How to Pair Chardonnay Like a Sommelier

Two bottles of chardonnay on their side next to wine glasses and dinner plates filled with food.

Pairing Chardonnay with a meal isn’t always as straightforward as we’d like. Sure it’s easy enough to know that Chardonnay pairs with chicken but what if it’s a spicy Thai chicken or what if it has a mushroom sauce or a mango sauce, does it still pair right?

I used to try the easy route with pairings. I have chicken and I have Chardonnay. Done! But of course, it’s not that easy. It depends how the Chardonnay was produced and how the chicken is prepared to truly get it right. Take your pairings up a notch by following a few simple pairing guidelines and you’ll look like a pro.

Let’s breakdown the flavor profiles a little and you’ll start to see how to pinpoint a great pairing. There are 2 layers to wine and food pairings. The first layer is the meal base like the type of fish or beef that is being served. The second layer is the preparation and seasonings used along with the accompaniments.

Oaked vs Unoaked Chardonnay

Let’s first understand the flavor profiles of oaked Chardonnay vs unoaked Chardonnay. This will help point us to the right pairing.

Chardonnay aged in oak barrels gives the wine a toasty, vanilla flavor and a buttery texture. This means that earthy (grilled, roasted), and creamy foods work very well.

Chardonnay that is aged in stainless steel has a lighter, crisp flavor. It works best with lightly seasoned dishes and bright, fresh sides.

Oaked Chardonnay Pairings That Win Every Time

Bottle and glass of oaked chardonnay next to plate of chicken penne alfredo.
Wente Vineyards Chardonnay – An oaked Chardonnay from California.

Layer 1: Meal Base

  • White meats like fish, chicken, and pork.

Layer 2:  Seasonings & Sides

  • Mild, buttery, creamy dishes like butter herbed or alfredo sauce.
  • Earthy sides or sauces like mushrooms, mushroom risotto, or a creamy mushroom sauce like marsala.
  • Late summer veggies like corn, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes.
  • Foods that are caramelized from roasting or grilling.

Oaked Chardonnay Pairings That Clash

Layer 1:  Meal Base

  • Red meat, oysters, and clams.

Layer 2:  Seasonings & Sides

  • Spices that brings some heat to the dish.
  • Heavily seasoned like some ethnic foods such as Indian, Chinese, and Southeast Asian.
  • Bitter foods like brussel sprouts, kale, cabbage and arugula.
  • Acidic foods like uncooked tomatoes, olives, ceviche, tangy vinaigrettes, and sauces.
  • Smoked meats.

Are you starting to see the pattern for pairing oaked Chardonnay? Think light, white meat that’s grilled or roasted and lightly seasoned with a creamy or earthy sauce.

Unoaked Chardonnay Pairings for the Win

Bottle and glass of Chablis next to oysters and plate of roasted herbed chicken and roasted broccolini.
William Fevre Chablis – An unoaked Chardonnay from France.

Layer 1: Meal Base

  • White meats like fish, chicken, and pork. With unoaked Chardonnay, you can also pair shellfish (oysters, clams), sashimi. This is because you are pairing the brighter, crisper, more acidic chardonnay.

Layer 2:  Seasonings & Sides

  • Mild seasonings like butter and herbs.
  • Spring vegetables like peas, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus and brussel sprouts.

Unoaked Chardonnay Pairings That Clash

Layer 1:  Meal base

  • Red meat and wild game.

Layer 2:  Seasonings & Sides

  • Spicy seasonings that bring heat to the meal.
  • Heavily seasoned like some ethnic foods such as Indian, Chinese, and Southeast Asian
  • Smoked meats will have an earthy flavor that will clash.
  • Creamy sauces will be too heavy.

The pattern for pairing unoaked Chardonnay basically just removes the creamy, earthy component that works for Oaked Chardonnay. It’s a matter of sticking with light, fresh flavors.

Chart showing pairings for oaked and unoaked chardonny for Layer 1: meats and Layer 2: seasonings & sides.

How to Identify an Oaked or Unoaked Chardonnay

The tasting description on the wine label may actually say if it was aged in oak. But if it doesn’t, then look for descriptive tasting notes like vanilla, toast, butter. These all point to aging in oak.

Or if it is labeled as Chablis or Burgundy (regions in France), this means it is a Chardonnay that is not aged in oak.

Chardonnay Pairings Wrap Up

You’ve got this! To pair Chardonnay with a meal think about how the main course will be prepared. Oaked Chardonnay goes well with white meats, baked or grilled and served with light seasonings and earthy sauces like chicken fettuccine alfredo with mushrooms. Unoaked Chardonnay is on the lighter, crisp side and pairs well with white meats and light herbed seasonings like baked chicken with herbed butter.

You can always try opening both an oaked and unoaked Chardonnay and taste with your meal to see what works and what doesn’t.

Learn more about Chardonnay: The 3 styles of Chardonnay, the top producing regions, recommendations from around the world, tasting profiles, self-guided tastings and more.

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