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.
3 Chardonnay Styles
The first style comes from the Chardonnay grapes grown in colder climates and is generally crisp and citrusy. It is matured in stainless steel,
The second style is produced in warmer climates where the wine is placed in oak barrels to round out the fruit-forward flavors giving it a vanilla, toast, and buttery taste profile. Referred to as “oaked.”
In the third style, Chardonnay grapes are used to make sparkling wine or Champagne. This style is also made with a combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Minieur grapes. When the bottle is labeled Blanc de Blanc this means it’s only made with Chardonnay. Keep in mind this style can only be called Champagne if it is made in the Champagne region of France. All the rest must be called sparkling wine.
Chardonnay is so popular that you can find it pretty much anywhere wine is produced. 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 Penninsula, 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…
The Burgundy region of France is where Chardonnay originated. It is now one of the most widely grown white grapes. The Burgundy region is known for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. When you see a white Burgundy or Bourgogne that is Chardonnay.
Drilling down further within the Burgundy region is a sub-region called Chablis. This region only grows Chardonnay grapes and is known for its 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…
California’s Napa Valley was put on the map thanks to Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena. 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 the tasting while watching the 2008 movie Bottle Shock that is all about this famous event (and even stars Chris Pine).
Australia – not to be outdone…
Heading into the 70’s, Australia’s wine focus was on Chardonnay. In the 80’s and 90’s it was all about big bold, oaky, and fruity Chardonnay. 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 Chardonnay.
The best way to become familiar with Chardonnay is to taste it. By trying an oaked vs unoaked Chardonnay, you’ll really pick up on the differences.
Below are recommendations for your tasting that includes 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 included a more reasonable sparkling option from California which is actually very tasty.
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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.
When you taste your Chardonnay, follow these tasting tips to really understand the differences between the oaked and unoaked Chardonnay. Compare your experience with the typical tasting profiles for Chardonnay.
Take your glass and tilt it over a white napkin or paper at a 45-degree angle. Compare the color across all regions. The unoaked Chardonnay will have more of a pale straw coloring while the oaked Chardonnay will have more of a deep golden straw coloring.
TASTING PROFILE: Range of pale to golden straw.
Let’s see how aromatic Chardonnay 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. Then 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.
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?
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: Warmer climate Chardonnay is usually matured in oak, which gives hints of vanilla, toast and butter. Cooler climate Chardonnay 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.
3pts Good, but not great
1pt Not for me
Food & Cheese Pairings
Chardonnay 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, vegetables, and simply prepared foods. They will both pair easily with fish, shrimp, and poultry.
Taste and compare Chardonnay right along with a few food pairing options. Notice how the flavors interact with the oaked and unoaked Chardonnay.
- Oaked Chardonnay is best with:
- Fish (salmon, white fish, shrimp, scallops)
- Roast chicken, turkey, pork
- 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
- Goat Cheese