Chardonnay gained its reputation from the French Burgundy region, but the Burgundy and the stereotypical “California style” Chardonnays are very different. Typically, the grape produces butter, cream, nutty, smoky, vanilla, and oak flavors, which can usually be found alongside apple, lemon/citrus, melon and pineapple fruit flavors. A typical “California style” Chardonnay will have a lot of oak flavor to it, while the Burgundy style Chardonnays will be more crisp, and you will find a lot more of the fruit coming through. This is only a generalization, of course: there are many California wineries producing a Burgundy style Chardonnay.
Chardonnay fermented solely in steel tanks will be very crisp and can sometimes have a mineral/steel flavor to them. If you are not a fan of this traditional, oaky California style, then I suggest searching out a Chardonnay that has been fermented in steel tanks, or perhaps aged in oak only slightly after fermentation.
This section provides a little information on the Chardonnay grape and its subsequent wines, including the “Who” (we are focusing on), “What” (the grape is and its genetic makeup), “When” (it was first cultivated or cross-bred), “Why” (it is so popular), “Where” (it is grown) and “How” (to serve it).
What: A white grape that dominates white wine production in the U.S. but it also responsible for some beautiful wines from France’s Burgundy region.
When: The origins of this grape are unknown, although it is believed to be a cross of some form of a Pinot and another rare grape called Gouais Blanc.
Why: Chardonnay is a bold grape yet it possesses from very subtle and beautiful characteristics as well.
Where: Although Chardonnay thrives in France, California, Australia, Chile and Argentina, it is surprisingly a difficult grape to grow. It has very thin skin and is deeply affected by changes in temperature and irrigation levels.
How: Chardonnay truly is a chameleon. Depending on where it is grown and how the vintner chooses to age the grape (oak barrels? French or American? How long?) will significantly affect how the vine tastes. As a general rule, Chardonnay does well in cooler climates, it takes on a “buttery” flavor, and aging it in oak will most likely mean that it has vanilla aromas and flavors. It pairs well with many seafood dishes, including crab, oysters and salmon, and its acidity cuts through cream sauces, making it a perfect accompaniment to softer cheeses and cream-based dishes.
Chardonnay should be served at 55 degrees. Serving it straight from the refrigerator is not recommended: give it about 20 minutes to warm up before serving. Or, better yet: try it once it comes straight out of the refrigerator and then try it again after it has warmed up. You will see how the cold stifles the more subtle and complex flavors and aromas in the wine which can only express themselves in a warmer state.