Chardonnay is probably the most famous white grape variety in the world.
Its versatility in the vineyard and ability to adapt to various growing conditions allows winemakers around the globe to produce quality still white wines as well as sparkling wines of many different origins and styles.
We provide you here with simple and practical information about the grape:
- A summary of its origin and history
- Information about the Top producing countries and regions
- Infographic and aroma wheel to guide you through the wine’s flavor profile while tasting
- Wine & Food Matching suggestions
- TOP 10 most-demanded Chardonnay wines
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Origin and history in brief:
Chardonnay originates from the Burgundy region of France where it still produces some of the world’s finest still white wines. The most famous Bourgogne Chardonnay wines come from the villages of Chablis, Corton-Charlemagne, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet.
Chardonnay is also one of the three main grape varieties used to produce Champagne sparkling wine (often with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier). A Champagne wine made of 100% Chardonnay is called a Blanc de Blancs. The best Chardonnays in Champagne come from Grand Cru villages in the Cote des Blancs area (a sub-zone of the Champagne region): Avize, Cramant, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and Oger.
Thanks to its ability to adapt to many different soils and terroirs, Chardonnay was planted all around the world.
Top Producing Countries and Regions:
France remains the largest producer of Chardonnay with over 44,000 ha planted.
But the USA is a close second with nearly 41,000 ha. Despite the ABC fashion (“Anything but Chardonnay), the grape is still planted all over California. Top California producing regions include the Napa Valley, Sonoma County, , but also in Oregon, Washington or New York.
As the chart above shows, plantings are also very important in Australia, Italy, Chile, South Africa, Spain, Argentina, Moldova and New Zealand.
Winemaking, Flavor and Aroma Profile
Chardonnay grape is aromatically quite neutral, meaning that the winemaking greatly influences the final flavor profile of the wine.
To guide you through what the different Chardonnay wines taste like, with our friends at HisandHerWine.com, we have assembled a simple yet complete Infographic that contains all the main aromas and flavors you will be able to commonly find in ‘Chardy’.
1- Primary Aromas is the term to describe the smells and flavors that come from the fruit itself, from the grapes (as opposed to the winemaking). Depending on the climate and the soil, whether it’s a cool climate or a warmer one, the primary aroma profile can vary greatly.
In a cool climate on a cool and mineral soil like limestone (e.g. in Chablis or Champagne) where the grapes do not reach a very high level of maturation, wines will show mineral notes (stony, steely, flint or chalk) with floral and acidic-fruit aromas (lime, lemon, apple).
On the other end, in a warm or hot climate (like certain parts of California, Australia or South Africa), grape berries and their flavors will reach a higher level of ripeness revealing notes of summer fruits or tropical fruits like apricot, peach, mango, pineapple.
Many Chardonnay wines combine several of the above fruit flavor families.
2- Secondary aromas describe the smells acquired by the wine thanks to the winemaking process. Because Chardonnay gives a juice that is aromatically quite neutral to start with, it is greatly influenced by how the wine is made.
Often Chardonnays go through malolactic fermentation, which gives them notes of yogurt, butter or cream. But for a lighter and more fruit-driven style, winemakers can prevent these flavors to appear in the wine.
Chardonnay can be oaked or unoaked depending on whether the wine is put into contact with oak wood (using barrel fermentation and maturation, or oak chips). Whether new oak barrels are used, whether the wood is lightly or heavily toasted influences the type of oaky flavors found in the wine: from lightly smoky or hazelnut flavors, to intense coconut, vanilla or char.
Traditional Burgundy-style Chardonnay has a lot of malolactic aromas, but subtle oak flavors because only a little new oak is used. Indeed, Burgundians generally use their barrels for a few years. Each year it is used, the oak flavor intensity a barrel gives to the wine decreases.
1990s-style of Californian or Australian Chardonnays is very buttery with plenty of vanilla and toasty notes from the oak, to the point that is sometimes describe as ‘heavy’.
At the other end of the spectrum, unoaked Chardonnays made in cooler climates like in parts of Italy (Trentino-Alto Adige), New Zealand (Marlborough), Chile (Casablanca) or Argentina (Uco Valley), the wine’s aromatic profile remains mainly primary, from the flavors contained in the grapes themselves. This provides an easier-drinking and lighter style, but generally with a lesser aging potential.
3- Tertiary aromas are developed in the bottle with age, as the wine’s molecules interact with each other and with oxygen, changing their aromatic profile. Typically Chardonnays develop notes of wax, honey, nuts and spices.
If these flavors are too pronounced and become dominant, they can become negative. When this happens too early while the wine is still young, it is referred to as ‘premature oxidation’ (or ‘premox’). This happens commonly on simple unoaked Chardonnays kept for more than 3/4 years especially under cork. Screwcaps tend to protect wines from oxidation better.
On the other hand, if the wine develops these notes slowly and subtly over time, so they only complement primary and secondary aromas, the overall aromatic balance and complexity becomes greater than for a young wine. The greatest Chardonnays can age and better this way for 5, 10 years, sometimes decades.
To help you identify these various types of aromas at your next tasting, we’ve put together the following aroma wheel. Print it out and go through the different aroma sections while smelling the wine. If any smell rings the bell and seems to be present in the wine, you are not imagining. It is probably there and you hopefully know why now.
Wine and Food Matches:
Being generally subtle and relatively lightly flavored, Chardonnay wines pair well with many foods. As a few tested combinations, we recommend you try the ones suggested in our world famous Infographics:
The 10 Most Demanded Chardonnay wines:
According to Wine-Searcher, the most searched-for Chardys in the world are (click to find online):
- Rombauer Vineyards Chardonnay, Carneros
- Kistler Vineyards ‘Kistler Vineyard’ Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley
- Marcassin Estate Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast
- Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, Napa Valley
- Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay, Napa Valley
- Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay, Margaret River, Australia
- Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, California
- Far Niente Winery Estate Bottled Chardonnay, Napa Valley
- Gaja Gaia & Rey Chardonnay Langhe, Piedmont, Italy
- Butter Chardonnay, California
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Find further useful information about Chardonnay grape’s history and countries of production on Wikipedia.
Jancis Robinson also publishes a very comprehensive article about the grape.
Check out all of Social Vignerons’ Chardonnay-related articles and reviews.
Thanks again to HisandHerWine.com for putting together the above infographics