A glass of Chardonnay is always welcome. It could be a bone-dry style from Chablis or a lush tropical style from California, but it always refreshes.
Versatile, widely planted, and popular, you’ll find this varietal in any given “Top 10 grapes of the world list” with regularity. It’s often described as a blank canvas because it takes on the characteristics of each region where it is grown and, as a non-aromatic grape, is a dream for a winemaker who can leave his or her mark on its neutral personality.
An early budding grape, it needs to be treated with care in cool climates like northern Burgundy where spring frosts can attack it. When it survives in this cool continental climate, it produces crisp, dry, green fruit-forward wines with citrus notes and eye-watering acidity. In moderate regions like southern Burgundy, it expresses with stone fruit while in the heat of regions like California, it has a full, rounded character with tropical fruit notes.
When you’re browsing for alcohol online and looking at reds like Pinot Noir and Merlot, you’ve probably also come across scores of different Chardonnays from around the wine-producing world. If you’ve ever wondered how they differ and where to start in your Chardonnay-drinking journey, this brief guide will point you in the right direction.
This AOC region in France is the grand-daddy of Chardonnay with vintners around the world looking to its various styles as a benchmark in quality and for inspiration. Naturally, we’ll spend the most time looking at wines here.
Chablis in the very north of the region is where you’ll find extremely dry, acidic, and green orchard fruit, citrus toned expression of the grape. There may be notes of delicate florals, a touch of salinity, and legendary minerality. It might be fermented and matured on oak but, if so, producers will go for old barrels so as not to overpower the primary fruit of the wines.
As you travel further south in Burgundy, Chardonnay from the Côte d’Or displays stone fruit with creamy notes while even further south, the Mâconnais is full, fruity, rounded, and touched with toasty oak. Vintners use malolactic fermentation and lees aging to soften acidity, add texture, creamy notes, complexity, and a silky mouthfeel.
See how even in a couple of hundred kilometers the profile of Chardonnay can change because of the climate?
This is another leading region for Chardonnay, but the grape generally shows an entirely different face here. In spite of its warm climate, the cool currents from the Pacific and elevated vineyards help to moderate the heat. Still, hours of intense sunshine ripen the grapes to make a range of styles which just makes the world of wines and spirits more interesting.
California has been known for its oaky, tropical fruit flavor, high alcohol Chardonnays with nutty, buttery notes and, while you can still find plenty of these styles, this trend has given way to a more restrained, elegant approach. Los Carneros American Viticultural Area (AVA) and Russian River Valley AVA are famous for the latter style with both areas benefiting from cooling climatic features for refined, high-quality expressions of Chardonnay.
Finally, this narrow, vineyard-rich South American country is another spot for unique Chardonnay. It’s one of the leading international varietals and has a wide range of styles depending on where it’s grown.
In the northern Limarí Valley, Chardonnay is crafted in a chic, structured, and elegant style while the Aconcagua and Casablanca Valleys see it showing tropical and orchard fruit and bright acidity in a linear style.
This fine and innovative wine-producing country continues to experiment in a rich range of Chardonnay styles as do producers all over the world. Its multi-faceted nature makes it a striking mirror for different terroirs and winemaking the world over. Cheers!