The diversity of Chardonnay is quite impressive, no wonder it is one of the most popular grapes grown in the world.
There is something for everyone whether you prefer a light and zesty white wine or a big buttery oaked Chardonnay, or even a classic sparkling wine.
Chardonnay is the perfect example of how important the winemaking process is, the differences climate can make on the profile of your wine, and what a mighty difference it can make in the overall outcome.
The versatility of the profiles are examples of how climate and winemaking can create huge differences in the outcome of the wine.
Acidity: Medium low-Medium high acidity levels. This depends on whether or not it was oaked and what climate it comes from. Cooler climates tend to have a higher acidity while warmer climates produce lower acidity wines.
Body: Oaked or unoaked, Chardonnay seems to be fuller-bodied regardless, although many unoaked Chardonnays can be classified as medium-bodied and the large majority of oaked Chardonnays are very full-bodied.
Warmer climates tend to produce Chardonnays that have more tree fruit flavors, while cooler climates tend to have more tropical fruit flavors. Common flavors include yellow apple, honeydew melon, pineapple, apricot, chalk, and lemon.
Added to the above list, oaked Chardonnay is host to a large number of delicious flavors from the barrel. Combined with the fruit-forward nature of the grape, it makes for quite a unique taste. Oak will add flavors of Creme Brulee, baking spices, vanilla, butter, butterscotch, and toasted bread. Because oaked Chardonnay also goes through malolactic fermentation, you will get that heavier, creamy mouthfeel and body that compliments the effects of the oak.
Here is a great link to the Winemaker’s Academy website, for those who want to go down the rabbit hole and learn more about oak. It is quite a world in itself and interesting to learn how different kinds of oak, ages of barrels, and degrees of toastiness can have on a wine.
Why Do Some Chardonnays Taste Buttery?
Now for the big question, why do some Chardonnays taste like you just liquified a movie theater tub of popcorn?
The buttery and creaminess of some Chardonnays are attributed to a winemaking process called malolactic fermentation. Essentially this is completed after the initial fermentation is complete. The point of the process is to take tart Malic acid and turn it into creamy Lactic acid. An unharmful bacteria allows this process to happen. While it is standard practice for all red wines to go through this process, only a couple of white wines are. Some of these include Chardonnay and Roussanne.
But why don’t red wines taste like butterballs? Because the effects of malolactic fermentation are a bit exaggerated when done to white wines. Because you don’t have the structure of the tannins, you tend to get a bolder mouthfeel, along with different flavors associated with oaking whites.
Food Pairing (Oaked Chardonnay):
Oaked, buttery Chardonnay is a seafood lover’s best friend and a staple at all coastal restaurants. In order to get just the right pairing you need to take into consideration the climate the grape was grown in, along with how to Chardonnay was oaked.
For full-bodied, age oaked Chardonnay (ie. a Reserve Chardonnay) calls for a richer plate. Eggs Benedict, late harvest vegetables, lobster, scallops, and rich mushroom sauces can all hold their own next to a glass of Reserve Chardonnay.
For lighter-bodied or lightly oaked Chardonnays, tone down the richness just a bit. You will find this style of Chardonnay often in New World wineries. Pair with crab cakes, salmon dishes, creamy pasta sauce, roasted chicken, and light salads.
Food Pairing (Unoaked Chardonnay):
Steering in a slightly different direction to pair foods with stainless steel aged Chardonnay, it’s important to note whether it was grown in a warmer climate like South Africa or California, or in a cooler climate like Burgundy or Oregon.
For warmer climate Chardonnays, fresh dishes such as simple salmon plates, caesar salads, or light pasta will compliment the pineapple and yellow apple flavors of the wine.
Cooler climate Chardonnays are an excellent match for grilled fish, sashimi, vegetable soups, and grilled vegetables.
Regions Where Chardonnay is Grown:
Being one of the most planted white grapes in the world, Chardonnay is grown in a large variety of regions and climates. It tends to do well in all sorts of growing conditions. That, along with its versatility in the winemaker’s hands, make this a really special grape.
Originating in Burgundy, France, the grape is now grown in Argentina, New Zealand, Spain, South Africa, Chile, Italy, Australia, the United States, and….well you get the idea.
Try them all!
There is no such thing as getting bored with Chardonnay. A great little Wine Wednesday idea would be to put together a cheese board and invite all of your friends to bring Chardonnays from all over the world, of all different styles. Note the differences in the wines and pair them with your favorite cheeses!
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