Loved by many and hated by some, Chardonnay is like a blank canvas, you can do so many things with it and the results will be wonderful no matter what! But let me start by saying that Chardonnay is no sissy!
It produces the biggest whites of all, so if you want a white with substance, lush an almost red wine... then you have arrived to the right place! I say that is a blank canvas because it can shine no matter what, if you treat it like a purist, fermenting in stainless steel and avoiding oak, it will produce lean wines with solid acidity and delicious minerality, a vehicle to express its terroir (like in Chablis). If you barrel ferment or age it oak, add malolactic fermentation and aging in lees, it will produce a round, soft and fat white with buttery and creamy flavors similar to the best wines of the Cote D’Or.
Originally from Burgundy, Chardonnay is the child from the cross of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc. It doesn’t have a strong nose, it can grow in any climate, but does better in cool climates, since in warmer ones, losing acidity can be a problem. It buds early and is susceptible to frost, and suffer from problems with flowering and uneven fruit set (coulure and millenderage).
Best soils for Chardonnay are limestone, chalk and clay. Most elegant wines come from limestone and chalk. Yields, as with all wines of quality, shouldn’t go higher than 45 hl/ht, but in the New World it could get to 60-100 hl/ht. The best clones are the Dijon (Burgundian) ones that have been planted everywhere, since Burgundy Chardonnay has been replicated like no other wine in the world...the fact that Chardonnay is a brand that sells so easy also helped.
Chardonnay’s flavor profile may change according to climate and vinification, cool climates samples will show more citrus notes: lemon, lime, pears and yellow apples, warm climates will show more tropical flavors: pineapple, mango, guava,melon, peach. Aging or fermenting in oak will add butter, vanilla, honey and caramel notes.
Best samples come from Burgundy and can age for up 30 years, (Corton Charlemagne anyone? Yes if you can afford this!
Wines from cool climates can age 8-10 years (CA: Carneros, Russian River, Australia: Yarra Valley, Chablis). Warm climates Chardonnay should be drunk early before they lose their flavor, don’t keep them for more than 5 years.
Finally, let’s not forget that Chardonnay is one of the key components in Champagne, actually Blanc de Blancs are solely made from this grape. As if we need another reason to appreciate it even more!
You can find Chardonnay in every country but for me, these three places do the best job:
Chablis: Christian Moreau, Laroche, Raveneau, Jean Marc Brocard, Domaine Vincent Dampt, Patrick Piuze, Albert Bichot, Billaud Simon, William Fevre, Domaine Laroche.
Burgundy & Pouilly Fuisse: Jadot, Domaine Leflaive, Bouchard Pere et Fils, Chateau Fuisse, Les Heritiers Du Comte Lafon, Louis Latour, Thierry & Pascale Matrot, Jean Pascal et Fils, Domaine Faiveley, Olivier Leflaive, Albert Bichot, Yves Boyer Martenot, Jean Chartron, J.A. Ferret, Alex Gambal, Vincent & Sophie Morey, Jacques Prieur.
California: Kistler, Au Bon Climat, Marcassin, Ridge, Aubert, La Crema, Oberon, Sta Barbara Winery, Arista, Kendall Jackson, Paul Hobbs, Pahlmeyer, Arista, Sonoma Cutrer.