The Chardonnay grape can be described as the veritable chameleon of the white wine grapes. With the ability to adapt to the climate and soil of both cool and warm weather regions and still perform well, it could very well be the grower’s grape of choice. This likeability also translates to the wine drinking public. Its flavor is a blank slate that will absorb what is available based on the vineyard as it pertains to taste, texture and flavor. Depending on soil types its flavor can exude an acidic or mineral flavor from some areas yet a low acidic or melon like flavor from another.
So where is the Chardonnay from?
Typically it is said to be a product of the Champagne and Burgundy regions of France. Yet today, it can also be found in countries like New Zealand, Australia and South America. The earliest recorded reference to Chardonnay occurs in 1330. Cistercian monks built stonewall around their ‘Clos de Vougeot’ vineyard and it is believed this was to exclusively plant Chardonnay grapes. Some historians point towards Lebanon as an original source, but not until much later. Another claim is an Austrian vine called Morillon. The name Morillon has been used during the Middle Ages in the region of Burgundy and was an old name for Chardonnay in the region of Chablis. With all of this said, Chardonnay is probably the most popular grape planted in California as well making up almost 40% of its wine growing population.
Since the grapes easily take on and absorb the taste of oak barrels they are matured in, this may contribute to its popularity. The oak flavor varies depending on the aging in the oak barrels. Chardonnay is easy to over oak which will evoke more of a taste of spice, toast or vanilla. Less oak and more grape influence will retain the flavors of lemons, apples, pineapples and melons. However, it is not necessarily the easiest of grapes to harvest from vine to bottle. It has a tendency to lose its acidity as it quickly ripens. Warmer climate vineyards must watch closely not only for the sugar levels but also the acidic. The vine is considered to be an early budding and early ripening vine. What this means is that it will bud quickly, which could put it in danger of spring frost that will wipe out new buds. Farmers may chose to spray the vines with water as the temperature drops. The buds are then covered with an icy layer to protect from freezing. Early ripening means that the buds have not had sufficient time to develop and reach their fullest potentials. As the grapes naturally has an ability to reach high sugar levels, the acid level drops as it quickly ripens. Therefore, early ripening can increase the acid and reduce the sugars to drastic proportions. Farmers must monitor this closely as well as aggressive pruning and leaf plucking.
How to enjoy a Chardonnay with your meal?
With such a delicate aroma, full-body and subtle flavor, rich, heavy foods and tomato sauces tend to overpower these tastes and are not recommended for pairing with Chardonnay. It is best when paired with creamy sauces, poultry and seafood. The buttery taste of a Chardonnay will pop with mild cheeses such as Gruyère or Provolone. The citrus flavors are noticeable when oysters and salmon are paired. Pork and Caribbean dishes also do well with Chardonnay wines without being overpowered.