Faces of Chardonnay at L'ortolan, Craig L'Ortolan
When you enquire a little deeper, what you inevitably find is it's not the Chardonnay grape variety that displeases the guest, but the amount and styling of Oak contained within the wine. This goes back to the late 80's/early 90's when Chardonnay was the wine in Vogue at the time. On its own Chardonnay can be a bit of a bland grape, but it is easily influenced which is why producers favour this grape over others, because they get to impart their own style and personality into their wine.
Some of the finest examples of Chardonnay are found in France. Here they get, in part, their rich and toasty character from the long and gentle aging given to then in French Oak barrels. Due to the expense of French Oak these barrels are frightfully expensive to make and maintain, therefore in an attempt to lower costs many producers began using a cheaper American style Oak and an alternative method for getting the oak in contact with the wine. This resulted in an overpowering, cloying and quite often boring style of wine which had its peak of popularity but has now fallen out of favour. Unfortunately this style of wine has sullied the good name of Chardonnay all over.
If you again take the example of Chablis it's easy to see that this is nothing to do with the variety and everything to do with the production method. Chardonnay remains one of the most widely-planted grape varieties, with over 400,000 acres worldwide, ranging from the most sublime, flinty and steely wines through to those that have a warm, toasted brioche base topped with ripe but tart pineapple.
Craig Steven, Sommelier