Learn about Chardonnay

Learn about Chardonnay

Chardonnay wine sign in vineyard.

Chardonnay is a much-beloved white wine produced in many regions around the world. It’s a wine that’s easy drinking by itself while being able to stand up to food like chicken, pork and fish. This is a white wine with chutzpah! It has a lot of body and flavor and is produced in three distinct styles.

Jump to these sections:
Chardonnay Styles, Top Regions, Tasting Recommendations, Tasting Notes, Rating System, Pairings

3 Chardonnay Styles

1) Unoaked Chardonnay. This first style comes from grapes grown in cool climates and is generally crisp and citrusy. The wine matures in stainless steel tanks and not in oak barrels.

2) Oaked Chardonnay. The second style is produced in warm climates where the grapes become very ripe. The wine matures in oak barrels which rounds out the fruit-forward flavors that develop from the ripe fruit. The oak barrels give the wine a vanilla, toast, and buttery taste profile.

3) Champagne or Sparkling Wine. The third style is produced either with 100% Chardonnay grapes or with a combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Minieur grapes. Look for Blanc de Blanc on the wine label for 100% Chardonnay sparkling or champagne. Keep in mind, this style is only called Champagne if it is made in the Champagne region of France. All the rest must be labeled sparkling wine.

Top Regions for Chardonnay

This extremely popular white wine is produced around the world. Here are a few of the top regions to keep on your radar.

Style 1: Oaked
  • France: Burgundy (labeled: Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet)
  • California: Napa Valley (Carneros), Paso Robles, Lake County
  • Australia: Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills
Style 2: Unoaked
  • France: Burgundy or Bourgogne (labeled: Chablis, Pouilly-Fussé, Mâconnais)
  • California: Sonoma Coast (Russian River)
  • Australia: Margaret River
Style 3: Sparkling
  • France: Champagne
  • California: Sonoma Coast (Russian River)

France – where it all started…

Chardonnay originated in the Burgundy region of France. The region produces top-quality Pinot Noir as well. In France, the bottles are labeled by the region where the wine is produced. So, when you see a white Burgundy or Bourgogne that is actually a Chardonnay.

Chablis is another region within Burgundy that produces only Chardonny wine. This region produces the wine in a pure, simplistic style, which rarely touches oak. Look for Chablis on the label or wine list and you’ll know it’s a Chardonnay.

California – enter the new world…

Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena put California’s Napa Valley on the map. Perceptions of California wine changed after their victory in the famous 1976 blind tasting in Paris conducted by French judges. For the fun of it, you could host a wine tasting while watching the 2008 movie Bottle Shock that is all about this famous event (and even stars hunky Chris Pine).

Australia – not to be outdone…

Heading into the 70’s, Australia focused on producing Chardonnay wine. In the 80’s and 90’s it was all about big bold, oaky, and fruity versions of the wine. The world loved it until the world decided to love it no longer. How fickle we are. Australia winemakers pivoted to a lighter, less oaky, less fruity more subtle version of the wine.

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Chardonnay Tasting Recommendations

The best way to become familiar with this wine is to taste oaked vs unoaked Chardonnay side-by-side. You’ll really pick up on the differences.

For your tasting, select an unoaked Chardonnay from France (Chablis), an oaked Chardonnay from California and Australia, and a Champagne selection of Blanc de Blanc. This means it includes only Chardonnay grapes. Because Champagne is a bit pricey, I’ve linked to the California sparkling selections on Wine.com.

Pre-filtered pages for Chardonnay on Wine.com

You can always try the Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena or from Grgich Hills (Mike Grgich was Chateau Montelena’s head winemaker when they won the famous wine competition). Wine from these wineries can be a bit pricey. Expect around $40 a bottle.

Chardonnay Tasting Notes

Follow these tasting tips to really understand the differences between the oaked and unoaked Chardonnay. Compare your experience with the typical tasting profiles described here.

See

Take your glass and tilt it over a white napkin or paper at a 45-degree angle. Compare the color across all regions. Unoaked Chardonnay has a pale straw color while the oaked style has a deep golden straw color.

TASTING PROFILE:  Range of pale to golden straw.

Sniff

Let’s see how aromatic this wine is. Hold your glass at your chest and see if you can catch any scent. Then move it to your chin and try to smell. Next, really put your nose in the glass and take a big sniff. What scents do you catch? Swirl the wine and then sniff again. What scents do you catch now?

TASTING PROFILE: Not an aromatic grape. With nose in the glass for oaked Chardonnay, you’ll get apple, pineapple, vanilla and toast scents. For unoaked Chardonnay, you’ll get apple and citrus aromas.

Taste

Take a taste and swirl it in your mouth. What flavors do you taste? After you swallow, how long does the flavor linger and how would you describe those flavors?

TASTING PROFILE:

Fruit:  Light fruit flavors of apple, pineapple, and melon.

Acidity:  Medium to high levels from cool climates that are unoaked. Low to Medium levels from warmer climates that are oaked.(This is tartness in the wine and hits underneath the back of your tongue and throat.)

Tannin:  No tannin. (This is bitterness that comes from the grape skins.)

Oak:  Warm climate Chardonnay is usually matured in oak, which gives hints of vanilla, toast and butter. Cool climate is usually matured in steel tanks, which keeps the flavor crisp.

Body:  Medium to Full body. (This is how heavy or full the wine is. Think skim milk vs. whole milk.)

Easy Rating System

After you taste each wine, give it a rating using this easy rating system. Add notes to help remember what you liked or didn’t like about the wine.

5pts   Love!
4pts   Like
3pts   Good, but not great
2pts   Meh
1pt     Not for me

Chardonnay Food & Cheese Pairings

This is a great food wine that goes well with white meats and mild cheeses. An oaked Chardonnay will go better with pork, mushrooms, and creamy sauces. The unoaked Chardonnay will go better with Oysters, spring vegetables, and simply prepared foods. They will both pair easily with fish, shrimp, and poultry.

Taste and compare the wine right along with a few food pairing options. Notice how the flavors interact with the oaked and unoaked Chardonnay.

Food Pairings:

  • Oaked Chardonnay is best with:
    • Fish (salmon, white fish, shrimp, scallops)
    • Roast chicken, turkey, pork
    • Mushrooms
    • Creamy sauces
    • Earthy food flavors
  • Unoaked Chardonnay is best with:
    • Fish (white fish, shrimp, scallops, oysters)
    • White meat (chicken, turkey)
    • Squash, Zucchini, Asparagus
    • Simply prepared foods

Cheese pairings:

  • Brie
  • Goat Cheese
  • Gouda
  • Gruyere
  • Provolone
  • Swiss

For more in-depth information on food pairings with this delicious wine. See this post: How to Pair Chardonnay like a Sommelier.