Chardonnay: Why this once divisive drink is back in vogue

The once-divisive drink is now firmly back in vogue. Photo credit: Getty.

Chardonnay: Previously the smell you may have associated with the glass of your aunt, or perhaps an episode of Kath and Kim - "its pronounced Kar-donay mum."

But the once divisive drink is now heavily back in vogue, with sales climbing through the roof. In Australia, sales were up 12 percent from last year, and word on the street is Kiwis are knocking back the stuff at a similar rate.

I have to admit, it's only in recent months I've broadened my horizons - overly-oaked $7 bottles of chard I choked down at university put me off, and I was firmly in the ABC camp for some time (Anything But Chardonnay).

But I'm a different, more mature woman now, and with winter upon us and the days getting colder by the second, it's time to bid farewell to lightly chilled whites and rosés. Typically this might be the time you would reach for red, but if you're like me and you simply want a sturdier white, I would recommend you go for a "chardy".

chardonnay affair
A passenger on the Chardonnay Express sips a local drop. Photo credit: Brennan at Strike Photography.

That's after furthering my education at Gisborne's Chardonnay Affair last month: The first year of the hopefully annual festival where wine enthusiasts and amateurs alike are welcomed to try some classic oak barrel fermented and aged drops from the local growers.

These people love chardonnay and are damn proud of their region - with good reason. I revelled in the incredible seafood, sunshine soaked vines, and friendly faces for two days straight.

We even boarded the Chardonnay Express - a steam train that puffed us through the incredible countryside to Muriwai, where we were treated to chardonnay tastings, live music and grazing boards. (We later found out the loaves of bread were meant to be decorative - I ate a whole one myself.)

Chardonnay express
All aboard the Chardonnay Express! Photo credit: Brennan at Strike Photography

The next day my crash course education continued in the shape of the Long Lunch: A five-part feast with chardonnay matches for each course. Dressed in white, we were serenaded with smooth jazz as we ate some of the region's best kai moana and sipped the result of their best grapes.

One of the delicious offerings at the Long Lunch, courtesy of The Marina Restaurant. Photo credit: Brennan at Strike Photography

It's safe to say by the end of it I was well and truly a Chardonnay expert and could pick vanilla, caramel and buttery notes with the best of them.

It turns out Gizzy Chardonnay is a bit of a cut above the rest. Tropical fruit rock melon flavours are balanced by delicious grapefruit acidity. It's a full body, full mouth drop that you can even sip fireside.

So if you balk at the idea of a white in winter, venture into the Chardonnay aisle of your local supermarket. If you're like me and didn't try it for a few years, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how things have changed.

Here are a couple of my top picks:

  • 2017 Irwin Chardonnay: My absolute favourite from the festival, this drop from Matawhero winery is so rich and ripe it will warm you on a winter's day.
  • Poverty Bay Le Pont 2017 Chardonnay: With notes of pineapple and grapefruit, this Chardonnay is paler than some others, but robust enough to carry you through the cold!