The Grape Variety Series - Chardonnay
Chardonnay is famed as arguably one of the world’s most popular white grape varieties, responsible for some of the greatest white wines on the planet. From crisp champagnes to rich, tropical whites, even if you think you don’t like it, there really is something for everyone within this versatile grape.
Here’s what you need to know about this much-loved, yet often maligned, super-star white grape. Chardonnay: Adored by many and unexplored by many more. Chardonnay rules the white wine world, wearing many disguises. From rich, vanilla pudding bombs to sparkling, blanc de blanc champagne via crisp, dry chablis, chardonnay can turn its hand to many styles. Chardonnay is perhaps the noblest of white grapes and can make great tasting wines in varying climates the world over.
A distinctive style
Melon, peach and vanilla are flavours often associated with chardonnay, especially when outside the key French regions mentioned below. It’s malleable as a grape and works superbly with oak but is equally delicious without it. Chardonnay also responds very well to different terroirs and climates, giving a unique style in each.
We’ve already established that chardonnay comes in many styles, so let’s focus on the most popular options: A crisp chablis is a winner with seafood and white fish. It also loves a hard cheddar cheese and a slice or two of apple. Richer, oaked burgundy is great with white meats such as roast chicken and can take a creamy sauce. Try this with hard, nutty cheeses like comté. Blanc de blanc champagne in its youth can be lean and tart. It will favour smoked salmon with cream cheese to cut the acidity but with some age, it becomes toasty and stands up to richer, brioche flavours.
Here‘s a tasting tour of the best places to try world-class chardonnay:
Burgundy, France. If it’s from Burgundy and it’s white, 99% of the time, your wine will be 100% chardonnay. Made in a distinctive style, often with French oak, these wines form the benchmark against which many other styles are judged.
Chablis, France. Technically northern Burgundy, but with its very own terroir and style, Chablis has a personality all of its own. Known for its purity, its refreshing leanness and iconic, chalky texture, nowhere else in the world quite makes chardonnay like this.
Champagne, France. With another totally different, yet distinctive style of chardonnay. ‘Blanc de blancs’ champagne means it’s made from 100% chardonnay. Mind blown? That’s all you need to know.
Try: Ruinart Dom Ruinart Blanc 2007
Made with hand-harvested, 100% chardonnay grapes from Grand Cru vineyards in the famous regions of Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims. It’s aromatic and intense thanks to a sunny, warm vintage and ten years ageing on the lees.
Australia - The country that got people drinking affordable wine many moons ago has truly honed its craft when it comes to chardonnay. Head to the cooler climates like the Yarra Valley in the south, Tasmania or over to coastal western Australia for some truly exceptional wines.
California - Home of luscious, fruit-driven chardonnay that’s like a cuddle in a glass. The best ones can get pricey, but they are seriously worth it. Head to Napa and you will not be disappointed.
Try: Newton Vineyards Unfiltered Chardonnay 2014
Rich, textured and full of flavour. This bold, zesty chardonnay hails from the marine-cooled Carneros subregion.
New Zealand, Argentina & Chile: Many other countries are making great chardonnay these days, but you can get some spectacular, tropical versions in these areas that are great value. New regions in Argentina are also starting to really show their colours on the global, chardonnay stage. Just watch this space…
Try: Terrazas de los Andes Chardonnay 2016
A cool, elegant and mineral chardonnay, made with grapes sourced from the Uco Valley at altitudes over 4,000 feet, above sea level and exposed to extraordinarily pure sunlight.