Chardonnay is a white grape variety from the Burgundy and Champagne regions of France, and thrives in chalky/limestone soils, and currently grows in almost every country around the world. 

According to Jancis Robinson, OBE and Master of Wine, the Chardonnay name was at one time known only to vine-growers since France labels their wines according to geographical regions.  Once varietal labelling began, Chardonnay became like a brand.  

In France, you wouldn’t ask for a Chardonnay at a restaurant, you would ask for a White Burgundy.  In the United States, when you ask for a white wine, you will most likely receive a Chardonnay - that’s how popular Chardonnay is in North America.

The famous Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 changed how North American wines were viewed.  A 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay from California won the competition in a blind tasting against French wines.  The tasters were stunned when the wines were revealed to them, and thus, the “gold-rush” on California wines began.

After the 1990s, Chardonnay suffered from the Anything but Chardonnay (ABC) movement, not because of the grape itself, but because of the big, hit you in the face with a baseball bat style of some Chardonnays.  Many Californian and Australian Chardonnays are a very manipulated style with super fruitiness, high alcohol, over-the-top use of oak barrels, and other techniques.

American oak gives a stronger flavor to wine than European oak and is widely used by wineries in Australia, Spain, and North and South America.  Oak imparts a vanilla flavor, and toasting the oak barrel imparts a coconut and butterscotch flavor.

Chardonnay is an easily manipulated grape that allows the winemaker to imprint his or her own distinct style.  Winemakers working with cool climate Chardonnays may add sugar before fermentation in order to increase the potential alcohol level, while those working with warm climate Chardonnays may need to add acid to keep the wine from tasting flabby.

The cool climate vineyards, like those in Chablis or Champagne, produce medium to high-acid Chardonnays with medium body and alcohol, and are refreshingly crisp, full of minerality and subtle flavors of apple and pear.  

Warm climate Chardonnays are voluptuous in your mouth with low to medium acidity, medium to high alcohol and boasting apricot, melon and tropical fruit flavors like mango or pineapple.

Oak barrel fermented Chardonnays are a rich, full bodied style smelling of butterscotch, honey, nuts, smoke, toast, and vanilla while giving flavors of baked apple pie, butterscotch, coconut, oak, pineapple, smoke, and vanilla.  Try this style of wine with chicken, duck, lobster, corn chowder, cream-sauced pastas, pork, and seafood.

Unoaked Chardonnays will give notes of apples, citrus, hazelnuts, papaya, melon, minerals, nectarines, and tropical fruits on both the nose and palate.  Try these wines with chicken, eggs, fish, guacamole based Mexican food, pork, macaroni and cheese, shellfish, pesto pasta, and turkey.

Wines that have undergone MLF (malolactic fermentation) to soften Chardonnay’s acidity will have buttery aromas, while wines made sur lie (the fermented juice maintains contact with the yeast after fermentation) impart a yeasty aroma.

Serve Chardonnay chilled at about 10-13 degrees C for the most enjoyable results.

Easy to grow, make and drink, Chardonnay is capable of producing some of the finest wines in the world.  Many barrel-oaked Chardonnays are capable of long term cellaring for as long as a decade, to be enjoyed in the future, but most unoaked Chardonnays are best drunk while young.

These are suggestions of what flavors you may find and some foods to try with Chardonnay.  Hopefully this will enhance your wine enjoyment.


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