The Wine Profile Series: Chardonnay

Chardonnay is the most planted white varietal in the world, it grows in most wine-producing regions, and is often behind the finest white wines worldwide. Chardonnay is a versatile grape that thrives in many climates, from the cold vineyards of Champagne to sunny Australia.

Chardonnay is also versatile in the winery, as it is compatible with malolactic fermentation and oak aging. The queen of white grapes is a source of both affordable everyday wine and expensive, collector’s wine. 

Chardonnay Grapes

Main flavors

  • Golden apple
  • Pear
  • White flowers
  • Pineapple (from warm climates)
  • Vanilla (if oaked)
  • Butter (if oaked)
  • Brown spices (if oaked)

Profile of taste:

  • Dry, medium to full-bodied

  • Medium to high acidity (depending on climate)

  • 10% to 15% ABV

How to serve:

39°F to 50°F / 4°C – 10°C

Glassware:

This depends on the type of Chardonnay; full-bodied oaky Chardonnay is best in larger Burgundy glasses. While unoaked, lighter Chardonnays are best in a smaller, more standard size glass. 

Drinking age:

The drinking age of Chardonnay can vary wildly, depending on where is is made, and which winery produced it. Here are some very general guidelines:

1-3 years if un-oaked

1-5 if years oaked

5-30 years for the most refined examples

Food & wine pairing:

Chardonnay comes in two main styles. The first is wine that is fermented in stainless-steel tanks and aged without oak. The second is oak-aged and usually undergoes malolactic fermentation. The first is youthful and fruit-forward, while the latter is rich and creamy.

Pair un-oaked Chardonnay with seafood, mainly white fish and shellfish. This type of wine is also compatible with fresh cheese. Pair oaked Chardonnay with creamy sauces, rich pastas, oily fish (like salmon and tuna), and white meat. Oaked Chardonnay is also ideal for butter-coated seafood, liked shrimp and lobster.

Did you know:

Chardonnay wines can taste very different, depending on where it grows and the process used to make it. 

Chardonnay Fun Facts 

  1. The most widely planted white grape variety in the world is Chardonnay. It is more widely planted than the Airén grape variety in Spain and the grape, Trebbiano in Italy.
  2. Chardonnay is a main grape varietal in Champagne and many other sparkling wines, such as Franciacorta, Trento, many Crémants.
  3. Chardonnay is thought to come from a tiny village in Burgundy with the same name. The name originally translated to “place of thistles”.
  4. If a wine says Chablis on the label, it is 100% Chardonnay. 
  5. If your Champagne says Blanc de Blanc, it means the Champagne was made of only Chardonnay. 
  6. Chardonnay is said to be “made in the cellar” because it is possible to alter the original flavor tremendously during the winemaking process with the use of oak. 
  7. While Chardonnays from colder regions can have very high acidity, most Chardonnays have a much lower level of acidity. 
  8. The California winery, Wente is famous for their Chardonnay clone originally from Burgundy. The clone is now called the Wente clone, and almost 80% of all American Chardonnay vines can trace their origin back to this clone. 
  9. For a brief moment in 2002 in the UK, people began naming their kids Chardonnay, after a character on the TV series, ‘Footballer’s Wives’.

Types of Chardonnay:

 Oaked Chardonnay

  • Chardonnay aged in oak is commonly made in California, Burgundy, and Australia, among other places. These wines are often darker and more golden in color due to oxidation during the oak aging. These bolder Chardonnay wines call for richer seafood and white meat dishes.

Unoaked Chardonnay

  • These are most famously made in Chablis, but also are made in Chile, New Zealand, and other regions of France.
  • Chardonnay aged without any oak makes a great pairing for oysters, fish, seafood, mushroom risotto, and many other dishes. 

What to look for in Chardonnay wine:

Chardonnay is yellow, almost golden, especially if it spent time in oak barrels due to oxidation. Unoaked Chardonnay is straw-colored with green hues. Unoaked Chardonnay is not dissimilar to other refreshing, light white wines, including Pinot Grigio and Muscadet.

Chardonnay’s aroma depends on the climate in which the grapes grow. Cold-climate Chardonnay offers more apple and pear aromas, while warm-climate Chardonnay is all about tropical fruit scents.

How much should you expect to spend?

Although some of the most expensive white wines in the world are made with Chardonnay, including Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Montrachet Grand Cru for $10,729, many Chardonnays are inexpensive. Expect to pay around $10 for an unoaked example and up to $40 for oaked Chardonnay.

See more articles here

Key dates in Chardonnay history:

1100: The Cistercians at Pontigny Abbey are said to have planted the first Chardonnay vines in Chablis in the 12th century.

1976: The 1976 Paris Judgment tasting, in which Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay placed ahead of some well-known Burgundian wines, was a major event in promoting Chardonnay from the new world.

1990: DNA research in the 1990s revealed that Chardonnay is the offspring of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc, a lesser-known white grape from Roman times.

1995: In 1995, Frank Prial identified a new trend called “ABC” – Anything But Chardonnay.

Date for your diary:

May 26th is Chardonnay Day!

Want to read more about wine? Try out these books!

The Everything Wine Book: From Chardonnay to Zinfandel

The History of Michigan Wines: 150 Years of Winemaking

References:

Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. Jancis Robinson 2012

Wine. Years. People. Events. Massandra Wine Collection 2010

The World Atlas of Wine: 8th Edition. Johnson, H & Robinson, J. 2019

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!