Description 1 of 2
Species: Vitis Vinifera
Parentage: Cross between Pinot & Gouais Blanc
Aliases: Aubaine, Beaunois, Gamay Blanc, Melon Blanc...
Grape Color: White
Regions: Though the origins of Chardonnay lie in France’s Burgundy region, the grape is grown worldwide.
Type(s) of the Wine the Grape Produces: Chablis, White Burgundy, Champagne
British wine writer and critic, Jancis Robinson, once noted that throughout the 80’s and 90’s in the United States, Chardonnay took its varietal qualities to the next level and ‘virtually became a brand.’
Delicate. Malleable. Neutral. Reflecting on its terroir and its winemakers’ preferences, Chardonnay gained fame from its widespread success in the Burgundy and Champagne regions of France. If a painter stares at his blank white canvas with a thousand possibilities of expressing himself to society, winemakers do no differently with Chardonnay. This varietal holds the rare quality of having its flavors mold to the many differences in climates, region, soil, and fermentation practices.
Chardonnay grapes are small, thin-skinned, and fragile, making them expensive to grow. Its early budding qualities make it vulnerable to springtime frost. True to its name, Chardonnay also adapts to most types of vineyard soils. However, it tends to work best with chalk, clay, and limestone. Similarly to its Vitis Vinifera sibling, Chardonnay holds greater importance to soil type under less-than-ideal conditions. Another similarity lies in the fact that Chardonnay, too, ages well in a bottle -- though not as expertly as many red wines.
Though the origins of the Chardonnay lie in France, the grape surged to popularity in North America, particularly California, in the 1970s. Since then, it has been found to grow excellently in New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, and even South Africa.
Depending on the region it was grown in and its treatment in said region, Chardonnay appeals to a wide array of palates. Chardonnay from Napa Valley gives hints of pineapple, while that from Chablis will mimic green apples. When these varietals undergo malolactic fermentation, they soften and taste big and buttery, exhibiting the same aromas of home microwave popcorn.
Some more expensive Chardonnays are aged in oak barrels, giving birth to vanilla connotations in both the aroma and flavor. The exact opposite of these oak-fermented Chardonnays is the Naked Chardonnay, which is aged in stainless steel instead of oak, bringing out a fruitier, edgier, more acidic flavor in its wine. While many of this varietal’s flavors are associated with terroir and oak, it is just as much a large component of numerous sparkling wines around the world.
Don’t place your money on recognizing any of these though! Chardonnay tends to be as complex as those who love it.
Description 2 of 2
(aka. Beaunois, Morillon)
Chardonnay is by far the most widely planted grape crop in California, comprising over 40% of all white varieties crushed in the state in 2000. Chardonnay dominates not only California’s cooler, coastal, quality wine regions, but also its hot, dry, bulk-producing areas. There is little doubt that this grape’s popularity during the ‘varietal revolution’ has made acreage of less fashionable grape names such as French Colombard, Chenin Blanc, and even Thompson Seedless vulnerable to the noble Chardonnay. Its dominance is clearly evident by being known colloquially to the wine buying public simply as “Chard.”
In the sizzling and parched Central Valley, Chardonnay has become a leading component of that region’s bulk wine production. However, Chardonnay tends to lose acidity rapidly as grapes reach ripeness. This means that growers and winemakers in these warmer regions must keep a keen eye not just on sugars, but also on acids. The impressive natural bulk of Chardonnay can easily turn ‘clumsy and dumb’ without suitable levels of balancing acidity.
Chardonnay is also noteworthy in more northerly parts of North America such as Oregon, Washington and more recently, British Columbia. Even in the colder northeastern regions, Chardonnay is proving not just viable, but impressive. Long Island, the Finger Lakes and the Niagara Peninsula all demonstrate that many of their best white table wines are Chardonnay, produced in a leaner, crisper style. This style has become increasingly fashionable, as the popularity pendulum swings from heavy oak to fresher versions.
The natural varietal ‘taste and smell’ of Chardonnay is surprisingly unfamiliar to many wine drinkers, as its true character is often guised with dominating winemaking signatures. Chardonnay’s rather subdued primary fruit characteristics lean toward the crisp fruitiness of apples, pears, and lemon, but the variety’s full body is capable of supporting a host of complementary characteristics, such as oak, butter, and vanilla. Thus, in an effort to reproduce the great whites of Burgundy, Chardonnay has often been subjected to excessive oak fermentation and/or aging, sur-lees treatment, and malo-lactic fermentation. Many such wines all but lose their varietal and regional signatures, succumbing to the external characteristics added by the winemaker. By the mid-1980s, so popular had the style of the heavily-oaked Chardonnay become that in its wake, many less capable varieties were subjected to similar winemaking methods, usually with poor results. A backlash against the heavy-oak style, unfairly coined the ‘ABC’ fad (Anything But Chard) has seen some of the most oak-laden wines of places like California and Australia become more moderate in recent vintages.
Regardless of what is the appropriate style for Chardonnay, the varietal continues to dominate vineyard plantings in every corner of the world. Close attention to clonal selection has made this broad geographic and climactic range of Chardonnay viable in thoughtful viticultural hands.
You are the world’s greatest star. Your fame has infiltrated every nook and cranny of the globe, regardless of culture. Your public persona is often the creation of zealous image consultants. They alter your visage with a woody makeup, and drape your body with the designer apparel of Malolactic and Sur-Lees. Being on top is never easy, and the jealous backlash that calls itself 'ABC' is an insult to your greatness. Rare glimpses of your true personality reveal angular cheekbones underneath all the makeup, and steely eyes that can be sharp and engaging. With your tall stature and broad shoulders, you are capable of carrying any style. So: “Lights, camera … action!” Chardonnay, your fans await. – Description from Appellation America (view original content)
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