I’d never really heard the expression before earlier this year, but apparently it’s a fairly well known one in wine circles. ABC. Anything But Chardonnay. It came about due to the influx of chardonnay wines coming in from all parts of the world, where it was used to benchmark new areas against the old.
As I said in the opener to this series, chardonnay is a pretty hardy grape and can grow most places. Name a wine producing country and someone somewhere is making a chardonnay. Because of this it’s used sometimes as some sort of universal comparison tool. And because of this, some areas try to make it their own with really outlandish techniques. In the US for example, they love ageing in oak barrels (adds flavour from the wood), or putting oak chips into the fermenting tanks. One wine critic came away from a tasting session of US chardonnay scathing “I feel like I’ve just given Pinocchio a blowjob!” Some producers clearly went over the top, and world chardonnay became a difficult sell to the average punter.
Try telling that to Burgundy, the historical heartland of chardonnay production. Well over half the grapes grown in Burgundy are chardonnay. If it’s a white wine from Burgundy, and it’s not got a label telling you otherwise, it’s 99% likely to be chardonnay. It’s a grape, like Pinot Noir, that will give different wines from soils that are 200 yards away, let alone the 200+km of the vineyards of Burgundy. For me, that’s why people who go around spouting “ABC” are idiots. There are so many styles, just in Burgundy, that generalising makes you sound like a tool.
In the north of Burgundy is the appellation of Chablis. These tend to be pretty acidic (think refreshing) with green fruit flavours (because it’s a cool place) and some minerality (it’s what chardonnay is famous for, think what it’s like to lick a stone…in a good way). They’re labelled in the same way as with Pinot Noir, so Premier Cru and Grand Cru exists. Also there’s wine that’ll be called Petit Chablis. This is similar to Chablis, but it’s grown on soils outside the legal requirements of Chablis AC. So they call it Petit Chablis to help with marketing.
In the middle of Burgundy is the an area called the Côte de Beaune. Now are you ready to get the credit card out here? Cos you may need it! Because some people reckon this is the mutt’s nuts of world chardonnay, it can be eye wateringly expensive to buy this stuff. Here you get the villages of Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, and Chassagne-Montrachet, amoungst others. (Same deal here with the town councils, the villages of Chassagne and Puligny shared the world famous vineyard of Montrachet, so they double barreled up!). Winemakers keep yields low (less fruit, but more flavour) and make a fairly full bodied wine, with lots of oak flavours (vanilla and toast). I’ve been fortunate enough to try a few of these wines (I wasn’t paying!) and, without trying to sound like a wine snob, you could sit there and taste these wines for hours and come up with something new each time.
Towards the south of Burgundy you get the Mâconnais region. Possibly the best value white wines in Burgundy. You still get a couple of famous appellations down here, such as Pouilly-Fuissé, but on the whole the area produces solid quality chardonnays, in what is a slightly hotter area. This means the fruit flavours are a bit different than further north (so peach and melon) and they can be pretty full bodied whilst still being refreshing. A bottle of Mäcon in the shops could be £5-£8, and Mâcon-Villages (from slightly better sites) around £7-£15. Really not bad at all.
So don’t give me that ABC rubbish. You will definitely find one you like!