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Grape Varieties: Chardonnay

Chardonnay

Chardonnay: A Deep Dive into the Versatile White Wine

Chardonnay is one of the most popular and versatile white wines in the world, with its grapes used to produce various styles ranging from crisp, sparkling wines to creamy, oak-matured selections.

This article provides a comprehensive overview of Chardonnay, from its main flavors and taste profile to its origins and various styles.

Chardonnay grapes for Sparkling Brut, Willamette Valley Oregon
Chardonnay grapes. Willamette Valley, Oregon

Main Flavors and Taste Profile

Chardonnay typically exhibits flavors of yellow apple, pear, pineapple, vanilla, and butter. It is generally a dry wine with a medium to full body, average acidity, and an alcohol content ranging from 11% to 15% ABV[1].

Serving Chardonnay

For optimal taste, Chardonnay should be served at a temperature between 45 and 55°F (7 and 12°C)[1]. To best appreciate its aroma, use an aroma-collecting glass when serving. Most Chardonnays can be aged for five to ten years, but this will vary depending on the specific wine and its characteristics.

Food Pairing with Chardonnay

Chardonnay pairs well with a wide array of foods, from creamy cheeses like Brie to rich seafood dishes featuring butter, such as lobster. Chicken and pork dishes also complement Chardonnay, as do starchy vegetables like corn, pumpkin, and squash. For vegetarians, mushroom dishes are a perfect pairing[1].

Fun Facts about Chardonnay

  • What is the most planted white grape in the world? Answer: Chardonnay is the second most planted white grape variety in the world, surpassed only by the Spanish Airén grape used for bulk wine production[2].
  • Chardonnay grapes are a key ingredient in Champagne and other sparkling wines, including Crémant, Franciacorta, and Trento[3].
  • Where did Chardonnay originate? Chardonnay is believed to have originated from a small village called Chardonnay in France, with the name meaning “place of thistles” or “place covered with thistles”[4].
  • According to French law, a wine labeled “Chablis” must be made from 100% Chardonnay grapes[5].
  • What does Blanc de Blanc mean? The term “Blanc de Blancs” on a Champagne label indicates that the wine is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes[6].
  • Chardonnay is often referred to as being “made in the cellar” because the winemaker can significantly alter its final flavor through the use or omission of oak and other winemaking techniques[7].
  • Although Chablis and other cool-climate regions produce wines with vibrant acidity, the grape’s natural acidity is moderately low[8].
  • Wente in California is renowned for cloning Burgundy Chardonnay in 1912, with the Wente clone forming the basis for nearly 80% of American Chardonnay vineyards today[9].
  • In 2002, “Chardonnay” became a popular baby name in the UK, inspired by a character from the television show ‘Footballer’s Wives'[10].

Chardonnay grapes at Shea Wine Cellars on the best wine tours Willamette Valley

Styles of Chardonnay

There are two primary styles of Chardonnay: oaked and unoaked.

Oaked Chardonnay: These high-end wines come from regions like California, Burgundy, and Australia. Aged in oak, they often have a more golden hue and exhibit strong butter and vanilla aromas and flavors, making them an ideal pairing for richer seafood and meat dishes[1].

Unoaked Chardonnay: Produced in countries like Chile, New Zealand, and other French regions, unoaked Chardonnays are leaner and pair well with fresh seafood, pâté, vegetable or mushroom risotto, and mussels. Their crispness, minerality, and soft aromas complement lighter, more delicate dishes[1].

What to Look for in Chardonnay Wine

Oaked Chardonnays are rich and full-bodied, often featuring additional flavors of oak-aged vanilla, pastry spices, or butter. The tastes can range from tropical fruits like pineapple or mango in warmer climates to green apples and citrus fruits in cooler climates[1].

Unoaked Chardonnays, on the other hand, may surprise you with their flavor profile. They can be similar in taste to the lively flavors of Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc but without any “green” flavors. The flavor of Chardonnay varies depending on the climate in which it is grown, and the grape’s ripeness can range from citrus fruits and green apples to overripe peach and canned pineapple[1].

How Much Should You Expect to Spend?

While the average price per bottle of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Montrachet Grand Cru is a staggering $10,729, you don’t need to break the bank to enjoy a good Chardonnay. Expect to spend around $10 to $40 for a high-quality bottle[1].

Domaine Romanee Conti

Chardonnay is a versatile and beloved white wine with a rich history and diverse flavor profile. Its adaptability to different climates and winemaking techniques has helped it gain popularity across the globe. Whether you prefer a buttery, oaked Chardonnay or a crisp, unoaked version, there is a Chardonnay to suit every palate and pair with a wide range of dishes.

So the next time you raise a glass of this exceptional wine, take a moment to appreciate its fascinating origins, unique characteristics, and the skilled winemakers who have contributed to its enduring success.

References

[1] “Chardonnay Wine Guide: Flavors, Pairings & Tips,” Wine Folly. [Online]. Available: https://winefolly.com/grapes/chardonnay/. [Accessed: 06-May-2023].

[2] K. MacNeil, “Chardonnay,” The Wine Bible, 2nd ed., New York: Workman Publishing, 2015.

[3] “Chardonnay Grape Varietal,” Jancis Robinson. [Online]. Available: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/learn/grape-varieties/white/chardonnay. [Accessed: 06-May-2023].

[4] “Chardonnay,” Wine-Searcher. [Online]. Available: https://www.wine-searcher.com/grape-165-chardonnay. [Accessed: 06-May-2023].

[5] “Chablis Wine: A Guide to Burgundy’s Famed Chardonnay Region,” Wine Folly. [Online]. Available: https://winefolly.com/deep-dive/chablis-wine-burgundy/. [Accessed: 06-May-2023].

[6] “Blanc de Blancs Champagne: The Ultimate Guide,” Champagne 411. [Online]. Available: https://www.champagne411.com/champagne-styles/blanc-de-blancs. [Accessed: 06-May-2023].

[7] J. Laube, “The Many Styles of Chardonnay,” Wine Spectator, 31 May 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.winespectator.com/articles/the-many-styles-of-chardonnay-560

Date for your diary:

May 26th is Chardonnay Day!

Want to learn more about wine? Try out these books!

Ferment- A Memoir of Mental Illness, Redemption, and Winemaking in the MoselThe Winemaker's Dance- Exploring Terroir in the Napa Valley

References:

Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. Jancis Robinson 2012

Wine. Years. People. Events. Massandra Wine Collection 2010

The World Atlas of Wine: 8th Edition. Johnson, H & Robinson, J. 2019

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