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A wee bit about Chardonnay

The most popular white wine in the world can’t be all bad – right? It also is one the most diverse in flavor of all wines, pairing well with dishes such as light fish to earthy dishes filled with mushrooms. There are three basic styles: oaked, unoaked, and sparkling.  

Heralding origins from Burgundy, France around the 12th century and named for the village of Chardonnay in the region of Burgandy. One fun story about this grape is that the wife of Emperor Charlemagne was tired of her husband’s white beard being stained with red wine. She demanded that they cultivate a white grape on their estate that would make a wine fit for her husband, the grape was Chardonnay, and the estate is now called Corton-Charlemagne.

This grape grows in a variety of climates and soils, making it easy to grow, to manipulate during the making and to cellar. The flavors can range from crisp and clean to rich and filled with oak, so we should all be able to find a chardonnay to fit our taste preferences.

Typically, it is a medium to full bodied wine that has a bit of acid and is dry. A cooler climate chardonnay has more citrus notes as does the grapes that are harvested earlier. Chardonnay from warmer climates and those harvested later develop more sugar and are richer in flavor and have less citrus, more tropical notes. Chardonnay is filled with secondary flavors which often over-power the initial flavors. These come from the process of making the wine. Flavors such as vanilla, coconut, baking spices are from the oak. This happens because the oak softens the tart green apple and citrus flavors and with time can disappear, becoming the buttery-ness and creaminess found in many Chardonnays.

An ‘oaked’ chardonnay has flavors of baked apples, vanilla, baking spices and a bit of butterscotch. Contrasted with an ‘unoaked’ Chardonnay, often referred to as ‘Chablis-style’, which is minerally, has citrus flavors and floral notes. These flavor distinctions between oaked and unoaked are not unlike the distinctions of a warm or cool climate chardonnay.

Cool climate Chardonnays are found from France (Burgandy & Champagne), Germany, Northern Italy and Austria, Canada, Australia, parts of California, and New Zealand. Warmer climate Chardonnay can be found from Spain, Southern Italy, most of California, South Australia, and South Africa.

In summary: If you like crisp, clean, citrus, find and unoaked Chardonnay from a cool climate. If you enjoy a heavier wine, filled with flavors of baked apples and spice, find an oaked warm climate Chardonnay.



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