Chardonnay is without a doubt one, if not THE, most famous white grape variety in the world. If you know even a tiny bit about wine, you’ve heard of Chardonnay. The grape is planted all over the world, and used to produce wide-ranging styles of wine. As a result, writing about Chardonnay is not an easy task: where do you start??
In this article, my aim is to give you the basics, so that you grasp the key facts and build a solid foundation, on which you can later build on more knowledge.
So let’s dive in.
How to pronounce?
Where does it comes from?
Chardonnay is the name of a village in Burgundy, France. It is in that region that the grape variety originates.
In Burgundy, Chardonnay is style the most planted white grape, and there it produces some if the finest white wines in the world, in appellations such as Chablis, Meursault or Puligny-Montrachet. All made 100% from Chardonnay.
The grape however is now found all over the world, from California to Australia, and from Chile to Croatia. You will even find Chardonnay in the Champagne region of France, where it is one of the main components of the world famous sparkling wine.
What does it smell like?
Chardonnay is one of these grapes which does not have extremely strong and notable aromas that you will find regardless of where the grape is grown. In fact, Chardonnay is known for taking on a different profile according to the soil and terroir where it is grown.
We can categorise Chardonnay broadly in two main styles:
- in cold regions (think Burgundy, Tasmania, Germany or Oregon) Chardonnay tends to show aromas of green apple, pear and citrus
- in warmer regions (think Australia, Southern Italy, the central valleys of California), the aroma profile is going to go more towards peach, passion fruit and pineapple.
Oak is another factor that will greatly influence the wine. Oaked Chardonnays (I.e. wines aged in oak) will develop more roundness, and you will start picking up aromas of butter, vanilla and hazelnut.
What does it taste like?
Unoaked Chardonnays, especially from a cooler climate produce zesty wines, with good acidity, and a light to medium body. They are the perfect wines for aperitifs or light dishes.
On the other hand, oaked Chardonnays are more round, with lower acidity, and can be drunk slightly warmer than their unoaked counterparts, which should be drunk colder.
What food will it go well with?
As mentioned briefly earlier, unoaked Chardonnays are great aperitif wines, and will also match beautifully with a range of food including:
- Mild, soft paste cheeses, such as Brie, Camembert
- Salads and herbs: Chicken Ceasar salad, or light dishes including parsley, mint or tarragon,
- Seafood dishes, such as oysters, seafood platters, etc.
- Apple or pear desserts
Oaked Chardonnays will also marry beautifully with food, and I would recommend the dishes below:
- Oily fish such as mackerel, salmon or sardines
- Chicken dishes with a creamy sauce, especially a mushroom sauces
- Lobster or scallops
Where are the best regions for Chardonnay?
Again, because the grape is planted in so many regions, it is difficult to pinpoint two or three as the best.
However, if someone had never tasted Chardonnay before, I would definitely recommend they start with Burgundy. Whether they go for Chablis, Meursault, Montrachet or Corton, you can’t go wrong by starting in Burgundy.
I would also recommend they try Champagne, and for an all Chardonnay experience, I would pick a “Blanc de Blanc” champagne, made entirely from Chardonnay.
In the New World, many regions stand out as great Chardonnay producers, but I think it’s fair to say that Australia is probably the first name that comes to mind in many people’s heads when mentioning New World Chardonnays. The style of Australian Chardonnays is changing from the rich, oaky and alcoholic to something much crisper, more refreshing and pleasing.
What tastes similar?
If you like the dry styles of Chardonnay, I recommend you to try Gruner Veltliner which is a great variety from Austria. It’s going to be very similar in its structure for the more round styles.
Maybe you could have a look at Pinot Gris from New Zealand or from California. Alternatively you could go for a Grenache Blanc from Southern France or a white Garnacha from Northern Spain.
Best Chardonnay: 5 To try
I’ve tried to give a range of wine that showcase the variety of Chardonnay styles, all in a reasonable budget.
- Chablis Sebastien Dampt, Burgundy, France
- The Wishing Tree Western Australia Unoaked Chardonnay 2007
- Chardonnay – Bogle, 2014 California, U.S.A.
- Salentein Killka Chardonnay 2013, Mendoza, Argentina
- Cyrus: add a blanc de blanc champagne
For the more adventurous among you, you can start saving, and try some of the amazing wines below:
- Patrick Javillier Meursault les Tillets 2013
- Puligny-Montrachet, Les Enseignères Domaine Henri Prudhon 2013
- Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses, Domaine Servin 2012
And if you know a millionaire friend whose credit card you can borrow:
- Domaine Leflaive Batard Montrachet Grand Cru ( approx. $6,000)
- Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Montrachet Grand Cru, Cote de Beaune, France – (approx.. $5,000)
So here you are, you now have a solid knowledge on Chardonnay. Feel free to explore the subject in greater depth. We have lots of guide, on appellations such as Meursault, and will continue to publish more great content related to Chardonnay so make sure you stay tuned.