How to Stop Not Liking Chardonnay

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they don’t like chardonnay, I’d be making a shitload more money than I currently am as a freelance wine writer in a small country.

Chardonnay suffers from an image as a shoulder pad-wearing, fast-talking 80s business woman. It’s loud, it’s brash, you know it’s great but you also find it kind of insufferable. You tried a glass of it at your grandma’s birthday lunch when you were 21 and only about drinking savs with the girls, and it tasted like a block of wood that someone had poured a bunch of vinegar over. You poopooed it, and never looked back, destined to a life of telling people, “Oh no, I don’t really like chardonnay, thanks.”

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Chardonnay is one of the most versatile grapes out there. It’s like a blank canvas for winemakers to play around on, which means it can be rich and lush with heaps of oak, or lean and minerally and begging to be on the table alongside a round of just-shucked Mahurangi oysters.

The problem is that Chardonnay, back while it was still broking high-powered deals in stilettos (is this analogy problematic?), winemakers liked to hit it with as much oak as possible. Fruit and quality got left behind as winemakers tried to one-up each other with masses of new oak. This was all probably happening around the time you last tried it.

Happily, winemakers have reined it the fuck in. There’s still oak in chardonnay, sure, but it tends to be better integrated, making it taste more like you’re drinking pineapples with buttered toast rather than licking vanilla essence off a tree. There are still oaky examples, because people (like me!) learned to love that, but these are easy enough to avoid - there will be some hot tips later, I promise.

The chardonnay we make in New Zealand tends to have a lot of zingy green-apple-and-citrus acidity alongside its more sedate stonefruit and butter flavours. In terms of winemaking, this marks us out as being just a baby, vinously - they’ve been making wine since at least Roman times in France, and much earlier in other parts of the world. But as we’ve learned here in NZ in the last 100 days or so, young isn’t necessarily bad, and I really like NZ’s style of chardonnay.

If you feel some apprehension toward chardonnay, but my words have spurred you to action, let me guide you with some tips. Firstly, steer clear of anything from Waiheke or the Hawke’s Bay. I’m not saying these wines are oaky by default, I’m just saying that because these are two of New Zealand's key chardonnay regions, there’s a lot more variation in style, and you’re in more danger of buying a wine that will set me back on my quest to get everyone into chardonnay. The best place to start is Marlborough, where the cooler climate makes a leaner wine anyway. Producers like Saint Clair and Seresin have perfected the art of making great chardonnay in this terroir and you should give them a crack, for sure. 

Secondly - and this is key - DON’T buy an expensive wine. A huge mistake people make is trying to feed expensive wines to their friends who don’t like wines because they’re the “best”. This may be true, but expensive wines are usually more intensely flavoured, and usually have a decent amount of oak. Colby and Roquefort are YEARS away from each other in prestige, flavour and price, but goddamn there’s only one of those things a child will actually eat.

Thirdly, next time you get given a glass of chardonnay, take a bit of time to think about what you’re drinking. Wine is a great icebreaker, so if you’re talking to someone you don’t know very well, it’ll give you at least 2-3 minutes of solid conversation. Look for flavours like pineapple, apple, peach and nectarine, as well as things like toast, coconut, butter and hazelnut. Consider how it’s different to what you usually like, and think about a situation in which you think you would like it. As a special wine to go with a roast chicken? Or on a rainy autumn afternoon watching reruns of Great British Bake Off?

And if you still don’t like it, that’s ok! There are so many other wines for you to drink. 

Rosé: Summer's Undisputed Finest

Summer, which has admittedly taken the day off today, brings with it stacks of bottles in varying shades of pink, in all manner of crazily shaped bottles. It can be had for $9.99 from the supermarket or $60 by the bottle perched in an ice bucket within arm's reach on the deck at your favourite restaurant. It’s everywhere, and it’s magnificent.

In my own humble opinion, no wine is quite so unifying as rosé. In a world where I don’t drink Pinot Gris (because I’m not a monster) and you don’t really like Chardonnay, rosé is a wine we can both agree on. If we’re sharing, in this case, I’m bringing you a bottle of rosé, and I know you’re going to be stoked.

Rosé is an odd one in the world of wine. It’s not really seen as a serious wine, although it’s massive business, especially along the southern coast of France, where cities like Cannes, Nice and Monaco practically run on the stuff. The kind of rose they make here is fresh and crisp, a perfect foil to the sun and the region’s abundant seafood. It’s almost purifying, taking that first sip of rose after a day spent covered in sand and sunscreen. It doesn’t strictly pair well with that smear of local cheese on baguette that you’re eating, but honestly, you couldn’t care less. If rosé is life here, then I hope I never die.

In New Zealand, rosé is a wine that nobody ever thinks of first. It’s the bottle you come out of the shop with when you had fully intended to grab a chardonnay, the bottle that gets cracked first at the barbeque, with everyone else’s bottles of sauv blanc forgotten momentarily in the fridge. It’s an afterthought, maybe, but it's a proper crowd pleaser as well.

A lot of our local rosé is made from Pinot Noir, giving us a more berries-and-cream-style wine than the grenache-based wines that come from the south of France. It’s a touch richer, making it food-friendly and a great match with things like takeaway curry or barbequed prawns, but it still goes down very nicely before dinner is even a twinkle in the chef’s eye. Instead of being cleansing, it’s invigorating – a drink to get you in the mood for the night that is to come.

There’s plenty of rose being made and drank in other parts of the world, of course. In 2014, a rose shortage in the Hamptons made unsurprisingly sarcastic headlines, and in 2016, Action Bronson accidentally made a nerdy natural rose from Sicily one of the most sought-after wines on the planet. One of the most famous roses in the world is Mateus, an eye-wateringly sweet wine that at one point accounted for nearly a half of all table wines exported from Portugal. Producers in California, Spain, Australia, Italy and in other parts of France are making roses that range from cuvees with just a kiss of peachy colour to wines that are almost opaque, they’re so dark.

The one thing they have in common is that I will drink them all.

Claire Adamson
The Bougie Beaujolais
©Wikimedia/Geoff Wong

©Wikimedia/Geoff Wong

Quite often, I fall into a weird, insecure panic as the third Thursday of November approaches. 

It’s the day that the dreaded Beaujolais Nouveau is released, and I am torn. Do I commemorate the day with a glass of overpriced raspberry vinegar that has no business being wine just yet? Or do I ignore it completely and stick to my beloved $7 happy hour Hallertau at Conch?

In the last few years, a new (and much less stressful) third option has emerged. Beaujolais Nouveau is not the only wine made in the rolling hills to the south of Burgundy, and the Beaujolais cru wines have been crawling their way into the spotlight, and many a wine fan’s glass, over the last few years. 

Beaujolais cru wines have become the thinking woman’s tipple for Beaujolais Day in November. These light but earthy red wines are perfect for this time of the year, as the days begin to reach well into the evening and the air still has a touch of bite. They pair perfectly with barbecued sausages, the smell of musty deckchairs just unearthed from their winter hibernation in the garage, and the feel of your favourite sweatshirt. 

Like most French wines, the Beaujolais laws require a little concentration to understand. The standard Beaujolais appellation covers the most basic wines made in the area, and the Beaujolais Villages appellation covers wines made to slightly higher specifications. Then there are the ten cru appellations, which each cover a small village within the Beaujolais region. 

Some of these villages, like Morgon, Fleurie and Moulin-a-Vent are reasonably well-known, and others, like Regnie and Chiroubles, are a little more B list. This isn’t to say they’re not as good — French wines that are easy to pronounce in English tend to do better in terms of fame, which is perhaps why chardonnay is so much more well-known than viognier.

Gamay, the grape variety that goes into all Beaujolais wines, was banished from the pinot noir-loving hills of Burgundy in the 14th century and took up residence in the granite-rich countryside just south of the prestigious appellation. This was a fortuitous development — it turns out gamay is much better suited to this terroir, and in the ten villages makes light wines with red fruit flavours like raspberry and sour cherry, and a touch of earthy minerality. 

Each of the Beaujolais cru wines have their own distinctive flavour profile. Those from Morgon and Chiroubles tend to be more robust and full-bodied (relatively speaking), while wines from Fleurie and Julienas are lighter and more ethereal, and wholly more complex and interesting than the Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau wines. 

Beaujolais cru wines are increasingly available in New Zealand, particularly from specialist wine shops. They can be expensive (and it’s a particular rub if you’ve just been drinking them in France for €5 a pop), but they are worth trying, particularly as an alternative to Marlborough pinot noir.