A green skinned white grape that is believed to have originated in Burgundy. It is now the most widely planted grape in the world and captures the imagination of wine drinkers with its flavours, styles and great qualities.
In simple terms Chardonnay is a very neutral grape. What makes it are two elements; one, the terroir/soils linked with the climate, and two, the vinification techniques and links with oak. Such conditions change around the world, which makes the Chardonnay grape fascinating and fun to enjoy.
After many stories its origin has been put down to a link between the Pinot and Gouais Blanc grapes. It thrives on marl, chalk and limestone, the underlying soils having a major impact on the quality and flavours. The best example of this is to trace the soils of the Cote D’Or and see where the finest white Burgundies come from. Then look at the wines of Chablis and the impact of Kimmeridge marl and chalk that deliver a flinty mineral style. It’s a fascinating story with the other major impact coming from the winemaker, not just in the winemaking process, but even more so with the influence of oak. The impact of oak softens the acidity, and adds flavours from toasty, vanilla, buttery, spicy and even smoky, depending on how the oak is used. Chardonnay is an amazing grape and it changes as you look at new countries and fashions.
France produces the classic beautiful buttery white Burgundies or the crisper flinty Chablis as great examples. It also produces Chardonnay for great sparkling wines such as Champagne and Limoux. Other regions include The Loire, Alsace, Jura, Savoie, and Languedoc.
The next, very different, source is California, where Chardonnays from the Livermore Valley beat the wines of Burgundy in a 1976 blind tasting, beginning the major development of American Chardonnays. With the use of new oaks, a warmer climate gave a richer, softer buttery wine that started to capture the imagination. In 1971 Australia started making even bigger wines in the Hunter Valley often with oak chips in fermentation. Australian Chardonnay changed the market dramatically and planting rapidly appeared in all the main regions. South Africa developed in Stellenbosch. New Zealand in Hawkes Bay and Gisborne, where the flavour is more apple styled. Most countries now produce Chardonnay wines. Now the tide is turning and the oak that made it famous is now declining giving way to a fresher crisper style apple like style where the grape and the terroir are more important.
Chardonnay is a classic, unquestionably one of the finest grapes, and with skill makes a good quality wine. It’s fun to try the different areas, styles and flavours and is a great wine to enjoy on its own. It also likes food from white meats, fish, seafoods, to smoked fish, Asian cooking, light salads –oaky styles cope better with the richer foods. It is an interesting, fun and essential journey to really discover the modern story of Chardonnay.