The term ‘Chardonnay Socialist’ has been, for far too long, a pejorative term for those who espouse socialist values and denounce those of modern western capitalism, while consuming the products they so vocally denounce. OK, so ‘Chardonnay Socialists’ are hypocrites. Well, no longer. Now is the time of postmodernity, of recontextualisation, and of reclaiming derogatory language like it’s Lampton Quay. And this column serves another purpose, or I hope it will, in that it will help you make the most of your student loan and allowance money, which if you are anything like me will probably be spent on booze anyway. I want to help you buy wine that is actually worth the money you pay for it and is not just an alternative to beer or spirits on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday or Tuesday night; but to buy wine that is an experience, something to relish.
What better grape to start with than chardonnay, the grape that fuels the Labour Party, the unofficial center of the chardonnay socialist movement. Chardonnay (pronounced shar-don-ay?), aside from being a clichéd white trash name, is also the name of what is probably the most famous white wine grape. Chardonnay is great because it is an extremely versatile grape, though we normally drink it as a still, dry table white, which is how it is made in Burgundy, the region in northern France where chardonnay originated. Burgundy and its new world (or non-European) equivalents cover all the bases from steely Chablis (unoaked and from the Chablis region) which can be drunk strait away to big, buttery and oaky straw yellow wines made to be laid down (cellared or kept) before they are imbibed. Furthermore Chardonnay, along with Pinot Nior and Pinot Meunier is a grape from which Champagne and méthode champenoise (wine made in the Champagne style but with grapes from a region other than Champagne) can be made. Bubbly made purely of chardonnay is labelled ‘blanc de blanc’. Recently sweet wines are also being made from the chardonnay grape here in New Zealand by leaving the grapes on the vine longer in order to let it over-ripen and raise the sugar levels… But enough with the pseudo-technical bullshit, you are saying, what is good and cheap to drink?
We will start with kiwi stuff; now my personal opinion is when buying in this price range it is better to avoid the oaked stuff as it costs money to age wine properly in oak so when you are getting a cheap oaked wine cheap there is usually something the producers are not telling you. One urban legend is that big wine producers make teabags of oak chips to dunk in their stainless steal vats. So perhaps best avoided. One of my favorites is the Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay 2004 (although I prefer the ‘03 when it is available) from Marlborough and while this usually sells for about seventeen dollars a bottle it is often on ‘special’ for under thirteen at Wellington City New World (Chaffers). It’s a crisp and fruity wine that, like most affordable Chardonnays, is best served chilled. Another similar one is the C.J. Pask Roys Hill Chardonnay, which is around ten to fifteen dollars. These wines are best served cold (like icy!), unlike the bigger, more costly Chardonnays that do more when they are a just a little cooler than room temp. Other good producers are Astrolabe and Lancaster (when you can find it).
The best place to source cheap chardonnay (especially some of the fuller-bodied ones) is Australia. Because of the size of the producers and vineyards (they are, like, ginormous), the resulting economies of scale mean they are able to produce wine with more cost efficiency than we do here. While this sometimes just results in a bigger profit margin for the evil corporates, sometimes it is also very good for the consumer as well. A great entry-level Australian Chardonnay is the Lindemans Bin 65 which is available for about twelve dollars; Yalumba and Penfolds also make great wines in this price range as well.
The most important thing is that you try new things, and although it’s highly unlikely that you will find a North American Chardonnay for under thirty dollars there are a lot of great South American producers (usually from Chile and Argentina) that produce affordable high quality wines. Producers include Casa Lapostle, the French owned Bodega Lurton and Santa Isabella who make a great Chardonay Viongnier.
I am always keen to hear other people’s opinions and comments about wine and stuff so send me an email at <chardsoc [at] yahoo.com>.