Chardonnay is without a doubt the queen of white wine grapes. It’s the most planted worldwide, and it has immense versatility. Chardonnay can express its terroir like no other.
There’s no doubt Chardonnay has won a place in everyone’s hearts, but there’s much to learn about the remarkable Burgundian grape, from how to pair it to its intricate history. Chardonnay is listed on every wine list on the planet, and by learning all about it, you’ll understand why — It’s just easy to love! Here’s a guide to Chardonnay, the most significant white wine grape on earth.
The History of the Chardonnay Grape Variety
Chardonnay has a unique pedigree. It has its origins in Burgundy, France, and it’s the offspring of the notorious Pinot Noir and the now rare Gouais Blanc, but since labelling wine with the grape’s name is not customary in France, where the wine is labelled for the village where it comes from, it’s hard to know when the first Chardonnay vines were planted.
There is a Burgundian town called Chardonnay, though, but the grape’s name might also have something in common with the flowering plants called thistles, members of the Carduus family. Chardonnay does display lovely floral aromatics.
Chardonnay gained recognition for the white wines produced with it, prominent since before the Middle Ages, and its role in Champagne, the most prestigious French sparkling wine.
The queen of white grapes soon travelled along with European explorers to the Americas, South Africa and Australia. And today, Chardonnay is planted in every major wine-producing country, often playing a leading role in the countries’ wine industries.
The best known and most prized wines made with Chardonnay come from France, mainly from Chablis and Burgundy’s Cote de Beaune, particularly from Beaune, Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, Corton, Meursault. It’s also widely popular in Burgundy’s southern Mâconnais region, in Macon, Macon-Villages and Pouilly-Fuisse.
The grape also plays a leading role in Champagne, primarily in the Côte de Blancs. It also enjoys significant plantings in the southern Languedoc region, where it is used to make some of the country’s everyday wines.
Chardonnay has found success in the United States, it’s the most planted white grape in California, and it is also grown in Oregon, Washington and New York. The Napa and Sonoma counties produce some of the finest examples.
Wine producers in South Africa make world-class wine along the Western Coast, and the grape has found itself at home in Australia, where it shows a riper, bolder style.
You’ll find excellent Chardonnay coming from every corner of the earth, from Bulgaria to Argentina, including the UK, Italy, Mexico and Germany.
Wine Styles & Tasting Notes
Chardonnay is cherished by grape growers, winemakers and consumers alike for its ability to express the terroir or sense of place from where it came from. This means no two bottles of Chardonnay taste alike.
When vinified as a sparkling wine, sometimes labelled Blanc de Blancs, Chardonnay displays white apple aromas with hints of white flowers and minerality. Also mineral is the Chardonnay from the Northern, cold-climate Chablis region in France.
Burgundy’s Chardonnay is rounder and bolder, mainly because producers allow the wine to experience a secondary, malolactic fermentation and age the wine in oak barrels. The combination of butter aromas from Malo and sweet spices from the oak gives Chardonnay an instantly recognisable personality — this is amongst the few white grapes aged in oak barrels.
In the new world, Chardonnay grows in warmer climates and displays bolder fruit aromas reminiscent of tropical fruit like mango. In contrast, the grape’s characteristic underlying golden apple aromas are always perceivable.
In a nutshell, Chardonnay produces clean, vibrant sparkling wine, mineral and tart dry white wine and bold, generous, full-bodied white wine. The broad spectrum gives Chardonnay versatility at the table.
When Chardonnay shows its tarter, more mineral side, you can pair it with light food, including salads, raw oysters and fresh cheese.
When the grape is buttered up by the malolactic fermentation and gains complexity in oak barrels, it pairs beautifully with creamy sauces, including Alfredo, Bearnaise and Bechamel.
Bolder Chardonnay is also the ideal partner for prawns and lobster, especially when cooked with butter, and it rises to the occasion when paired with poultry, pork and other white meats.
Oily fish, including salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and eel, are also compatible with more expressive styles of Chardonnay, making it a well-rounded wine to pair with every meal.