As received wisdom tends to influence our buying behaviour, and public perception governs more of our alcoholic consumption than we care to admit, how are we all feeling about Chardonnay these days?

I am still an enormous fan, but opinion is clearly divided on the subject.

Over the last few years, this prodigious grape variety has gone from cliff top pinnacle to sociological free-fall. We have experienced supermarket shelves groaning with every New World Chardonnay that exuberant wine buyers could locate, changing to a lobby so powerfully against the stuff that one high street outlet even boasted the now trite ABC masthead in their window – Anything But Chardonnay

Where did it all go wrong? How did our generation all become so socially animated about a single French grape variety that most of our parents had never heard of let alone selected? Have we ever experienced anguish over Pinot Noir, suppertime distress over Muscat or impassioned wine bar argument over the fortunes of Cabernet Sauvignon?

Here in the UK, we are universally recognised as one of the largest and most eclectic importers of wine. We know our stuff and during the last thirty years wine makers from all four corners have beaten a path to our discerning door. In the past we rarely even troubled ourselves with vinous details preferring the continental ring of Hirondelle or Piat D’or to define our aspirant social standing down at the off-license. Latterly we have chosen merchants and on-line suppliers to illustrate our position where enlightened wine selection is paramount. Where we bought the wine superseded the reasons why we bought it and supermarkets were quick to spot the mentality of this ever changing demographic. Reasoning was supplanted with turnover and the Australians led the field in easy drinking, fruit-forward wines that needed fast moving outlets and rapid shelf replacement. They played their part in this bargain by providing wines that competed financially with almost any other alcoholic drink in the United Kingdom. In the blink of an eye, wine had become egalitarian. Their chosen weapons in this quiet revolution were Chardonnay and Shiraz (Syrah), two noble grape varieties from the French heartland of Burgundy and the Rhone valley respectively, both now flourishing in our former colonial soil.

Other New World winemakers were quick to send Chardonnay into the front line skirmish for customer supremacy. Any wayward grape variety that did not fly off the shelves was blended with the C word, Semillon-Chardonnay, Chenin-Chardonnay, Colombard-Chardonnay even Viognier-Chardonnay, they all became regular sights on the gondola shelving. Their fortunes initially prospered as a result, although the clock was now ticking. On one fateful day we all seemed to awaken en masse from our easy drinking fruit- vectored, high alcohol over-oaked dream, screaming “no more wood, no more ‘butter’, no more vanilla, no more 14.5%, no more tropical fruits” The brick wall had been well and truly hit.

So the wine merchants the supermarkets and the on-line wine clubs all awoke too, rubbing their eyes asking what on earth had happened to their carefully crafted market place.

So why did the wheels fall of the Chardonnay bandwagon and, more importantly, does the grape deserve the universal derision to which it has been recently subjected.

I think the bandwagon had become overloaded, not by quality wine made in its name or by the Australian nation in general, but because it became too cheap and too widespread. It also became, paradoxically, too difficult to drink. The wall it hit was one of healthy, lighter drinking habits with the salad brigade replacing the pie as a lunch-time favourite. The flight was to light, and big, fruit laden Chardonnays did not fit this dietary imperative. The search was on for a racy, green, refreshing wine styles to match the rocket and watercress mentality that had descended upon the gastro-pub and wine bar. Where to look? By now New Zealand, a hungry wine making nation with big ambitions, had challenged the Loire valley residents to a dual, Sauvignon versus Sauvignon. Initially French  Sancerre lost the battle and we called this particular white by its grape name, Sauvignon Blanc. It came from South Island, New Zealand (or middle Earth as we now know it) and it was called Cloudy Bay.

The Loire valley tried some timid resistance but when Sauvignon got too green, too racy, too wine-like even, we reached down again for a less offensive glugger to fill its place, and Italian Pinot Grigio became our cutest non-decision to date.

So what happened to that grape variety which, chameleon-like, was too flexible for its own good and too ready to be all things to all men? It does what it always did. It still provides the best Bourgogne whites that the world has ever sipped. At its best, be it in Chablis or Montrachet, it continues to display the characteristic qualities of each individual vineyard parcel that nurtures its precious fruit. In northern France, it still accounts for over 65% of the blended grape varieties in Champagne. and from cooler climatic regions within Australia, Argentina and California, is beginning to provide world beating whites.

With the grape’s somewhat indifferent present-day press coverage, I would not like to be the parent that named their daughter Chardonnay a while back, and for the time being I would counsel against the twins being called Pinot and Grigio. I think that voluminous bubble may be set to burst too.