Do you love drinking chardonnay and want to understand how you can further enjoy its rich flavors? Or maybe you’re wondering why it’s such a popular wine? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Our chardonnay wine guide was written just for you.
This chardonnay guide explains everything about the popular white wine, where it comes from, why it’s so loved by winemakers and drinkers alike, the best brands, and how best to serve it.
Let’s start with understanding what Chardonnay is.
What is Chardonnay?
Chardonnay is a kind of grape variety. It is green-skinned and used in the production of white wine. It is beloved by winemakers all over the world because of its neutral flavor, serving like a blank canvass for which they can create their very own flavors and styles.
It’s a highly versatile grape as it can adapt to any kind of climate. Because of this, chardonnay from different wine regions across the globe differs in taste.
Chardonnay originated in Burgundy, France, and takes its name from an area in a town called Maconnais, known for making high value but inexpensive chardonnays.
Though the grape variety has its origins in the eastern France region, it is now grown anywhere where wine is produced, from Europe to Africa, to North America, and down to New Zealand.
Chardonnay wines are typically medium to full-bodied but depending on the processes they go through, chardonnay can also be light and fruity, or rich and complex.
The grape variety is also an important component of sparkling wine, which includes Champagne and Franciacorta from Italy, which means chardonnay is not only used to make white wine but also used in a wide variety of different kinds of bubbly wines.
What are the Flavors of Chardonnay?
Chardonnay has been called the winemaker’s grape because it gives them creative license to make it how they like. They can make their chardonnay light and elegant or full-bodied with a buttery flavor. The grape is also very easy to grow as it adapts to its environment, and it’s also easy to work with in a cellar.
The white wine can taste different depending on how it’s made and where it’s grown. The typical flavor is dry and anywhere from medium to full-bodied. Notes of apple, pear, green plumb, pineapple, and lemon are usually sensed with noticeable moderate acidity and alcohol.
With so many different varieties, you can tell where the chardonnay comes from, as well as how it’s made based on its flavors and aromas. Let’s define these flavors based on the climate, region, and how they are made.
- Cooler Climates
Chardonnay made in cooler climates such as Burgundy, Oregon, New Zealand, and coastal Chile present lighter notes of yellow apple, lemon, and quince.
- Warmer Climates
In warmer climates, such as South Australia, South Africa, and California, chardonnay expresses aromas and notes of citrus, melon, peach, pineapple, star fruit, and apricot. Warmer climate chardonnay basically has a riper and tropical flavor.
Oaked and Unoaked
Oaked chardonnay offers notes of vanilla and spice flavors and has a rounder and creamy texture.
Unoaked chardonnay is characterized by having a crisp and bright flavor, having a fresher character as compared to oaked chardonnay.
Primary and Secondary Flavors
Primary flavors are derived directly from the grape. These are flavors that most chardonnay wines have, with the differences in secondary flavors brought about by the winemaking process.
The primary flavors depend largely on the climate as well as the schedule of the harvest. For colder climates and early harvested grapes, the primary flavors are more citrusy. For warmer climates and those that are harvested late, the primary flavors are richer and riper.
- Secondary Flavors
Secondary flavors, as mentioned earlier, are flavors that are produced due to the winemaking process. Chardonnay’s taste will have subtle differing flavors depending on the winemaker or brand that produces the wine because of their processes.
When it comes to oaked chardonnay, the flavors will depend on the origin of the wood used in the barrel, the shape of the wood, as well as the toast level, and the length of time aged in the oak. The flavors that come out of this process can include coconut, vanilla, as well as spices such as nutmeg or cinnamon.
Another set of flavors are achieved due to the process of winemaking, which is the creamy or buttery flavor of some varieties of chardonnay wines. This buttery flavor is a result of diacetyl, which is a byproduct of a process called MLF or malolactic fermentation.
Winemakers encourage MLF because it softens the sharp acidity of chardonnay. The resulting buttery flavor is either done naturally or the winemaker includes the addition of lactic acid to make the creamy flavor possible.
Best Chardonnay Brands
With hundreds of brands all over the world, it can be difficult to narrow them down to just a small number of best chardonnay brands. In fact, even wine experts find it hard to list down which brands are the best because wine tasting is incredibly subjective.
One expert may favor one brand over the other due to his or her personal preferences, while another may prefer another brand for its longevity in the winemaking business.
In this list of the best chardonnay brands, it’s based on names that are consistently well-rated by experts, as well as favored by wine drinks alike.
Here is a list of 5 of the best chardonnay brands in the market:
1. Domaine des Comtes Lafon
The Domaine des Comtes Lafon is a winemaker based in Burgundy, with a cellar that was built in the late 1800s. They are known for making some of the most hailed and highly-priced chardonnay wines in the world.
Their chardonnays from the towns of Meursault and Montrachet are most famous, with rich flavors and aromas, and last in the palate for minutes.
The Montrachet Grand Cru 2018 for example, is a lauded wine, which offers flavors of butter and oak, citrus, lemon, and tangerine, as well as honey and caramel.
2. Marcassin Vineyard
The Marcassin Vineyard is a very small winery located in Sonoma County in California. Run and owned by famous winemaker Helen Turley, who is hailed as one of the most influential winemakers in the business, the Marcassin Chardonnay offers great minerality.
This wine presents notes of honeysuckle, pear, orange marmalade, a touch of quince, and notes of white flowers. Being a warm climate, the region proves the wine with a rich and intense aroma, as well as a full-bodied weight, in unique greenish gold color.
Highly covetable, the Marcassin Chardonnay is aged in French oak, and 100% heavy toast.
3. Rayme Ritchie Vineyard
Also based in Sonoma County in the Russian River specifically, the Rayme Ritchie Vineyard is a wine producer owned by David Ramey, who is hailed as “Professor Chardonnay” by Wine Spectactor.
Ramey is reconized for being among a group of distinguished American vintners who is resposnsbi;e for revoltuanixing modern-day winemaking as well as placing California at the forefront of the global wine community.
The brand’s chardonnay is nothing short of impressive, creating a balance of delicacy and richness. The brand’s 2016 Chardonnay offers a vibrant and fresh concentrated flavor with notes of citrus, white flowers, and salt minerality. The wine is medium to full-bodied with the perfect balance of alcohol and acidity.
4. Failla Sonoma Coast
Another company based in Sonoma County with tasting rooms and winemaking facilities in the Napa Valley, Failla Sonoma Coast’s Chardonnay is grown in an organic farm and aged in half: half in oak and half in steel.
The result of this aging process is a perfectly balanced chardonnay with very small hints of oak while having flavors of pear and lemon. It also features notes of oyster shell, lime, and stone, with a texture that’s creamy and smooth.
No need to age in a cellar, the Failla Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is ready to drink in a perfect balance of acidic edge and fruity flavors.
5. Hamilton Russell Vineyards
And last on the list is Hamilton Russell Vineyards, a winemaker based in the most southern wine estate in Africa. The company is a chardonnay specialist, with their signature chardonnay taking 8 months to age in oak barrels.
The resulting white wine is a crisp and clean chardonnay, with plenty of lime and pear flavors. These aromas are also balanced by notes of oak and stone. An intense wine, the Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay is expected to have its peak in 2024. In the meantime, it is best stored in a cellar until the perfect day comes.
There are other equally impressive chardonnay brands around the world, with different price points and having great value. Choosing the best brand for you depends on your personal preference, as well as your budget and accessibility.
What Foods Pair Best with Chardonnay?
Because chardonnay is available in a wide range of styles, its food pairing potential is also quite varied. This quality of chardonnay is actually one of its most beloved features, as it is quite versatile.
On a general level, chardonnay pairs best with roasted chicken and other white meats such as turkey. But, if we must pair specific styles of chardonnay to specific food items, here are some recommendations.
- Crisp and Pure Unoaked Chardonnay
This style of chardonnay works well with delicate fish and shellfish, as well as oysters and even aperitif with goat cheese.
- Medium-bodied Chardonnay
These go well with firm fish such as swordfish, white meats like chicken and pork tenderloin, as well as gouda and gruyere cheese.
- Full-bodied Oaked Chardonnay
For fat and rich chardonnay with high alcohol levels, they pair well with grilled meats with high fat content, smoked fish, and spicy Southeast Asian cuisine.
The key to the perfect chardonnay food pairing is to match the weight of the wine to the weight of the food. Lighter chardonnay pairs well with light food, and heavier, full-bodied chardonnay pairs well with heavier foods such as fatty grilled meats.
Does Chardonnay Have Sugar In It? How About Calories and Carbohydrates?
Chardonnay is a dry wine. This means that the full fermentation process takes place. The natural sugars of the grapes are converted to alcohol by yeast, and the result is a fully dry white wine. This means that there is no sugar in chardonnay.
However, there are times when a little sugar is left behind, which is called residual sugar. This is sometimes done on purpose to create a hint of sweetness and richness to the chardonnay.
One bottle of chardonnay, which is 750mL contains 635 calories. And since the standard pour is 5 ounces, one serving of chardonnay contains 120 calories.
In terms of carbohydrates, chardonnay, as well as other dry wines, typically have 0 to 4 grams of carbohydrate content.
How Is Chardonnay Best Served?
Chardonnay should be served chilled, just like all white wines. The recommended temperature is 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. To achieve this temperature, place the bottle inside a kitchen fridge for two hours before serving. Or, you can also use an ice water bath, and soak the bottle for 30 to 40 minutes.
The chardonnay must be served at its ideal temperature so its aromas and flavors are fully experienced. If it’s too warm, the flavors will be muddled. If i’s too cold, the flavors will be muted.
If you have opened chardonnay, you can store the bottle in the kitchen fridge. Recork or replace the cork and stick it into the fridge on its side so the cork remains moist. The genuine flavors of chardonnay will stay for at least 2 to 4 more days inside the fridge.
Beyond that, however, chardonnay will begin to oxidize, and at that point, it will no longer be drinkable. You can still use it for cooking, though, as oxidized chardonnay goes well with gray and other creamy sauces.
Chardonnay is a green-grape variety and one of the most popular grape variants in the world. It’s beloved by winemakers worldwide because of its adaptability to different climates, allowing them to basically grow the grape anywhere.
Different growing regions and different winemaking processes create different styles of chardonnay, which explains why different brands offer different flavors. Despite having varying styles, chardonnay remains to be the most popular white wine in the world, beloved by winemakers, wine experts, and wine drinkers alike.