Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape primarily used to create white wine varietals but it is also an important component of champagne. While the Chardonnay grape has delicate almost neutral flavor, most of the flavor in chardonnay wine comes from oak and terroir elements such as flint and mint. Once tasted, this wine has a noticeable full body and a good sugar and acid balance. Aromas in this wine include those of pear, orange and peach. Wines produced from Chardonnay can be quite expensive as demand is high and production costs associated with them are higher. Some of the best Chardonnay wine in the world comes from the Grand Cru vineyards in France one among them is Corton-Charlemagne.
Origin of Chardonnay Wine
Chardonnay originated from France, but for several years its origins were unknown. Ampelographers often though this grape was related to the Pinot Blanc and even Pinot Noir. Some disagreed and instead proposed that Chardonnay probably descended from vitis vinifera vines that grow in the wild. Lebanese and Syrian vineyards often claimed that Chardonnay’s lineage could be traced to the Middle East. It was DNA fingerprinting that finally proved that this grape was a result of crossing Gouais Blanc with Pinot. This crossing happened in France when peasants grew Gouais Blanc brought from the Balkans next to aristocrat owned vineyards planted with Pinot. The resulting hybrids proved to be vigorous consequently this grape has many siblings such as Dameron and Bachet noir.
Regions Producing Chardonnay Wine
Chardonnay can be cultivated quite easily and so it is often grown first in newly developed wine regions. Currently this grape is grown in several areas of the world namely:
- France – This grape was probably first grown in the Burgundy region of this country. Currently regions such as Chablis are only permitted to grow Chardonnay grape and no other, and the wine produced is renowned for its “gunflint” note. This grape is also used to produce varietal sparkling wines in the blanc de blancs style.
- United States – Here Chardonnay wine is noticeably different from that in France, with preference given to creating wine with buttery or oak overtones. However, there are some wine producing areas such Russian River Valley and Sonoma County that specialize in producing wine modeled after the Burgundy style.
- Australia – There is a significant presence of Chardonnay in regions such as Hunter Valley, Yarra Valley and Mount Barker in this country. Australian chardonnay wine is characterized by big fruit flavors.
- New Zealand – This country has important areas where chardonnay is grown. These areas such as Hawke’s Bay, Canterbury and Marlborough produce high quality chardonnay wine with a noticeable oak flavor.
- Italy – Originally Chardonnay was confused with the Pinot blanc and hence they were blended together. Chardonnay is currently one of the most planted white grapes in this country, and it is used in the production of many varietal wines.
- South Africa – This grape was smuggled into this country and confused with other varieties such as Auxerrois Blanc. Since then the grape has become widely planted and is ranked third in production after Chenin blanc and Colombard.
Preparation of Chardonnay Wine
Chardonnay grapes are converted into wine when they are ripe because as this point they have flavors of fruit such as melon and pear. When making chardonnay wine it is good to start with grapes that have been harvested between 23.5 to 25 Brix. Brix here denotes the level of sugar in the grapes. Lower Brix results in a flat varietal while higher levels can cause the wine to overwhelm the taste buds.
When Swiss and German presses are used during the pressing and fermenting process, rubber bladders inside the presses inflate and squeeze the grapes. This process of pressing has to be done gently, so the speed of the bladders are often adjusted to ensure that bitterness of the skins do not enter the juice. Once the pressing is complete yeast such as Premier Cuvée is added and the juice is then put into wooden barrels where it is often left to age “sur lie”, which literally means “on the lees”. Lees here means a combination of dead cells from the yeast and the grape solids. In this method the lees have to be stirred once every two weeks until the wine is bottled.
Food Pairing for Chardonnay Wine
Chardonnay varietal wine can be paired well with a vast spectrum of foods as it has a number of styles. However, this wine is most often paired with white meats such as chicken or turkey. Seafood on the other hand does not stand up well to chardonnay wine with heavy oak flavors. Chardonnay varietals can differ according to region, so often you will find that wines from Washington State go well with tomatoes or sweet onions.
Aging/Serving Chardonnay Wine
Chardonnay can be served chilled and has the best flavor between 46°F to 55°F, but ensure that it is not over chilled. Most Chardonnay wine can be consumed when it is young. There are some vineyards that do produce wines that taste better when aged, but among these those that have undergone malolactic fermentation can only be aged for a few years.