C h a r d o n n a y

Category: Chardonnay
Chardonnay is so popular that it is nearly synonymous with white wine. Chardonnay originated in the Burgundy region of France, and takes its name from a small town in the Maconnais, an area in southern Burgundy. Because it is now grown nearly everywhere wine is made, and because we label it by the grape variety rather than the place of origin, we tend to forget that appellations such as Montrachet, Meursault, Pouilly-Fuissé and Chablis are synonymous with Chardonnay. Chardonnay is one of the three main grapes used in Champagne, along with (reds) Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape variety that is native to Burgundy, France. Chardonnay can be produced in a youthful, fruity style that’s ready for to be drunk soon after bottling. Complex, barrel-fermented bottles are capable of aging for years. Chardonnay wines are medium to full-bodied and pair with a range of simple or complex foods. In France, Chardonnay is labelled by the region in which it is grown, like Chablis. No two places that grow Chardonnay produce the same expression, yet every region finds it is relatively easy to grow. This discovery has helped the grape spread across the world. Climate can have a massive impact on Chardonnay’s final profile. Chardonnay from cooler regions such as Burgundy, Coastal Chile, New Zealand, and Oregon exude lighter notes of quince, lemon and yellow apple. Warmer climates like California, South Africa, and South Australia produce Chardonnay that expresses ripe, tropical flavors of pineapple, apricot, and star fruit. Winemakers who opt for a crisp and fresh wine use stainless steel to ferment and store their wines, limiting the amount of oxygen contact. Winemakers seeking a fuller-bodied style use oak aging to impart flavors vanilla, coconut, and baking spice. The levels in which they can choose to do so are near endless. French oak barrels impart more subtle flavors than those made of American oak. Balance can be further manipulated by choosing to use second or third use oak barrels, and selecting to age some of the wine in oak and the rest in stainless steel. From 5 percent to its entirety, the combinations are near-infinite. Unoaked expressions took somewhat of a back seat through the 1980s and 1990s, while a fuller “butter bomb” style California Chardonnay flourished. Highly expressive flavors of toast, spice, clove, and vanilla were all the rage. But with every trend, comes its downturn and consumers eventually turned their nose up to the over-oaked style. Today, the practice of over-oaking Chardonnay has pretty much stopped not only in California but also worldwide. Most winemakers use only a portion of new barrels for fermentation and aging. The result is a more balanced wine, reminiscent of a Burgundian-style Chardonnay, with just a kiss of vanilla and complexity. This style saves money for producers, limiting the need for new, expensive barrels every vintage — so it’s win-win all round.

Due to its wide array of styles and profiles, Chardonnay can pair with almost every kind of food. Lighter, unoaked Chardonnay, like Chablis, is a great match for fresh cheese or delicate seafood. Medium-bodied expressions hold their own with poultry, pork tenderloin, or aged cheeses. Higher-alcohol or full-bodied Chardonnay pairs well with entrées with a rich cream sauce or even grilled meats.