Chardonnay

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.

History

History of fines Chardonnay 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.

Terroir

learn about chardonnay terroir

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

Food and Chardonnay Wine 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.

Top Brands

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.