FIVE Quick Things You Want to Know About Chardonnay
Think you don’t like Chardonnay? Its passé? You’ll think again when you taste some of the newer chardonnays from all over the world. Welcome to the new world of Chardonnay – many are clean, crisp and refreshing without a heavy oak or the taste of too much “butter”.
Chardonnay is from Burgundy, the only winegrowing region in France that we call by an English name, not the original French, Bourgogne. With over 100 appellations, (a legally defined and protected geographic location), there are lots of different kinds of Chardonnay to explore. Typically Burgundy wine is labeled by the place the wine is made, instead of the grape it is made with, for instance Chablis is the name of the place, Chardonnay is the name of the grape. In the wine world, we refer to naming like this as “Old World”.
Chardonnay is a relatively easy to grow grape and its grown all over the world from the cool climates like Chablis in Burgundy, Carneros in California and Tasmania to hot places like South Africa and Australia. The cooler the climate, the more acidity the grapes will acquire. Warmer regions can give tropical fruit flavors to the wine. This versatile grape can be made into wine styles from dry to sweet, sparkling to dessert wines.
Chardonnay is one of three most commonly used grapes to make world-famous Champagne. It is often used as the third in a trio of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and adds freshness and delicate flavor to the blend. A Blanc de Blancs is champagne that is made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes.
Winemakers often use oak to create smells and tastes of coconut, honey vanilla or spices in Chardonnay. It can also create a bigger mouthfeel, (imagine the weight of skim milk in your mouth versus cream). We typically hear about French oak barrels, but oak can come from anywhere. (Visiting Serbia, I spied barrels from all over the world, even Pennsylvania!) Oak barrels are very expensive, especially the classic size called Barrique that holds 225 liters of wine. Each of these barrels can cost up to $1000 when sourced from exclusive and famous forests. Think about this when you see pictures of barrels lined up in a cellar – Wow! Oak flavors don’t have to come just from barrels, inexpensive wine brands often use oak teabags – powdered oak in giant teabags.
Unoaked Chardonnay is one of the easiest wine pairings you can choose. It sings with lighter foods and is a super match for veggie meals with herb based sauces and dressings. Using oak when making a wine imparts flavors and aromas like coconut, toast, toffee, vanilla, cedar, spices and cream. Of course, just because a Chardonnay is unoaked, doesn’t make it interesting or good. But if it is, you’ll taste more of the natural flavors from the grape, fresh fruit and citrus tang. Large stainless steel tanks are most often used when making unoaked chardonnay.