If you’re a wine-drinking adult, you’ve probably had a glass of Chardonnay at some point in your life. But the Chardonnay that you most recently had in your glass is most likely quite different from the one your colleague had at happy hour last night. That’s because Chardonnay is one of the most versatile varieties in the entire world, with a rich history and a flavor profile that ranges all over the spectrum. Despite being one of the most popular varieties in the world, Chardonnay can actually be one of the toughest to understand. Here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Chardonnay but were afraid to ask.
Where Does Chardonnay come from?
Born in Burgundy, France, Chardonnay now has a sizeable growth in all of the major wine production regions. Vineyards in France, Italy, America, Chile, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand all have distinctive offerings from Chardonnay grapes. More about the history of Chardonnay HERE
What is the difference between White Burgundy and Chardonnay? What about Chablis?
From a grape varietal standpoint. Nothing. The Chardonnay grape goes into making all these wines. One of the big difference you come across when comparing domestic and international wines is how they are named. Domestic wines are named after the grape varietal while many international wines are named for the region they come from. That being said, don’t expect a domestic Chardonnay and White Burgundy to taste similar. Generally speaking they tend to be very different from each other.
So What’s the Deal with Chablis? There is much confusion between Chablis and Chardonnay in recent years. The foundation for this likely lies in the fact that the Chablis region of France is a large producer of Chardonnay grapes. As the region has grown in popularity, the “Chablis” label has grown to encompass its own type of wine. The term “Chablis” is now widely used to describe a generic, dry, white wine. However, a Chardonnay from Chablis is something entirely different than a colloquial Chablis wine. To try and clear up the confusion, the European Union recently protected the name “Chablis” saying that this title can only be used on Chardonnay wines that are produced in the Chablis region. Today, Chardonnays from this region can be quite expensive and are prized for their pure expression of the varietal character of the grape.
What does it taste like?
Crisp and lean, tropical and fruity, toasty and oaky–Chardonnay can be made in many different styles. Aging in oak, stainless steel or a mixture of the two greatly changes what is in your glass.
What is a Buttery Chardonnay or an Oaky Chardonnay?
Buttery Chardonnay has everything to do with Malolactic Fermentation. That’s a process where Malic acid, derived from the latin name for “apple” converts to Lactic acid which is derived from the latin name for milk. If the winemaker allows this fermentation to occur – which happens after all the sugars have been converted to alcohol – you get a more buttery and rounded texture. If they don’t, the wine is much more tart and crisp.
In the 80’s and early 90’s as the U.S. was going crazy for Chardonnay, California really did a number on the wine, aggressively oaking it, creating wines that were big on flavors of vanilla, toasted marshmallows and wood. People loved them, and some still do, but tastes have changed. If you want something a bit more refreshing and crisp, go unoaked, or try Chablis.
How much should I spend on a bottle of Chardonnay?
Chardonnay prices are all over the map. You can find bottles for as little as $3 all the way up to several hundred. Our advice: if you are looking for a quality, well made wine then steer clear of the bargain basement bottles and start around the $20 mark.
What are some of the best Chardonnay producers?
Leflaive, Marcassin, William Fèvre, Aubert, Peter Michael, Montrachet, Mersault are perhaps some of the most prized (and expensive) producers and regions for Chardonnay. Domestically speaking, most of us a familiar with brands like Cakebread, La Crema and Rombauer these are perhaps a bit more accessible and are what we would consider a safe bet. We love to seek wines that are not so widely distributed. The Chardonnays that follow you may not have heard of but are definitely worth seeking out.
Peirson Meyer Chardonnay A partnership that began with their work together at Aubert, its no surprise that this producer is still delivering some of the best Chardonnay under $50.
Ramey Chardonnay Made by David Ramey a rockstar Sonoma County winemaker, these lean and structured wines should handily dispel any simplistic notions of what California Chardonnay is all about.
Lloyd Chardonnay (Rombauer fans – here is the value for you!) After years of working at Rombauer, La Crema, and Cakebread Robert Lloyd began his own label where he continues a fantastic expression of big, rich California Chardonnay.