Chardonnay: All You Ever Wanted to Know
Chardonnay is a versatile grape and changes its character according to region, terroir and winemaker.
It can be floral and fruity and reveal sharp mineral flavors in cold places such as Burgundy. On the other hand, it can be sensual and buttery especially in places with a moderate/warm growing season, such as those from California.
It is a “winemaker’s grape”, meaning that winemakers like it for its capacity to be transformed by lots of winemaking techniques (barrel fermentation, malolactic fermentation, “sur lie” aging etc.).
The Origin of Chardonnay
The variety takes its name from the village of Chardonnay near Uchizy in the Mâconnais, southern Burgundy.
Various spellings have been used (Chardenet, Chardonnet, Chardenay etc.) and the modern spelling didn’t become common until the 20th century.
“Clone: plants of the same species that have identical physical characteristics and hence probably can be traced to a common “mother” plant. They are the result of natural genetic mutations, with each mutation being replicated via cuttings. It occurs spontaneously in nature.”Source: The Wine Bible
Burgundy has 28 authorized clones (aka “Dijon Clones”): 75, 78, 121, 124, 125, 277 are particularly productive. Whereas 76, 95, and 96 tend to produce higher-quality wine.
There is another clone, especially successful in California, that is suitable to warm climates: the “Wente Clone”.
Viticultural Characteristics of Chardonnay
- Early budding (possible prey to spring frost)
- Early ripening
- Easy to grow
- Adaptable to different climates
- Best suitable for limestone or calcareous clay (not too dry)
- Relative thin skin makes it susceptible to botrytis bunch rot in rainy harvest
Chardonnay Across Climates: How Does It Change?
Loved by all the one winemakers, Chardonnay is not a troublesome grape at all.
It is the kind of partner you would feel comfortable hanging out with, in each environment: from the pub right behind the block in your neighborhood to the most expensive restaurant in the world.
Unfortunately, due to this versatility, Chardonnay is planted almost all over the world and the quality is usually compromised by the quantity.
But don’t worry, if you want to drink good Chardonnay, you can easily do it. It grows and produces outstanding quality wines in cool, moderate, and warm climates.
Chardonnay Characteristics According to Climates
Chardonnay grows everywhere in the world and expresses itself in different ways.
Down below we show the impact of different climates on the characteristics of this grape variety.
|COOL||High||Light/Medium||Green fruits (apple and pear), citrus fruits (lemon and lime) and wet stone|
|MODERATE||Medium/High||Medium/Full||Lemon, stone fruits (peach and apricot)|
|WARM||Medium||Full||Tropical fruits (pineapple, banana, mango and passion fruit)|
What is important for you to understand is that you can’t expect a Chardonnay from Chablis to taste like one from Napa Valley. They would have almost nothing in common but for the name of the grape.
- The Chardonnay from Chablis has a remarkable minerality and acidity with fruity and floral flavors.
- The one from Napa wants to be appreciated for its creamy and buttery flavors instead.
It comes almost naturally that the winemakers styles for these two Chardonnays are completely different.
But whatever the style, this grape is a particularly malleable partner in such winemaking operations as malolactic fermentation, lees stirring, barrel fermentation, and all manner of oak-related practices. For the winemakers’ choice to preserve the finesse of grapes from Chablis, leads to a winemaking style that almost never touches the oak.
However, there are still producers, especially the modern ones, who barrel-ferment their Grand Cru, which are intense enough to stand up to the oak’s impact.
On the other hand Chardonnay coming from Napa Valley is almost always oaked-style.
Needless to say, the malolactic conversation happens along the way.
As you can understand, there is no right or wrong when it comes to Chardonnay. It is more about what you like.
The best advice we can give you is to buy Chardonnay different in styles so you can figure out whether you like the minerality of a Chablis more than a round creaminess of a Californian one.
Important Regions for Chardonnay
Chardonnay is a “citizen of the world” and, as a result, you can come across it, no matter in which wine region you are.
The most important regions where Chardonnay expresses itself to its fullest are the following:
- United States: California and Oregon
- New Zealand
- South Africa