The Happy Break Up Drink

For many years, my courtship with Chardonnay was confined to the mandatory tasting in wine courses and sensory evaluation classes at University. My interest outside of the classroom was minimal, a fleeting sip here and there or an occasional sampling at a cellar door. During those years, I was a fiercely exclusive lover of red wine and rarely gave white a glimpse however the demise of a relationship with a long-standing boyfriend and the painful break up which ensued, opened my mind to the greater world of white wines. This is the story of how I fell out of love with a guy and very much in love with a grape.

When love is lost, we find pain relief in the most unlikely of places and given my chosen career as a wine professional, I suppose it is not so surprising that my own comfort was to be found in a glass. Days after the break up, I had lunch with a girlfriend who offered to work-shop the emotional aftermath and after listening to my tearful story of jilted love, she put her arm around me and lead me into a bar, “Darl, what we need is a good bottle of Chardonnay!” I was too distraught to remind her that I was not a white wine drinker and the next thing I knew I was slugging back a glass of light golden liquid that tasted of zesty lemons. As the coolness of the white wine passed my lips and travelled ever so smoothly down my love-sick throat, my tear stained face broke into a smile. I felt instantly better as the budding wine freak from within was unleashed and my sorrow was distracted by the complex array of textures and flavours that burst onto my palate. It was impossible to feel sorry for myself while drinking this liquid treasure bottled as Chardonnay.

Throughout the months of mourning that followed, Chardonnay became my savior and with every sip, an ounce of pain was swallowed and gradually the hurt become a wine drenched distant memory. For many, it takes the love of another to assist in moving forward and as was my case, I had a rebound relationship with a grape variety, which eventually turned into a full-blown love affair that continues to this day.

Eventually I ceased to use Chardonnay as a form of self-medication and no longer referred to it as The Happy Break Up Drink. In search of different styles and expressions of this alluring little grape, I voraciously sampled as much Chardonnay as I could, starting with those from my own backyard, the Yarra Valley, where the Chardonnay is noted for its elegance and length. I marveled at the chameleon like qualities of the grape, capable of producing styles that are lean and long to the creamy and richly flavored wines that linger on and on. My journey took me all around Australia where Chardonnay grows in every pocket, across the Pacific to California and southward to the high altitude vineyards of Argentina however it wasn’t until I was handed my first glass of Premier Cru Chablis, that my eyes bulged out of their sockets and my thoughts echoed the words of the late Dom Perignon, I exclaimed… “Come quickly, I’m tasting heaven!” The clever monk actually tasted stars when he happened upon Champagne with Chardonnay as one of the three illustrious grapes making up the blend but you get the idea, Chablis was my kind of starry heaven.

Burgundy is the original breeding ground for this little grape and Chablis is the Northern most area of Burgundy planted almost entirely to Chardonnay. Chablis… the word alone sounds sensual, scintillating and seductive. Say it softly… Chablis. After my first sip, I found a new love, I wasn’t just drinking Chardonnay, I was drinking Chablis.

The reputation of Chablis is based on the purest expression of the Chardonnay grape, particularly from the Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards, where the soil is laced with the million year old crushed remains of fossilized oyster shells. It is this rich soil that allows the Chardonnay grape to produce one of the world’s greatest white wines. In its youth, it can possess a bracing acidity, which lends the wine its characteristic freshness with mouth-watering green apple and tangy citrus flavours making this one of the best companions for raw food dishes.