All About Chardonnay

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Chardonnay is the most popular white wine in the world. While it is grown all over the world, its roots are in Burgundy, France, making Chardonnay’s from this region some of the most expensive in the world. Its ability to take on the characteristics of not only where it is grown, but the influence of the winemaker. This chameleon-like ability is what makes Chardonnay so compelling and complex, and contributes to its popularity. Anyone can find a Chardonnay that suits their preference and it pairs well with so many foods. 

Chardonnay Tasting Notes

As with most wines, Chardonnay can taste different depending on where it is grown, and because it is easy to work with, winemakers are also able to influence the characteristics of their wine. That being said, Chardonnay is typically a dry, full bodied white wine with minimal tannins and moderate acidity. The average ABV in a bottle of Chardonnay is 13.5-15%, placing it higher on the scale for alcohol content. 

The color of Chardonnay can vary depending on the length of time and barrel used in the aging process. Unoaked Chardonnay, typically aged in stainless steel barrels will be a pale yellow while wine aged in oak barrels will be anywhere from soft to deep gold. Upon tasting a Chardonnay, you will notice lush fruit flavor ranging from bright citrus to tangy green apple and pineapple and soft floral aroma. The oaked variety will have distinct notes of vanilla along with a buttery finish so commonly associated with Chardonnay.  

Chardonnay Styles

Difference Between Oaked & Unoaked Chardonnay

When trying to decide which bottle of Chardonnay to enjoy from the store, the first thing to figure out is if the Chardonnay is Oaked or Unoaked, because that will determine the main characteristics of the wine. Typically wine enthusiasts will like one style much more than another. So if you’ve tried a Chardonnay in the past and didn’t enjoy it, maybe you would have enjoyed a different style of Chardonnay rather than just not liking the entire type of wine.

A general rule of thumb is that Oaked Chardonnays come from warm-climate regions and have a full body with butter and cream. Oaked Chardonnay will have notes of tropical fruits. Unoaked Chardonnays come from warm-climate regions and don’t have as full of a body and do not have that creamy texture. Unoaked Chardonnay will have notes of green fruits and citrus (usually green apple and lemon).

Oaked Chardonnays are more popular and typically easier to find throughout the United States.

Oaked Chardonnay

Oaked Chardonnay is what most people probably think of when it comes to Chardonnay. Many Chardonnays of this style come from warm climate regions like southern Australia, California, and Argentina. These styles are bold, creamy and full-bodied. The wine is aged in oak barrels so they are exposed to more oxygen which gives the wine a sweeter, baked apple and hazelnut taste. The oak also imparts aromas of vanilla, cinnamon, and clove, and will usually have a rich, buttery taste and texture. 

Unoaked Chardonnay

Unoaked Chardonnay was made popular by the region of Chablis, in France and mostly comes from cool climate regions such as Sonoma, Western Australia, Oregon, and Casablanca Valley, Chile. This is a great option for those who do not like the “oaky” quality of other Chardonnays. Rather than oak barrels, producers use stainless steel which reduces oxygen and preserves the fresh acidity.  The unoaked version is going to be light and lean with floral aromas. Citrus flavors along with pineapple and mango, or even apple and pear will be the dominant fruit profile in these bottles. 

Sparkling Chardonnay

Undoubtedly, the most popular white grape used in sparkling wine is Chardonnay. A bottle labeled with Blanc de Blancs, meaning “white of whites”, means the sparkling wine was made entirely of white grapes; these most often being Chardonnay. For sparkling Chardonnay, the grapes are picked early to retain their acidity and results in a wine with sharp, effervescent acidity, strong notes of citrus and green apple, and light floral tones. 

Chardonnay Blends

Champagne 

Perhaps the most famous blend, Champagne is a combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Munier.

Semillon Chardonnay

A blend that brings together the bold fruit of Chardonnay and the acidity of Semillon. A great option for those who do not care for the oaky Chardonnay. 

Chardonnay Sauvignon Blanc

Although very different wines on their own, this blend has become very popular around the world. Chardonnay brings body to the Sauvignon Blanc, while Sauvignon Blanc contributes a crisp acidity and bright aromatics.

Serving Chardonnay

White wine should always be served chilled, with the ideal temperature falling in the range of 50-55°F or 10-13°C. This is important because if the wine is too warm, the flavors are muddled and the alcohol will taste hot. Too cold and the aromas are dulled. If you do not have a wine fridge, this can be achieved by placing the bottle in a refrigerator for two hours or if you are in a hurry, an ice water bath for 30-40 minutes should do the trick.  

While most white wines do not benefit from decanting the way reds do, a full-bodied Chardonnay is a great candidate for it, especially if it is oak aged. The oak can convey some qualities of the wine that are often hidden upon just opening. You will want to decant or let the bottle sit open to breath for about 30 minutes. Then, pour in a traditional white wine glass—the smaller bowl size keeps white wine colder than the large bowls used for red—and enjoy!

Aging Chardonnay

Chardonnay is probably at the top of the list when it comes to age-worthy whites. The oak-aging of Chardonnay adds tannins, which contribute to a wine’s ability to age well. That in combination with its higher acidity which slows chemical reactions that cause wine to go bad, make it a great contender for aging. Generally, you can age a Chardonnay for 2-10 years, but 3-5 years tends to be the sweet spot for most. 

All of this becomes moot, however, if your wine is not stored properly. Bottles should always rest on their side, not upright, in a cool, dark area. Take care to ensure the temperature is cool (about 45-65°F) and the humidity is low. Finally, avoid storing your wine in areas prone to vibration, like high traffic areas of your house, as the vibrations can cause disruptions in the chemicals of the wine. 

Average Price of Chardonnay

Chardonnay can be found at a wide range of prices. The good news is, its adaptability and ease of production means that you can find a quality bottle at just about any price point. The average price is about $16 a bottle, and while you will certainly not be disappointed with many Chardonnays in this range you can also spend a bit more, say $25-$50, and get a truly excellent wine. 

On the more expensive side, although “expensive” is a relative term, you can find Chardonnays priced in the $200-$400 range and even into the tens of thousands. The most expensive bottle of Chardonnay ever sold was a 2010 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet from Burgundy, which went for $116,000 at an auction.

Fun Facts About Chardonnay

  • Chardonnay reigns supreme in Burgundy. 60% of the region’s wine production is Chardonnay, compared to only 30% for Pinot Noir. (The remaining 10% is divided among Rosé, Crémant de Bourgogne, and Aligoté.)
  • Americans consume over 840,000 bottles of Chardonnay per year. It is the best-selling wine in the country. 
  • Chardonnay production began in Burgundy in 800 A.D. after the wife of Emperor Charlemagne, disgusted by the red wine stains in the emperor’s beard, ordered Chardonnay to be planted in their fields.
  • The name Chardonnay means “place of thistles”.
  • If a wine label says “Chablis”, it must be Chardonnay, by law.
  • Chardonnay is one of the few white wines that undergo malolactic fermentation. This is the process where tart malic acid in wine is converted to lactic acid, which is softer and creamier. This is where the velvety, buttery notes in Chardonnay come from.

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