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.
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 comes from 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. For simplicity, we will focus on the first two styles of Chardonnay.
France – where it all started…
Chardonnay started out in the Burgundy region of France and 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. It was their victory in the famous 1976 blind tasting in Paris conducted by French judges that changed perceptions of California wine. For the fun of it, you could conduct this tasting while watching the 2008 movie Bottle Shock that is all about this famous event (and even stars Chris Pine).
Chardonnay is so popular that you can find it pretty much anywhere wine is produced. Here are a few of the regions to keep on your radar.
- Burgundy/Chablis France
- South Africa
Pick up a wine from each region and taste them side-by-side. Or stick to the 3 recommendations from the Northern Hemisphere to get an idea of what the wine is all about and what your preferences are. I’ve made sure to include a mix of oaked and unoaked options to try out. Remember, if you can’t find these selections, just look for a Chardonnay from these regions with a decent rating in your price point.
Domaine Servin Chablis Vieilles Vignes Massale
Winery: Domaine Servin
Rating: 90pts The Wine Advocate
Avg Price: $22
Louis Jadot Bourgogne Blanc 2016
Appellation: Bourgogne (Burgundy)
Winery: Maison Louis Jadot
Avg price: $17
Wente Chardonnay Morning Fog 2016
Appellation: Livermore Valley (San Fran Bay area)
Winery: Wente Vineyards
Avg price: $15
I would love to recommend a Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena or from Grgich Hills (Mike Grgich was Chateau Montelena’s head wine maker when they won the famous wine competition), but the prices are around $40 a bottle. While not totally astronomical in price, the cost adds up quickly. Instead I’ve recommended a fantastic Chardonnay from Wente, which produces a solid Chardonnay.
Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay Reserve
Appellation: Adelaide Hills
Winery: Jacob’s Creek
Rating: 89pts Wine Enthusiast
Avg Price: $15
Linton Park 2015 Black Rhino Chardonnay
Winery: Linton Park
Rating: 87pts Wine Enthusiast
Avg Price: $12
Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay 2015
Appellation: Limarí Valley
Winery: Concha y Toro
Rating: 90pts Wine Spectator
Avg Price: $22
Now that you have your Chardonnay, it’s time to taste!
Just follow these three steps to become familiar with Chardonnay from each region. You can even have some of the cheese pairing suggestions on hand to see how they work together.
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 water vs. 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
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. Have a few food pairing options on hand to see how the flavors interact and how the oaked and unoaked interact with the different foods.
Meat and Vegetable Pairings:
- 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
Congrats! You’ve decoded Chardonnay. Share your accomplishment with your friends!