runners have been resigned to the back of the wardrobe and the gym won’t be seen again until it’s time to get ready for summer holidays. I am possibly the worst person out there for making resolutions and then failing miserably to keep them. That’s why this year, I have decided to take a different approach. Instead of trying desperately to give up things that I really enjoy (chocolate!) or do things that that I really dislike (the gym), I have decided to try something new each month, visit a new place or try a new sport. Small, achievable goals that won’t have me feeling terrible about myself. And what better place to start then something all of you will enjoy…wine!!!
There’s always a tendency, especially in Ireland, to stick with what we know, nobody likes change and this is particularly true when it comes to people’s wine choices. For the last number of years, Chardonnay has become very unfashionable, with many people being turned off by the strong oak flavours. It went from being the single ladies drink of choice to being relegated to the back of the press, only to be opened in a case of utter desperation. However, having learned their lesson the hard way, winemakers are now focusing a lot of their attention on changing people’s attitudes towards this former powerhouse. Gone are the heavy oaky aromas and the flavours of the entire oak barrel on your palate, the trend has now moved to extremely lightly oaked, or increasingly popular, unoaked chardonnay. Lighter in body that its oaked counterpart, unoaked chardonnay is crisp and fruity. Taking its style advice from the Big Daddy of Chardonnay, Chablis, it has all the characteristics of traditional chardonnay; green apple, lemon and sometimes pineapple with a long tingly finish, without the creamy buttery finish that had become hard to palate. It is also cheaper to produce than oaked chardonnay, meaning you are getting a zingy, flavour packed wine at a price that will make your mouth water.
The shining light in producing this new style of chardonnay are our friends down under. Australia is producing amazing unoaked chardonnay, bursting at the seams with tropical fruit flavours, eucalyptus and balanced acidity. A few beautiful examples of this style are Farmers Choice Chardonnay, Muddy Boots Chardonnay and Coral Coast Chardonnay.
While unoaked chardonnay is light and easy to drink, this doesn’t mean that all oaked chardonnay is bad. A little bit of oak is not something to be scared of! Winemakers are now working under the principle that a little goes a long way. Oak adds a creamy, buttery texture to the wine which, when done right, coats your mouth beautifully and cuts through the acidity. It adds beautiful toasty, vanilla flavours with layered, smoky notes. Different styles of incorporating oak can be seen across the different wine making regions, meaning there is something to suit every taste. Why not try a French Chardonnay made in the tradition Burgundy style like the Moillard Bourgogne Chardonnay. This wine is richly aromatic, exuding aromas of dried fruits and white flowers. Or how about an Australian classic like the Miles From Nowhere Chardonnay from the Margaret River, where the toasty vanilla oak aromas combine with ripe peach and nectars to produce a modern take on the use of oak.
Or try a quirky twist on the classic tradition in the form of Chakana Estate Selection Chardonnay. This beauty from Argentina has an attractive lemony nutty nose with lovely finesse and balance. It combines subtle oak with peach spice and pear. My personal favourite, this is a fantastic combination of new and old styles ideas on the use of oak, married together with style and elegance.
If you are particularly stubborn and your arm can not be twisted to give chardonnay another chance, then why not really stray outside of your comfort zone and try something totally new. Torrontés is a white grape native to Argentina, producing fresh, aromatic wines with moderate acidity, smooth texture and mouthfeel, as well as distinctive peach and apricot aromas on the nose. While still a relatively new varietal to the Irish market, torrontés is emblematic of Argentina’s white wine style. Our friends in Chakana wines make a stunning example of this Argentinian beauty. Encapsulating fragrant, floral, honey-accented aromas, this is a medium-bodied wine with a smooth texture. Don’t just take my word for it, the critics are in agreement with Robert Parker awarding it 86 points and Wine Spectator giving it 87.
Whether it is giving chardonnay a second chance or really straying into the unknown with torrontés, there is no better time to broaden your horizons (and taste buds). As spring begins to wake, it’s time to shake up your wine drinking habits and stray into the unfamiliar. It’s officially time to banish those January blues, crack open a bottle of something different, sit back and enjoy. Go on, I dare you!