A green-skinned grape variety that is a winemaker’s delight, Chardonnay is extremely adaptable and can grow across a range of climates and soils. But its expression varies upon where it has been grown. This grape is known to make some of the top-quality dry wines in the world. It is also an important component of sparkling wines.
Chardonnay is prized for its ability to produce excellent quality wines in cool, moderate and warm climates. The flavours found in Chardonnay wines are many and varied, its primary fruit aromas and the degree of alcohol, acidity and body are all affected by the climate it grows in.
A cool climate gives Chardonnay high acidity, light-medium body, and flavours of green apple, pear, lemon, lime and a bit of wet stone-like minerality. When grown in a moderate climate the grape has medium-high acidity, medium-full body and flavours of lemon, peach, and occasionally, tropical fruits. In a warm climate, the grape is like a full-blown fruit salad- it has flavours of stone fruits like peach and tropical fruits such as pineapple and banana, along with medium acidity and full body.
Several winemakers from warmer climates adopt a process called acidification, during which they add extra acid to create a more balanced and harmonious wine. The wine is also conformable to malolactic conversion, in which winemakers introduce bacteria to the grape juice, which converts malic acid to lactic acid. This process imparts Chardonnay wines with dairy flavours of butter and cream. Some winemakers also prefer lees contact (where the newly fermented wine is deliberately left in contact with leftover yeast particles) during maturation which adds body to the wine and gives it notes of bread and biscuit.
This grape variety Is also very adaptable to oak-ageing and premium Chardonnays can age in oak barrels for years, gathering complex aromas like toast, spices and vanilla.
Côte d’Or, Burgundy, France
Due to the moderate climate of this region, the grapes achieve riper fruit flavours. Chardonnay production is focused on the area of Côtes de Beaune. The villages of Meursault AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) and Puligny Montrachet AOC are famous for producing outstanding quality Chardonnays. The winemakers in this region add complexity and body to their wines by fermenting and maturing them in oak barrels and ageing them in contact with lees. The premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards within these villages produce magnificent wines that develop tertiary flavours of hazelnut and mushroom for decades in the bottle.
There is also a regional appellation called Bourgogne AOC, where wines can be made from grapes grown anywhere in Burgundy. The wines produced here have simple notes like apple and lemon, and have a high acidity.
A typical wine from Meursault is greenish-gold or light yellow in colour, leaning towards bronze as it ages. Translucent and brilliant, it sometimes exhibits silvery highlights. Its bouquet has strong aromas of ripe grapes. The young wine also exhibits notes of toasted almonds and hazelnuts in a floral (elderflower, lime) and mineral (flint) setting. You will also detect hints of butter, honey, and citrus fruits. On the palate, it is rich and fatty, with a cheerful and appealing taste of hazelnut. The wine has a freshness to it and quite a silky finish. Long and structured, it needs time to mature.
Puligny Montrachet AOC
This wine is a bright golden colour with greenish highlights, becoming more intense with age. The bouquet brings together hawthorn blossoms, ripe grapes, marzipan, hazelnut, amber, lemon grass and green apple. Buttery and mineral aromas are commonplace in this wine, as is honey. Apart from having a well-defined character, it also has a remarkable concentration.
South of France
Situated close to the Mediterranean coast, the South of France has a warm climate, due to which it produces a Chardonnay with ripe fruit flavours of peach, banana and pineapple. Premium quality wines are fermented and matured in oak. However, winemakers use oak chips or staves for inexpensive brands due to their lower costs.
Chardonnay is widely planted in the state of California and wines produced here have varying quality levels. California Chardonnay wines that do not mention a proper region are high volume inexpensive brands with simple Chardonnay characteristics.
On the other hand, regions closer to the coast produce intensely flavoured, well-balanced superior quality Chardonnay. In Northern California, morning fog moderates the climate in the region of Carneros, and the breeze from the Pacific Ocean achieves the same effect for the coastal vineyards of Sonoma. Due to these influences, the Chardonnay grapes retain acidity here, while developing complex fruit flavours.
The sun-kissed and warm Napa Valley produces full-bodied Chardonnay with tropical fruit flavours. These wines get flavours of vanilla and spices from maturation in new oak. Another important region to remember is Santa Barbara County on the Central Coast, which makes excellent quality Chardonnays with more tropical flavours, higher alcohol and more pronounced flavours of new oak.
South Australia and Victoria
Two regions in Australia have a cool climate- Adelaide Hills in South Australia (due to its altitude) and Yarra Valley in Victoria (due to ocean currents from the south). Due to these influences the regions have a longer growing season and produce Chardonnay wines with ripe stone fruit and tropical fruit flavours. These wines also have a medium to high acidity and carefully balanced oak flavours.
The coastal Casablanca Valley region is exposed to sea breezes and morning fogs from the pacific ocean. These cooling influences allow for a longer growing season and produce freshed Chardonnay wines with citrus and stone fruit characteristics with varying levels of oak influences.
Also Read: Popular Wine Styles in Barossa Region
Chablis is a village appellation in Burgundy. The cool climate here produces dry wines with high acidity and flavours of apple, lemon and minerality of wet stones. The premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards are situated on South and South East facing slopes of hills overlooking the town of Chablis, which increases sun exposure and produces riper grapes that help in making complex flavourful wines. Producers here prefer to preserve the delicacy of the cool climate fruit flavours by fermenting in inert vessels with no detectable oak flavours.
The Mâconnais sub-region in the south of Burgundy is a source of fruity and unoaked Chardonnay with simple flavours such as lemon, peach and melon.
Pouilly Fuissé, offers high-quality wines with concentrated stone and tropical fruit flavours due to its steep vineyard slopes. Winemakers often ferment and mature their wines in oak to add body and flavour complexity.
This white wine has a colour ranging from pale to deep gold, with a green rim. Different families of aromas make up the bouquet: mineral notes, almond and hazelnut, citrus notes (lemon, grapefruit), white fruits (peaches), acacia, buttered brioche, and honey. When you swish the wine in your mouth, it is possible to discern the differences between wines from different plots. The texture is opulent, and the structure, partly due to the wine’s natural richness, is full of flavour.
Margaret River, Western Australia
While the quantity of Chardonnay wine produced in this region is small, the quality is consistently high. Despite its warm climate, the region gets cooling sea breezes that help elongate the growing season. Chardonnay wines from this area are typically medium to full-bodied with ripe stone fruits and tropical fruits.
Serving Temperature – 7 to 13 degree Celsius
Glassware - Glassware – Standard white wine glass with a rounder base of the bowl
Food pairing (graphic)
Chardonnay pairs beautifully with fish and seafood. The crispness and minerality of an unoaked Chardonnay go well with raw seafood, sushi and shellfish, like langoustines, clams and mussels. It is also ideal with sautéed flaky white fish. Vegetarians can pair it with a vegetable risotto.
On the other hand, the richness of oaked Chardonnay pairs brilliantly with the succulent fattiness of salmon. A bolder oaked Chardonnay calls for crab cakes, clams, halibut, or even pork tenderloin. For vegetarians, lean towards rich or starchy vegetables like corn, pumpkin, or squash. Also, mushrooms are a must!
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