In a previous post
we looked at Burgundy
and gave an overview of the region. The dominant white grape in Burgundy is Chardonnay
which is without doubt the most famous white wine grape in the world. It owes much of its fame to the wines of Burgundy but also to the region of Champagne
where it is an essential part of the iconic blend. The variation in styles between different Chardonnay wines can be staggering, especially as it’s grown with great success in Italy, California, Chile, Australia, South Africa, South America and New Zealand. Today, Chardonnay’s economic allure continues to earn it an ever greater acreage in the world’s vineyards. It truly is an International
grape variety as it is relatively easy to grow; many New World wine producers have chosen it to try to emulate the great wines of France.
The key to Chardonnay’s success is not its bold intrinsic aromas and flavours, but conversely, its lack of them; it is actually quite a neutral grape. It is very amenable and tends to take on whatever character the winemaker desires. Chardonnay, for better or worse, can be a vehicle for other influences, from the buttery tastes that arise from malolactic fermentation, to the toasty, vanilla and nutty flavours it takes from oak, in which it can either be fermented or matured (or sometimes even both). If made without either of these techniques, such as in Chablis in the very north of Burgundy, the wine can be steely, zingy, clean and fresh.
While it grows all around the world, Chardonnay truly thrives in cooler climate regions, and makes some of the finest wines in the world in the Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy and the chalky slopes of Champagne. With the right balance and attention to terroir
these wine develop great complexity giving them the scope to age for 25 years or more. At the other end of the scale, the ‘blockbuster’ Chardonnays from California and Australia are wines of enormous proportions – high in alcohol, body and flavor – with aromas of tropical fruit and sweet vanilla. In the past there has been an emphasis on using American oak to achieve big, robust flavours and although these are still popular there are now more producers in the New World taking notes from France to achieve a more elegant, balanced, clean style of Chardonnay.
Regardless of style, Chardonnay wines are best served lightly chilled rather than cold and because of the versatility with regards style, they are incredibly versatile when it comes to food matching. For a lighter, fresh style such as Chablis, think light seafood and fish dishes or soft cheese such as Brie or Camembert. Richer, oakey styles of Chardonnay lend themselves very well to food that has been roasted or smoked and anything that has a creamy or buttery sauce. Roast chicken with roast potatoes, smoked fish, mature cheddar sauces, creamy pasta dishes, white meat such as pork; pretty much anything that isn't red meat.