Classy, charming and choicest when served cool, Chardonnay is a world renowned vintage, deriving its name from the French village of Chardonnay in the Mâconnais region.
Grapes and Key Flavours
Research from the University of California suggests that Chardonnay may be a cross between Pinot and Croatian Gouais Blanc grape varieties, produced as it is from the green skinned grape variety that is neutral with its flavour being influenced by the soil and oak. When aged with oak, Chardonnay develops flavours reminiscent of vanilla and caramel. A winning white wine that is vinified in many ways, it has a flinty flavour as befits the high quality wines of succulent Chablis to the beautiful buttery taste of Meursaults and the tantalising tropical fruity flavours of the New World wines of South America including Argentina and Chile.
It has always been assumed that Chardonnay bore a connection to Pinot Noir or Pinot Blanc, especially because of the similarity in the shape and structure of the leaves, vines and clusters of each plant. However, viticulturalists Mayard Amerine and Harold Olmo suggested that Chardonnay descended from a wild Vitis vinifera vine which was similar to white Muscat.
This well travelled white wine grape is attributed with the Chablis and Burgundy regions of France. Besides being the most expensive of the Chardonnays, the Burgundy Chardonnays were considered to be the benchmark standard of expressing terror through Chardonnay. The Montrachets varieties are known for their high alcohol levels and strong flavors including a characteristic hazelnut aroma, while the Chardonnays from Puligny-Montrachet have steely flavors. The most expensive examples of Chardonnay from Chablis comes from the seven Grand Cru Vineyards that account for around 247 acres (100 ha) on the southwest side of one slope along the Serein River near the town of Chablis, with the wine from these capturing a ‘gunflint’ flavor so characteristic of Chablis wine. Over the pond, Chardonnay is grown extensively in California with grapes being less acidic and much sweeter than those grown in the cooler climes of Burgundy where the grapes do not ripen so much. The resulting wine is crispier, tarter with less sugar but more acid. California Chardonnays have been criticised for their high alcohol level. Recently, winegrowers have used processes, notably reverse osmosis, to bring the level down to 12 and 14%.
The 1980s witnessed ‘Chardonnay-mania’ when wine regions world wide drastically increased their planting of the Chardonnay grape so as to meet global demand. A backlash amongst wine lovers ensued, who regarded Chardonnay as a major negative factor in the globalisation of wine, with local grape plantings giving way to the planting of Chardonnay, the darling of the international markets. In 1995 there emerged a new fashion, identified by Frank Prial as ‘ABC’ – Anything But Chardonnay. By the late 1990s Chardonnay was the most widely planted white wine grape in Australia and the third most planted behind Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, becoming the typical wine consumed by young urban women of the Bridget Jones generation. In 2001 Chardonnay enjoyed being the eighth-ranked grape variety that was planted globally, with an estimated total of 140,000 hectares having been planted collectively in America, France, Australia and Italy, with an estimated 400,000 hectares planted worldwide. During the early 21st century, Chardonnay demand outstripped supply, with a shortage of Chardonnay grapes which prompted Australian wine makers to create new blending partners such as Sémillon and Colombard. With its popularity still on the up, Chardonnay became a favourite name for babies born throughout 2002 and 2003. In New Zealand Chardonnay enjoyed unmatched popularity until 2002 when it was surpassed by Sauvignon Blanc. By 2004, it was estimated to be the world’s sixth most grown grape variety, and the world’s third most planted grape behind Chenin Blanc and Colombard. In 2008 it became the most widely planted vine in the world.
Main Wines Used For And Other Names
Its unrivalled popularity is due in part to its versatility as a wine that suits nearly all occasions, from bridal showers to office parties. It is an important component of sparkling wines, notably Champagne with a few 100% Chardonnay champagnes available which are usually marketed as blanc de blancs. Chardonnay is also found in Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) wines of the Loire Valley and Jura wine region in addition to the Vinde pays wines of the Languedoc. In the Loire, up to 20% of Chardonnay can be included in the Chenin Blanc based wines of Anjou blanc. It can also be used in the sparkling wines of Saumur and some Muscadet producers have begun experimenting with oak aged Chardonnay. Chardonnay is also known by a handful of other names such as Aubaine, Beaunois, Melon Blanc and Gamay.