Blue sky drinking: chardonnay

Categories: Expert guidance

Jane Parkinson explores the natural affinity between chardonnay and mushrooms

First, the good news: mushrooms are one of wine’s best food friends, as the flavour combination is nothing short of dynamite. And now, the even better news: mushrooms happily pair well with both white and red wine. Result.

The reds that eke the best out of mushrooms use grapes that have a naturally earthy character; some describe this as nut husk, some call it oak, some even say it tastes mushroom-y. The two grapes most frequently described in this way are pinot noir and nebbiolo. However, I’d like to extol the virtues of white wine with mushrooms, and one grape in particular: chardonnay.

Of course, it has to be the right kind of chardonnay. This grape is reasonably neutral in natural flavour, which means it can vary in style from apple-y and crisp to smoky and buttery—with mushrooms, it’s the latter style that makes a seamless match.

Waxy, buttery credentials
Chardonnay usually spends time in oak barrels to boost its waxy, buttery credentials, or ‘oak contact’ as we say in the trade. This oak contact could be during the fermentation itself, or it could be a period of time spent ageing in barrels after fermentation. Or for that full-blown chardonnay experience, both. Another technique widely used to enhance its weight and flavour is letting the wine spend time sitting on the yeast by-product of fermentation called lees, known as ‘lees ageing’. The longer a chardonnay ages on lees, the more richness absorbs into the wine, which not only adds to its flavour but boosts its glycerol and weighty texture.

Mushrooms, with their potent earthy flavour, simply melt in the mouth with this complex version of chardonnay, and while we could very easily look to grand cru white Burgundy or grand cru Chablis for our sumptuous chardonnay kicks, it is worth going a little off-piste—there are, after all, so many regions and countries than can make incredible chardonnays.

One of the most consistently underrated of these is New Zealand. Yes, the place that churns out all that sauvignon blanc. While smaller in both profile and output, chardonnay is another of New Zealand’s prime white wine assets. Much of the country’s gravitas comes thanks to one producer, Kumeu River, which has almost single-handedly put the Kiwis on the chardonnay map. Others are now following its lead by making insanely delicious, round, buttery yet firm and crisp wines that are surely destined to be served alongside a heavenly mushroom-based dish.

Te Awanga Estate Chardonnay, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, 2017
£17, Borough Wines

From Hawke’s Bay, on the western edge of New Zealand’s north island, this is a bright yet full-flavoured chardonnay, partly fermented in barrel—and the perfect match for Rosie’s morel, pea and pink peppercorn pasta. The freshness works brilliantly with the aniseed flavour of tarragon, while the richer flavours of roasted lemon, dried banana chips and toasted nuts will all complement the morels a dream.