The Charm of Chardonnay
Ah, Chardonnay, everyone's favorite variety to hate. We've met too many members of the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) club to count in recent years. The reason for all of the haters, is that frankly Chardonnay is just too good at its job.
In the Vineyard
It posesses large hearty berries, that are super hardy and can grow in a variety of climates, warm or cold. As such it has become a notable international variety able to thrive anywhere (think of the girl in high school who could hang with the nerds, the jocks, the cheerleaders and the punks!).
The result is that less than stellar winemakers have taken advantage of Chardonnays good graces producing wines that are over-oaked, flabby (lacking in acidity) and just plain nasty.
These wines give Chardonnay a bad rap, because when Chard is good, it's great! And it can be great in a number of ways, either improved by winemaker skill or acting as a medium for terroir. It excels in limestone, and chalk soils and that frequently is evident in the wine itself.
In the Winery
Having said that, Chardonnay is very adaptable to whatever the winemaker wants to do it.
- Maloactic Fermentation is used to add a buttery creamy quality which complements Chardonnay.
- Some winemakers age the wine on dead yeast cells to add creaminess and nutty richness. This process is known as Sur Lies (aka on the yeast in French)
- Oak aging: Used to boost flavor and varies drastically depending upon the type used.
- Chaptalization: Used in cool climates.
- Acidification: Used in warmer climates.
Where it Grows
- Chablis: stainless steel fermentaiton and kimmeridgian soil make for wines that offer a ton of mineral and allow the natural acidity of these wines to shien through. Think granny smith apples rolled in hazelnuts.
- Cote d'Or: Lightly toasted oak provide just enough texture and weight to keep things interesting and age-worthy. This is the stuff that tastes better decades after it has been harvested and is often sold at the auction block or restaurant rather than your local retailers. Think all of the green apple fruit above with a touch of smoke.
- Wines from this region are exceptionally age-worthy, some capable of aging up to 30 years.
- Chardonnay is the one white blending grape used to make the wine synymous with all bubbles.
- When it is the only grape in the bottle, it is bestowed with moniker, Blanc de Blancs ("White of Whites").
- Italy: Friuli and North Eastern Italy
- New South Wales: Tyrrells
- Yarra Valley: De Bortoli
- McLaren Vale
- Barossa: Peter Lehman
- Sonoma: The most famous regions for Chardonnay in this cooler region are Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, and Sonoma-Carneros. The wines are flintier ang generally regarded as more "Burgundian" in style
- Napa The home of the buttery oaky style of Chardonnay that changed the way we view the grape. the best examples are like melons and mangoes roasted with cocnut oil and sweet baking spices. When it's bad it's ghastly, but when it's good it's great, so don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.
- New York
- New Zealand: Yeah we know that New Zealand is synonymous with Sauvignon Blanc but Chardonnay from Hawkes Bay are partiuclarly rocking. The long cool nights make for perfectly balanced delicious chards.