GIBSON ON GRAPES: Chardonnay – a grape for all seasons

Could have come from Burgundy

Could have come from Burgundy

Pigeon with leeks and a seed and honey dressing

LAWRENCE MURPHY: Pigeon with leeks, seed and honey dressing

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It was Keats who wrote about autumn with the evocative line of ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’, the time of year when summer slowly slips away with winter on the horizon and surely a time to turn our attention to red wines.

Yes, we are all thinking about hearty food and red wine, but don’t forget white and one grape in particular – chardonnay is truly a grape for all seasons.

A small parcel of wine

A small parcel of wine

It is often referred to as the winemaker’s grape as it allows them to use a range of techniques in the winery to reflect the character of individual vineyards. It is also one of the most versatile food grapes of all, a must for your autumn wine rack.

Parcel Series Chardonnay 2015, Stellenbosch (Majestic £14.99 or £9.99 if part of a mixed six) is part of a new limited range of, as the name suggests, small parcels of wines that Majestic buyers have sourced from various regions.

You don’t get to know the producer on the label, but suffice to say it comes from a highly-regarded Cape wine estate and this is something of a bargain.

It’s certainly not shy, with apricot, melon, pineapple and butterscotch on the nose before some fresh citrus notes on the palate which leads to a long, flavoursome finish. This is a great example of almost an old-fashioned style of chardonnay with its rich fruit and oak; it needs some food to show its best side and would work well with roast pork or guinea fowl.

Made from hand-picked grapes.

Made from hand-picked grapes.

Montes Single Vineyard Selection Chardonnay 2014, Casablanca (Majestic £11.99 or £8.99 as part of a mixed six) is a little more restrained and shows just what Chile can produce with this grape in its cooler wine regions.

Chilean Chardonnay is so often seen as mass-produced nondescript wine, but this has real character and some complexity. Made with hand-picked grapes from a single vineyard, a third of the wine spent 12 months in French oak barrels. This has real elegance. There is peach and citrus fruits on the nose with a hint of toasty vanilla. The palate has a lovely core of acidity running through it, keeping it fresh and lively. Try this with roast chicken or salmon fish cakes.

Now and again a wine stops me in my tracks and Topiary Chardonnay 2015, Franschhoek (frontierwines.co.uk £21.99 Hermitage Cellars £18.95) is one.

Made in the pretty Franschhoek Valley in South Africa by Frenchman Philippe Colin who makes wine in Chassegne-Montrachet, this is one of the most exciting Cape chardonnays I’ve ever tasted. It could so easily come from Burgundy. The oak is beautifully balanced with lime, roasted cashew nuts and a touch of honey, followed by minerals and lively acidity, at the same time keeping it fresh and adding such depth.

Gorgeous now and I’m sure it will improve. Match this with turbot or perhaps a rich butternut squash risotto.

- Alistair Gibson is proprietor of Hermitage Cellars, Emsworth. Call 01243 431002.

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