Flavor Profile. Chardonnay is a neutral grape, making it the perfect canvas to express the elements the winemaker wants to emphasize, be that terroir or winemaking techniques like using oak barrels for fermentation and/or aging. (Side Bar/Wine Bar – “terroir” is the French word for the particular characteristics of a place’s geography, soil, climate, etc., as expressed in an agricultural product like wine; many believe that a wine is first and foremost the product of its growing environment.) When grown in cooler locations like Chablis, Chardonnay makes crisp, lean wines with distinctive mineral characteristics. Chardonnays from warmer climates like California are richer, with aromas and flavors of tropical fruit. Two flavor profile influences that tend to cause intense debates among Chardonnay fans are barrel fermentation/aging and the presence or absence of malolactic fermentation, which is secondary to the wine’s primary fermentation. Oak adds oak flavor to wine; partial or total malolactic fermentation contributes creamy or buttery characteristics. Some love oak and/or butter; others strongly disagree. Any manly man recommending a Chardonnay to a date or significant other should figure out these preferences in advance. If it’s a mixed crowd – think of ordering for a table of 6 at dinner, or buying wine for a party – keep everyone happy by splitting the difference, i.e., choosing a Chardonnay with a moderate oak influence that has undergone partial malolactic fermentation. You’ll be the man of the moment.
Food Pairings. A good white Burgundy (i.e., Chardonnay from a region within Burgundy) pairs best with seafood or salads. Chardonnays from Australia and California will go well with soft cheeses, poultry dishes and pastas with white sauces. And one of the best uses of Chardonnay is as an all-purpose sipping wine – in a restaurant, at home before dinner, etc.
Price. Chardonnay may be the white wine with the biggest range of prices. Drinkable value wines at the wine shop or super market can be found for under $10, while the most sought-after Chardonnays retail for well into the triple digits. There’s a time and a place for everything, right? And almost all restaurants offer Chardonnay by the glass and by the bottle.
Photos used under Creative Commons from John Morgan, viZZZual.com