Leader: Second chance at sophistication

CHARDONNAY is a noble grape fallen on hard times, like a once splendid stately home converted into a time-share.

Its downfall has been due to association with negative images such as naff footballers' wives, sad losers like Bridget Jones and its employment as a girl's name by chavs. With baggage like that, the most drinkable wine in the world would struggle to leave the supermarket shelf. It is hard to believe now that in the mid-1990s chardonnay was associated with metropolitan sophistication.

The other cause of its decline was the relentless infusion of oak by Australian producers distorting the taste. Eventually the wood-chip flavour provoked a revulsion among customers who had previously made chardonnay the most popular white wine in the UK. By 2008 there were 7.5 million fewer shoppers in Britain putting chardonnay into their baskets. The acronym ABC was heard at dinner tables up and down the land - "anything but chardonnay".

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Now Australian producers have got the message, removed the timber from the production line and cultivated a return to popularity at a rate of 6 per cent a year. Whether Britain will again embrace this new version remains to be seen (the Scottish Tories could testify to how difficult it is to rehabilitate a contaminated brand). But chardonnay is a classic grape whose gene pool includes such great wines as Montrachet and Chablis. It deserves a second chance.