It is the Mac-daddy of all grapes, the most versatile and the most forgiving in a variety of climates. For years, Chardonnay has reigned supreme in the grape world.
Drinking Chardonnay is sort of like buying a little black dress or a black suit. It comes in so many different styles that no two are quite the same, but most people can usually find something they’ll like. It is a staple of the wine world and seldom disappoints.
Chardonnay, as a grape, is very neutral, with soft aromas and flavours. Because of its subtlety the Chardonnay grape lends itself well to many winemaking practices, such as oaking and malolactic fermentation. It will also take on the characteristics of the terroir it calls home.
The use of oak and malolactic fermentation will depend on the regional characteristics of the Chardonnay. If the Chardonnay displays nice flavour and aroma without the secondary processes, perhaps the winemaker will keep it ‘au naturel’, but placing the wine in oak barrels can often bring out and add rich flavours like vanilla, toast, almond and coconut.
Due to its versatility there are two major differences to keep in mind when drinking Chardonnay—there is the unoaked style and the oaked style. Some drinkers love one style and hate the other, so it’s a good idea to read up on it or ask when buying. Some vineyards, especially with Australian wines, will indicate whether the Chardonnay is oaked on the front label of the bottle, with most other wine regions a bit of research on the back label will give low down on whether or not the Chardonnay has been oaked, and sometimes even the number of months the wine was left in an oak barrel.
Chardonnay is usually quite full-bodied and has a considerable weightiness to it. When oaked it is almost oily-feeling, coating your mouth in its rich silky texture. For this reason, it is good wine for pairing with chicken, turkey, cream-based pasta and rich seafood.
Most white wine, with the exception of Chardonnay, doesn’t tend to be oaked, so you’ll be hard pressed to find a wine with as luxurious a taste as Chardonnay.
You can find exceptional Chardonnay from many of the wine producing countries in the world. Some of the top producers are France, California, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.
Chardonnay is the chameleon of grapes. Read the bottle and ask questions to make sure you know what to expect. It takes many shapes, but is easy to love if you find your niche.
R.H. Phillips 2011 Toasted Head Chardonnay
Acampo, California $18.99 (oaked)
A bouquet of pineapple, mango, and vanilla are the opening notes of this wine and lead into flavors of tropical fruit, pecan, coconut and pie crust. Medium to full-bodied with bold flavour and good balance of acidity.
Eat: Apple and smoked cheddar stuffed chicken
Listen to: Album – For Everyman by Jackson Browne, Song – “These Days”
My rating: 92 points
Santa Carolina 2010 Barrica Selection Chardonnay
Casablanca, Chile $16.99 (oaked)
This was an outstanding wine for the price. It smelled like an apricot that had been baked with butter and sugar. On the palate it was complex and full with a good balance of acidity and flavours of praline, cornbread, stone fruit and sweet cheese.
Eat: Fried chicken, sweet potato and corn bread.
Listen to: Album – Nostalgia, Ultra by Frank Ocean, Song – “Swim Good”
My rating: 90 points
Wyndham Estate 2010 Chardonnay
South Eastern, Australia $14.99 (oaked)
Aromas of caramel popcorn, pineapple and peach mix with flavors of ground cherry, pineapple and kiwi. Light aroma and moderate flavour intensity. Medium bodied with fresh acidity.
Eat: Bacon-wrapped scallops
Listen to: Album – God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise by Ray Lamontagne, Song – “Old Before Your Time”
My rating: 83