Chardonnay is one of the most popular grapes in the world. It is a versatile grape that can grow in many different climates, soils and elevations. It can taste vastly different even though it is the same grape depending on the wine making process. So, I do think that everybody can find a chardonnay that they love. I say that being someone who has been known to say, “I love all wine except Chardonnay”. That is not true, so if you ever hear me say that, correct me. I love all wine except a certain style of chardonnay. To be fair there is nothing wrong with that style and there are many high-quality wines that come in that style, it is just not to my personal taste. So, let’s explore the great grape called chardonnay.
When I say that a chardonnay can taste vastly different depending on where it is grown and how the wine is made, I mean it. The flavor profile without taking into account wine making can range from green fruit (apples, pears), citrus fruits to stone fruits (peaches, nectarines), melons up to tropical fruits such as banana and pineapples. It can pick up some flavours from the soil it is grown in like flint, steel or have a minerality to it. Then when we throw in wine making that flavour profile expands even more to include; bread and yeast (if contact with lees*), butter and cream (if underwent MLF**) or vanilla, coconut and toast if it has been aged or fermented in oak. Not to mention that French oak and American oak have different flavor profiles, aging in American oak usually results in much stronger oak flavours than French oak.
It is not just the flavor profiles that vary, the structure of the wine also differs. Although Chardonnay’s are predominately dry wines. It can be a light body to full bodied wine, medium to high acid wine or still or sparkling (we won’t get into sparking today).
So, after all that, how in the world do you pick what chardonnay to try.
If you like, higher acid, lower to medium bodied wines***, green fruit (apples, pears) and citrus fruit flavours, look for a chardonnay from a cooler climate, like the Northern regions of France (Chablis, Champagne), Limestone Coast in Australia, the high altitudes in Mendoza Argentina and areas in Canada.
If you think you are more of a stone fruit (peach, nectarine) and melon fan with medium to high acid, or medium to full body, then a chardonnay from a moderate climate may be for you. Then give the chardonnays a try from South Africa, areas of France (Côte-d’Or, Côte de Beaune), Marlborough New Zealand, parts of Canada and Sonoma and Carneros in California.
Haven’t described your tastes yet? How about full body, medium acid wine that tastes of fresh pineapple and bananas (amongst other tropical fruit). Those are from our hot hot climates like Chile (especially the Central Valley), Macon and Poulley Fusse from France.
Now we have picked our base wine based on where the wine is grown, how do we know how it is made. That is often indicated right on the bottle, especially if it has been oaked and what kind of oak it was put in. Chardonnays from Chablis are often unoaked or oaked in French oak, so the oak flavours are more subtle. California chardonnays are often oaked in American oak and so the oak flavours are more noticeable and is kind of that regions signature style. Contact with lees and MFL aren’t always noted on the bottle as those pretty technical terms, but if you really want to know, look it up, go to the producer’s website, or go to a wine review site like Vivino and check it out. Or my preferred method is to taste it and see if you like it. I will be trying a few chardonnays over the next few weeks so watch my social media for my thoughts on them.
I look forward to hearing about what chardonnays you found that you love and why. Feel free to comment on this post.
* Lees is a term to describe the left over cells of yeast after the fermentation is completed.
** MLF (Malolactic Fermentation) – this is a process that takes the malic acids left behind from the main fermentation to lactic acids. This often softens the wine, as malic acids are tart, and lactic are softer (like in milk)
*** wine making techniques can impact the body of a wine as well, so even cool climate chardonnays could have fuller bodies