Crush Notes 9 Viticulture 9 On Chardonnay Day: Get to know the Queen (of grapes)!

On Chardonnay Day: Get to know the Queen (of grapes)!

by | Wednesday, May 26, 2021 | Viticulture, Wine Education

Chardonnay

 

For International Chardonnay Day (tomorrow!  May 27), let us lift a glass and pay tribute…to wine drinkers’ sweetheart, a favorite among winemakers – arguably, the reigning Queen of Whites – Chardonnay, the grape, and her wines!

Did you know…

That some of world’s most famous, prestigious (and expensive) white wines in the world are based on Chardonnay.

Some world famous wines composed primarily (even 100%) of Chardonnay, which never list “Chard” on the label include:

  • Corton-Charlemagne, Montrachet, Puilly-Fuisse … (all White Burgundies)
  • Chablis!
  • Champagne! (particularly the Blanc de Blancs)
READ ON …. for a peek into the magic and secrets of the grape.
OR… if you’re ready to find YOUR preferred style or just want a bottle recommendation for Chardonnay day,  Scroll down!

 

Why do we love Chardonnay?

You tell me!  What’s your favorite style?  There’s quite a range! This array of styles is part of Chardonnay’s appeal (and success in the market).

Nature has gifted Chardonnay the ability to produce wines crisp, refreshing and acid driven, with flavors of lemon and tart green apple. With longer time on the vine, her fruit flavors can become rounder and richer – think baked pears perhaps. Take that same fruit and add a few creative winemaker touches, like fermenting in toasted barrels, stirring the lees, and she’ll flip to become a rich nectar of soft ripe texture and flavors of baked fruit pies.  That’s a grape with some range!

 

 

Why do winemakers love Chardonnay? 

Well, she’s pretty happy in the vineyard for one. She grows easily across the wine world, thriving in a broad range of climates – from the coolest corners of France to some of the warmest in Australia and California’s Central Valley. Known as a chameleon grape, the local growing climate sways her aromatics from tart lemon in the coolest regions to apples to melons and to tropical in the warmest climes, or longest time on the vine.

But compared to many white grapes, those aromatics are still fairly neutral, which makes her a “blank canvas” for winemakers.  Let the creativity begin!  Thanks to those neutral tones and hardiness in the winery, Chardonnay inspires the CRAFT of winemaking! Chard, the grape, invites winemakers to experiment and play to achieve their vision of a pinnacle Chardonnay – the wine! Selecting among winemaking methods, they may choose to “add” layers of new flavors, encourage select aromatics, or adapt structure from lighter or fruitier to fuller and richer.  Or, they may hold back instead, and after selecting the very best fruit, allow simply the grape and terroir (origin) to shine.

Chardonnay Styles

It’s handy to think of Chardonnay in three broad styles.  When you discover your preferred style (cheers to you if you love all three!), become familiar with regional influences and winemaking choices that help shape the style. Then, the next time you’re browsing the wine aisle for a Chardonnay, just follow the clues to a bottle you’ll love!

 

Chardonnay – 3 Styles:

 

SHOWCASE: the Grape

 Crisp, Bright, Fresh, Fruit Flavors (and local terroir) Shine

Made in Stainless Steel or Clay. Low levels of Malo-lactic conversion. Low lees contact

Often (not always) from cooler-climates, which promotes acidity & highlights ‘minerality’ and structure

       *Think “Chablis” style

 

BALANCE: the Grape & Craft

 Best of Both

A wide range of styles ranging from “grape” to “craft”. Balanced oak influences

An array of ripeness levels from citrus to apples/pears, & tree fruits, perhaps a touch of pineapple

   *Think “White Burdundian” Style

 

SHOWCASE: the Craft

 Rich, Complex, Fruit + Vanilla, Butter, Toast, Caramel

Made with more oak contact, often toasted, lots of Malo-lactic conversion (softens the acid), lots of lees stirring or long-aging on the lees. Often (not always) from warmer climates or longer, slow “hang-time” on the vine, so fruit flavors may be riper, or tropical or of baked fruit.

   *Think “California” Style – but fresher and livelier today

 

Across all styles – the best versions have both Balance (among components) and Complexity.

 

What’s Your Preferred Style?

Try all three. Each style pairs with different dishes, occasions, wine-enjoying moods!

If you love all three, then it’s just a decision of… what’s my mood today, what do my guests like, and of course my favorite…

what am I eating?

 

Chardonnays to Try

SHOWCASE the Grape

  Label Clues: “unoaked”, “stainless steel,” “crisp” “terroir-focused” “mineral-driven”

LIOCO Chardonnay, Sonoma County

Louis Michel et Fils, Chablis, Vaillons

Sebastian Dampt Chablis 1er Crus “Les Beaugnons”

 

BALANCING Grape & Craft

   A broad category. Most Chardonnays land here. Some lean more to “Grape;” some more to “Craft.”

MacRostie Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast

Rodney Strong Chardonnay, Chalk Hill

Stag’s Leap Chardonnay, Napa Valley

 

SHOWCASE the Craft

Label Clues:  “Rich” “luxurious” “baking spice” “caramel, vanilla” “butter”.  “Reserve” and “Barrel Selection” connote more time on oak and command a higher price.

Today’s version of ‘showcase the craft’ now sees careful winemaking that highlights the best of this style but with fresher fruit, a bit lower alcohol, and – always a sign of quality wines – fresh acidity to balance the richness and keep you wanting another sip.

Miner Chardonnay “Wild Yeast,” Napa Valley

Stuhlmuller Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay, Alexander Valley

Rombauer Vineyards Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley

 

With a glass raised to you – Cheers on Chardonnay Day!

What is your preferred style of Chardonnay?  What are you drinking today?

Tell us  in Comments below or, drop me a note any time at MaryBeth@CrushCourseWine.com

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