Chardonnay is the wine Americans love and love to hate.
According to Beverage Trade Network’s 2019 Wine Ratings, Chardonnay is the second top varietal sold in the United States with net sales worth $2,549 million. With these kind of numbers, it’s good to have some basic knowledge. May 21st is National Chardonnay Day so we opened a few bottles to honor this golden juice. Whether you love it or consider yourself part of the ABC Club (Anything But Chardonnay) it’s time to embrace this versatile grape. We’ve broke it down for you here, what you should know and what’s fun to know.
Point: Chardonnay is a French grape from the Burgundy region called Chablis.
Point of Interest (POI): Around 800 A.D. the wife of Emperor Charlemange ordered white grapes be planted in their Burgundy vineyard Corton-Charlemagne because she was disgusted by the red stains on his beard.
Point: Old World and New World Chardonnays have very different flavor profiles because of how and where they are produced. Old World Chardonnay is traditionally made in stainless steel, concrete or neutral oak barrels so it tends to be crisp and lean with some minerality and earthiness. A great one to try is Les Charmes Macon-Lugny Chardonnay. Produced by a co-op in Burgundy it is Chardonnay the way it’s “supposed” to taste at a consistently good price. ($15-$18)
POI: Chablis popularized the unoaked Chardonnay style so much so that several wineries in other parts of the world started labeling their no-oak chardonnays with the word “Chablis.” Until France complained.
“Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you watch a lot of Cartoon Network and drink mid-priced Chardonnay at 11 in the morning.”
– Conan O’Brian
Point: California is the largest producer of New World Chardonnays and traditionally these have been aged in oak making them more full bodied. Not only does the wine take on the flavor of the oak barrels, but oak also introduces more oxygen into the winemaking process, which results in a richer profile with aromas of vanilla, caramel and butter. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars celebrates their 50th anniversary this year so we indulged with a bottle of their KARIA Chardonnay 2018. The silky texture, fresh fruit aromas, crisp acidity and subtle creamy oak spice finish are true to what we associate with Chardonnays from Napa. ($35).
Point of Interest: On a May 24th, 1976 a famous Paris Wine tasting was held where a ’73 Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena, a boutique vineyard in Calistoga, California beat noteable French white Burgundy wines in a blind tasting. This event put Napa on the wine map and has become known as the Judgement of Paris.
Point: Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape varietal in all of California. When unoaked, Chardonnay is notably light, sweet and refreshing. Aged in concrete and stainless steel barrels instead of new oak, unoaked lovers feel these lighter dry wines reflect the minerality of the land and lets the grape shine. For clean and mineral driven wine that’s been fermented in stainless steel and neutral oak, try Smoke Tree Chardonnay 2018 ($19.99). The best grapes are selected and handpicked from four different growers to create a vibrant and well balanced wine.
POI: California Chardonnays saw a growth in the 80‘s and 90s when winemakers oaked wines with a heavy hand, sometimes lovingly called “butterball” because of their strong buttery flavor.
Point: Sparkling wines made with Chardonnay are typically called Blanc de Blancs which means “white of whites” and refers to the color of the grapes used to make wines. The grapes are picked a bit earlier to preserve the high acidity and can have either a rich (oaked) or lean (stainless steel) profiles. Schramberg Blanc de Blancs ($35) is an elegant dry and crisp sparkling wine. It is the wine Schramberg produced in 1965 and America’s first commercially produced Chardonnay-based brut sparkling wine.
POI: Chardonnay is the most popular white variety used in sparkling wine. Including Champagne.
We could go on for hours about the attributes and history of Chardonnay. It is one of the most widely planted grape varieties and is, once again, seeing a resurgence, so keep an open mind while you pour a glass and toast to this classic grape.