Guide to Wine

Guide to Chardonnay Wines

Shop Top Rated Chardonnay Chardonnay grapes on the vine.
Chardonnay grapes on the vine.

Chardonnay [Shar-doe-NAY], in general produces wines, which are dry to medium dry with pear, apple, tropical or citrus fruit flavors. When little to no oak aging occurs, Chardonnay tends to be more crisp and fresh. With extensive oak aging, they become creamy and buttery with vanilla, spice and oak flavors. Chardonnay is the world’s most popular white wine grape and it is grown in virtually every wine-producing region. Chardonnay thrives as the white grape of Burgundy and it produces extraordinary wines in the Russian River Valley and Carneros region in California.

Aromas

  • Tree Fruit – Apple, Pear, Peach
  • Citrus Fruit – Lemon, Grapefruit, Orange
  • Tropical Fruit – Pineapple, Melon, Banana
  • Oak – Vanilla, Spice, Smoke

Flavors

  • Tree Fruit – Apple, Pear, Peach
  • Citrus Fruit – Lemon, Grapefruit, Orange
  • Tropical Fruit – Pineapple, Melon, Banana
  • Oak – Vanilla, Spice, Smoke

Styles

  • Crisp – Clean and Fresh fruit with little to no oak aging
  • Oaky – Lush and round with fruit flavors heightened by oak aging
  • Elegant – Smooth and complex fruit flavors with a smooth and buttery texture

Food

  • Crisp – Fish, seafood, light hors d’oeuvres
  • Oaky – Smoked white meats, creamy sauces
  • Elegant – Grilled chicken, pork roast, veal

Regions

Burgundy – Mâconnais (Pouilly-Fuissé and Mâcon-Villages), Côte Chalonnaise (Rully and Mercurey), Côte de Beaune Montrachet, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet) California – Sonoma Valley, Russian River Valley, Napa Valley, Carneros,Central Coast Other – Champagne, Australia, Washington State, Chile, Argentina

A glass of Chardonnay wine.
A glass of Chardonnay wine.

Chardonnay is America’s most popular wine, red or white, and also the world’s most widely planted white wine grape. This is a recent phenomenon, just 30 years ago there were just a few hundred acres planted in all of California; today there are tens of thousands of acres. Chardonnay is a winemaker’s dream, both prolific enough to make into relatively inexpensive good quality, everyday drinking wine and distinctive enough when grown for high quality rather than quantity, to make great, complex and concentrated dry white wine. Perhaps it is Chardonnay’s versatility that makes it so difficult to describe.

There is no tangible way to determine what natural fruit flavors or aromas will develop in a Chardonnay. Most believe the flavors are present because of the soil and climate in which the vine grows. Chardonnay can be classified into four taste and aroma categories. There are three fruit flavor and aroma categories. The most prevalent of these is the tree fruits consisting of apple, pear and even orange. Citrus fruit is not quite as common in Chardonnay but there are the exceptions. Lemon, grapefruit and orange seem to dominate the citrus category. The last flavor and aroma category is the marvelous tropical fruit including pineapple, melon and banana.

Chardonnay lends itself very well to oak aging. With the influence of oak, a new flavor and aroma category is apparent. For example, vanilla, spice, smoke, toast and oak, just to name a few, would not be present if there was no oak influence. None of these categories is better than the other. It is all personal preference.

There are also three distinctive styles in which Chardonnay is made. The winemaker largely influences the style by the choices he or she makes during the vinification process. The first style is crisp. A crisp Chardonnay has little to no oak influence and for the most part, has not gone through malolactic fermentation. These Chardonnays are fresh and the fruit and acidity speak for themselves, often clean and sharp on the palate. Conversely, there is the oaky style, where the Chardonnay has been aged in oak barrels and the influence is apparent in the aroma and on the palate. These Chardonnays are rounder and fuller on the palate with additional flavors integrated by the oak. The elegant style is apparent from the moment the Chardonnay coats your palate. These wines are most often complex and buttery with finesse and lovely acidity. The oak does not overpower the fruit and the entire experience is harmonious. So, the next time you are drinking Chardonnay, try and classify which of the styles you are drinking. Do you love oak, do you prefer the cleaner, crisper style or are you fanatical about smooth and buttery Chardonnay? This will make it easier to describe to a wine associate during your next visit to our store.

Although Chardonnay is planted throughout the world, it is most known for the remarkable wines it creates in Burgundy. There are four distinct areas were Chardonnay thrives. The most southern of these areas is Mâconnais, consisting of Pouilly-Fuissé, Mâcon-Villages and Saint-Véran. These wines are mostly produced in a lovely crisp style. Just north is the Côte Chalonnaise, which includes Rully and Mercurey. This area is known for producing some of the best-valued Chardonnays in all of Burgundy. The wines are wonderfully elegant with noticeable crispness and balance. The crème-de-la-crème of Burgundy is Côte de Beaune, including such touted appellations as Montrachet, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet. Each appellation has its own distinct style but at their best, these wines are amazingly elegant, rich and complex. It is worth mentioning that all the most prestigious Chardonnay producers from around the world compare their wines to this area. The fourth area is Chablis, located 100 miles northwest of Côte de Beaune. The Chardonnay produced here is known for its crisp acidity, unaltered fruit flavors and flinty notes. Chablis is excellent with shellfish, especially oysters!

Chardonnay thrives in the cooler climates of the Russian River Valley in Sonoma and the Carneros Region in Napa, within California as well as the Columbia Valley in Washington State. We must not forget to mention that it is one of the principal grapes used to produce Champagne and is second, only behind Pinot Meunier in plantings within Champagne. Wonderful and expressive Chardonnay can be found throughout the world: Australia, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa, just to name a few.

What is the difference between a $5.99 Chardonnay and a $29.99 Chardonnay?

The answer to the question is relatively easy to explain. An inexpensive Chardonnay, for the most part, will be light, easy-drinking and will have little oak influence. Therefore, most of the Chardonnays produced under $5.99 are relatively one dimensional on the palate, pure and simple. This is not to say that there are not great value wines in this category.

As you move up the price tier, most Chardonnays released have two principle influences, which account for their higher quality and price. The first is the benefit of a more precise growing area, which has proven to be ideal for Chardonnay. For example, the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County has proven to be one of the most prestigious areas in California for Chardonnay. Its soil and cooler climate have produced award-winning Chardonnay year after year. These wines generally display more intense fruit flavors and more complexity.

The second factor is oak aging. Oak barrels are very expensive but well worth the investment, especially when Chardonnay is involved. When oak is involved, the retail is certain to increase. However, the wine’s body, complexity and finish increase dramatically as well.

In conclusion, a Chardonnay at $29.99 compared to a Chardonnay at $5.99 will have more complexity, more intense fruit flavors, a longer finish and more integrated oak flavors.

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