Today we’re talking about Chardonnay! Chardonnay is the most popular white wine on the planet. For all of you who think Chardonnay = Life, I do not need to tell you this!
In addition to being the post popular, it’s also the most diverse. It’s the most widely grown white grape in Burgundy, where it originated, as well as very a major varietal in Champagne. Now, Chardonnay is grown all over the world.
Styles of Chardonnay
There are 2 main styles of chardonnay, and they are vastly different. If you like the idea of butter butter butter, you love the classic style of oak-aged Chardonnay wine. On the other hand, if you are not typically the biggest Chardonnay fan, perhaps you might like the unoaked style better. In addition to these main styles, ripeness has a lot to do with flavor.
As grapes grow in warm climates, the fruit has more time to develop, so you’ll see fuller-bodied chardonnays come out of places like California, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of South America — a very ripe Chardonnay will have flavors more towards tropical fruits like pineapple, peach and mango. On the other hand, a barely ripe Chardonnay will have green apple and lemon flavors and a bright, tart, or citrusy taste like in Chablis, for example, where the wine is unoaked and bone dry. Other high quality cool-climate regions for Chardonnay typically include Oregon and Washington, other parts of Burgundy, South Africa and Australia.
Unoaked Chardonnay is far closer to the zesty style of Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc. There is no oak, no cream, no butter — only the characteristics of chardonnay here: green apple, lemon and maybe a little touch of tropical fruit.
If you like white wine from Chablis — this is where unoaked wine was popularized. Another plus to Unoaked Chardonnay: all those oak barrels are expensive to pay for, so this style of wine is typically a better buy.
Oaked Chardonnays are rich, full-bodied and have additional flavors of vanilla, butter and even caramel from the oak. A cool climate Oaked Chardonnay will have more citrus flavors versus a warm climate Oaked Chardonnay, which will have more tropical fruit flavors.
As a non-aromatic variety, Chardonnay has an affinity with oak, whether new or used, French or American, and while barrel-fermented Chardonnays tend to be the richest, most complex and long-lived dry whites.
Chardonnay + Food
Unoaked Chardonnays are great starter wines to have before dinner, and will match beautifully with a range of light and delicate food including:
• Soft cheeses — Brie, Camembert, Humboldt Fog, etc.
• Salads or light dishes with herbs like thyme, tarragon, parsley
• Lighter vegetable dishes
• Seafoods — oysters, shrimp, etc.
Oaked Chardonnays will pair beautifully, among other things, with:
• Salads on the heavier side, like a Caesar salad
• Fish with herbs, grilled or with a buttery sauce
• Chicken dishes with a heavier or creamy sauce
• Grilled meats like pork chops or veal chops
• Lobster or scallops
• Late summer / heavier vegetable dishes like corn, pumpkin, butternut squash
• Apple or pear desserts
All the Butter!
The smell of vanilla, caramel, coconut and butter are all attributes of oak-aging. However, the texture that some Chardonnays have that can be described as creamy, smooth or extra-buttery is from a special second kind of fermentation called Malolactic Fermentation, known as MLF. MLF turns tart malic acid (which is found in green apples) to smooth, lactic acid (which is found in creamy milk). If you want a rounder, more creamy-feeling wine, look for wines that have gone through MLF. I myself am a big fan of these wines!
Below are some of the brands of Chardonnay I love in both the oaked and unoaked styles. Some of these suggestions may be new but some are classics.
Oaked Chardonnay Picks
- Better: Aubert, Far Niente, Cakebread, Newton Unfiltered, Ramey, Paul Hobbs, Domaine Serene, Rombauer, Beringer
- Everyday: Butter (pictured above), Chateau Ste. Michelle, Rodney Strong Chalk Hill, La Crema, Zuccardi Q
Unoaked Chardonnay Picks
- Better: Raveneau, Joseph Drouhin, Domaine Christian, Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Bourgogne, Hamilton Russell
- Everyday: Domaine Le Virolys Vire Clesse (pictured above), Apaltagua Reserva Chardonnay, Chehalem INOX Chardonnay, Pellegrini Unoaked, Louis Latour Pouilly Fousse
Do you all love Chardonnay, or not so much? Let me know if you have any good ones I should try!
xx — BB