Travel to any wine region in the world, and you’ll find at least one vineyard growing Chardonnay. It’s a wine that can be simple or regal, aged for many years or consumed immediately. So how did Chardonnay become so popular, and why does it sometimes get a bad rap?
HISTORY AND WINEMAKING
Chardonnay was born in the Burgundy region of France, where it is known as White Burgundy, and it was there that the wine gained great acclaim for its elegance. Soon after Chardonnay’s rise in popularity, winemakers in Champagne began to grow the grape as well, using it as the dominant ingredient for their sparkling wines.
While grown in the same country, the Chardonnay grapes took on a very different characteristic in Champagne than they had in Burgundy. Winemakers began to realize that the grape had a unique knack for truly embodying terroir, the region and area where the wine is grown. No two places that grow Chardonnay produce the exact same wine, yet every region finds it is relatively easy to grow. This discovery is what helped the grape quickly spread across the world.
While Chardonnay can produce quality fruit in a variety of terroirs, soils and climates, the best expression for Chardonnay grapes comes from soils with high concentrations of chalk, clay and limestone. All three of those soil types dominate the best terroir of Burgundy. Most of the time, Chardonnay grapes are used to produce 100% Chardonnay wines. However, as the grape is versatile, it is used as a blending grape from time to time as well.
So if Chardonnay is so versatile, then what has caused the wine to get a bad rap in recent years? One word: oak. In addition to winemakers discovering how adaptive the grape was to different regions of the world, they also found that it was incredibly responsive to being aged in oak. A little oak on a Chardonnay is a very good thing — it creates the luscious mouthfeel we expect in a Burgundian Chardonnay, and gives us just a kiss of vanilla. The problem is, if the wine gets too much oak, bad things can happen. Thankfully, the practice of over-oaking Chardonnay has pretty much stopped worldwide, with most winemakers who now want their Chardonnay to spend a little time in oak reverting back to the heritage of the French Burgundian winemakers.
FLAVORS AND PAIRINGS
Since Chardonnay is so easily cultivated it presents a wide range of choices for the winemaker. This allows for countless styles of wine produced from Chardonnay ranging from flavors of green apples, pears, smoke, citrus, rocky and mineral driven, steely or tropical honeyed fruit in nature. The range of wine styles for Chardonnay comes first and foremost from the terroir the grape is planted in. But it’s more complicated than that. The type of vessel used for vinification and aging plays a major role in the development of the character and style of Chardonnay. For example, rich, buttery styles comes from grapes aged and fermented in French oak barrels. Chardonnay with vanilla notes were aged in a large percentage of new, French oak barrels. Stony, more steely, crisp styles of wine usually come from grapes that were aged and vinified in stainless steel.
Chardonnay is an easy wine for wine and food pairings. Because Chardonnnay comes in a wide variety of styles, with different textures, levels of sweetness and acidity, there is an equally diverse array of wine and food pairings that work with Chardonnay. All types of seafood from shell fish, to grilled fish is the perfect place to start. Chardonnay can be perfectly paired with a myriad of raw seafood dishes. Seafood simply cooked, braised or buttered, sushi, sashimi are all great with Chardonnay. The richness of Chardonnay copes well with lobster, crab and other fatty fishes. Chicken, veal, pork are all good pairings with Chardonnay. Due to the natural acidity in Chardonnay, it makes a perfect pairing with a wide variety of hard and soft, or even creamy cheeses as well.
OUR TOP PICKS
Oro Bello Chadonnay Best Value!
Deep golden color, bursts from the glass with vibrancy and poise, rich and creamy on the palate, lively finish with detailed focus, bang for the buck it is hard to beat.
2013 LaPitchoune ‘Pratt Vineyard’ Chardonnay WSI Exclusive!
Rich flavors of baked apple, lemon curd tartlet and roasted hazelnuts coalesce on a lingering finish, marked with mineral tension.