Chardonnay is a variety of green grape used to make the white wine known under the
same name. Originating in the Burgundy region of France, it is now grown and produced
all over the world, and is one of the most commonly planted grape varieties.
Boasting a range of flavors from buttery oak overtones, to fresh fruits such as
pear, apple, melon, tropical, and citrus, the Chardonnay wine varieties are very popular.
Flavors of Chardonnay wine are mainly dependent on climate and length of aging,
along with the type of oak used in the aging process. This is due to the neutral
flavor qualities of the Chardonnay grape. Therefore, styles of Chardonnay wine vary
greatly worldwide, ranging from lean and crisp to oak and tropical fruit flavors.
Warm climates tend to produce Chardonnay grapes with notes of honey and butter,
while cool climates produce more fruity flavors. Traditionally dry, aromas found
in Chardonnay wine include apple, linden, and almond. Chardonnay is also used as
a main ingredient in Champagne and other sparkling wines.
Popular belief assumed that Chardonnay wine was related to Pinot noir and Pinot blanc
varieties. However, this is now proved to be false. It was also thought to have
come from vineyards in the Middle East, in addition to Cyprus. DNA research by the
University of California, Davis, has found Chardonnay wine to be a combination of Pinot
and Gouais Blanc grapes. Romans were thought to have brought the Gouais Blanc variety
into Eastern France where peasants cultivated it. French aristocrats grew Pinot
grapes close to the Gouais Blanc variety, where many believe the two interbred.
Whether the grapes were cultivated or came about by accident, the result was the
Chardonnay grape. According to history, these grapes received their name from
a village called Chardonnay in the Burgundy region of France. Cistercian monks were
believed to have distributed Chardonnay wine throughout France, and the first to
plant for the purpose of production and distribution of the wine. Writing
found by monks from 1330 show the earliest known reference to this sort of wine. Historically,
oak barrels have been used to ferment Chardonnay wine, giving it unique characteristics.
In more recent years, however, this has begun to change due to the increased popularity
of the beverage. In order to produce quick and inexpensive wines, some wineries
are soaking the wine in oak chips rather than aging it in barrels. This practice
generally produces low-quality wine, although there are some exceptions. When looking
for a good quality Chardonnay wine, most consumers are better off seeking out those aged
in oak barrels, as has been the proven method of producing the best Chardonnay wine.
This is in contrast to Chablis wines, which use Chardonnay grapes but do not traditionally
ferment in oak. In recent years, Chardonnay has suffered somewhat of a backlash
due to its surging popularity. The success of California wines are part of the reason
this has occurred, with the proliferation of vineyards in the region dramatically
increasing their planting of Chardonnay grapes to meet rising demand. The result
was lower-quality and inexpensive "box" wines. The explosive popularity of Chardonnay
was also blamed for destroying local grape varieties worldwide, as growers gave
those up in favor of planting the more profitable Chardonnay. Despite the criticism,
Chardonnay remains a popular wine, and accounts for 443,000 acres of vineyard plantings
around the world, the 6th most widely grown grape variety.
Due to its adaptability and ease of cultivation, Chardonnay is able to thrive in
a variety of conditions and climates throughout the world. Able to adapt to most
vineyard soils, the three the grape seems to prefer are limestone, clay, and chalk,
which are found throughout the region of its origination. In the Chablis region
of France, grand cru varieties of Chardonnay are planted in soil partially comprised
of limestone and chalk, while premier cru vineyards in the region of Meursault feature
limestone underneath 6 1/2 feet of topsoil, producing rich and rounded wine. Chardonnay
is one of the top white grape varieties planted in France, second to Ugni blanc.
Chardonnay wine produced in the Burgundy region of France is traditionally considered
to be among the best due to the terroir, and are also among the most expensive.
More than three-fifths of Chardonnay wine plantings in France are found in the Burgundy,
Chablis, and Champagne regions. Italy, Greece, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland
are other European countries known for their Chardonnay wine production, in addition
to Israel, Lebanon, Australia, New Zealand, and many more regions worldwide.
North America is another region where Chardonnay thrives, particularly in California,
yet maintains characteristics different from those in France. Chardonnay is also
predominantly found in Oregon, Washington, Texas and Virginia, yet grows throughout
the United States and Canada. Chardonnay is the number one white wine variety found
in California, as its popularity exploded throughout the late 1970s and into the
1980s. This is due in part to victory in a 1976 blind taste test event known as
the Judgment of Paris, which pitted California Chardonnay against that from Burgundy.
The wine regions in California that produce the best quality Chardonnay are the
ones most affected by coastal fogs, which give more time for it to develop its flavors
by slowing the ripening of the grape. Wines produced in Sonoma county are reflective
of Burgundy Chardonnays, and Napa Valley vineyards are also known for good quality
Chardonnay. Coolness is also an important climate characteristic in producing Chardonnays
with greater complexities, since a cooler growing environment slows ripening. Washington
State, New York, and Canada are also known for producing well-received Chardonnays
due to their cool growing conditions.
However, cool climate is not a necessary requirement to yield a high quality Chardonnay.
South Africa is one example. Vineyards with stony soils containing shale and high
clay levels are known to produce Chardonnays comparable to those of Burgundy, and
vineyards in regions with sandstone-based soils produce rich and weighty Chardonnay.
Suggested Food Pairings
Chardonnay can be paired with a large range of food types, due to its varying styles.
For meats, it is commonly paired with white meats such as chicken, turkey and light
pork. It also goes well with seafood and lighter fish, however, Chardonnays with
a heavy oak flavor tend to pair better with more flavorful fish, such as smoked
fish dishes. Oak-heavy Chardonnays also go well with spicy foods and garlic, especially
Asian foods. If you have a more acidic Chardonnay which are commonly found coming
from Washington State, pair it with tomato-based dishes and those containing sweet
onions, while older Chardonnays with a mellower flavor profile do well with aged
cheeses and mushroom dishes.
With a long history and devoted fan base, Chardonnay benefits from versatility in
styles, with wine makers offering a large choice of structures and types. From powerful,
oaky wines boasting a rich, buttery presence, to non-oak fermented fruity
Chardonnays that allow the character of the variety to shine, this popular white
wine will accommodate almost every palate and many food pairing combinations.
For a typical, "middle-of-the-road" Chardonnay wine with hints of oak and fruitiness,
a sample meal centered around Chardonnay would be as follows:
Cheese tray: Assortment of provolone, gruyere and mild cheddar
Appetizer: Crab cakes
Main Course: Chicken Cordon Bleu and sauteed asparagus
Dessert: French vanilla chocolate flourless cake
Be sure when serving your Chardonnay wine that it isn't coming straight out of the refrigerator.
If it is served too cold it loses its fruity flavors. Most wines are best
served around 55 degrees F.
Key producers of French Chardonnay wine include Albert Grivault, Maillard Pere, Naudin
Ferrand and Jean-Michel Guillon. Key U.S. producers include Chalk Hill, Francis
Ford Coppola, Kendall-Jackson, Beringer, Shafer Vineyards, and Stony Hill.
Due to the adaptability of the grapes and worldwide growth, they result in
a high yield crop. This translates into a lower price for a good bottle of Chardonnay
compared to several other types of wine, whether you buy from our online wine store
or elsewhere. A decent bottle can range anywhere from $10 to $50 and
you can usually purchase this wine online too. 2002 was a good year for Chardonnay
wines, and quality bottles can be had within that price range. For example, a bottle
of 2002 Albert Grivault Chardonnay wine can be purchased for around $55, and is considered
by wine critics to be the best 100% Chardonnay from Mersault, with a full apple
flavor. It is especially recommended to be paired with Swiss, cheddar, and goat
cheeses, in addition to poultry and seafood. Another 2002 recommendation
is from Cullen vineyards in Australia. Priced at about $45 per bottle, it is considered
to be one of Cullen's best Chardonnay wine, with melon, pineapple, grapefruit, and subtle
smokey oak aromas, and a lingering, mineral-tinged finish. Although on the more
expensive side, almost anyone who enjoys white wine should appreciate it.
As seen, price points vary, and are not always indicative of quality. Many imported
varieties, especially from France tend to cost more. However, there is a great
variety of North American Chardonnays that are less expensive and of very high quality.
It is ultimately up to you and your palate to experiment and find which Chardonnays
suit your taste and bank account.