Curious Small Sips #33: Chardonnay

Chardonnay grapes freshly harvested

Remember that über-popular, good-looking kid at school who was really good at everything, and we mean e-ve-ry-thing? Well, that’s Chardonnay.

Chardonnay probably originated in France as a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc. It’s the dominant white wine grape in Burgundy, where in Côte de Beaune and Mâconnais, for example, it is used in wines all the way up to Grand Cru level; and in Chablis, it is used to make some of the greatest white wines of anywhere, full stop. Elsewhere, it’s one of the main three grapes used in the most regal wine of them all: Champagne.

Because Chardonnay is incredibly good at adapting to (and expressing the characteristics of) the terroir where it is grown, it has spread far outside of France. In fact, it’s found pretty much anywhere wine is grown. It’s huge in the US and Australia. It was the dominant grape in New Zealand until Sauvignon Blanc muscled in. It’s a significant grape in Italy, though often blended with others, where elsewhere it usually stands on its own.

Chardonnay is synonymous with vanilla flavours, though that’s not the grape speaking, rather the oak barrels the wine is aged in (quality wines) or the oak chips it is soaked in (lesser quality wines). The main exception to this style of Chardonnay is Chablis, which is rarely exposed to oak. Chablis-style Chardonnays are greener, flintier and more acidic. Oakier Chardonnays are spicy, smokey and vanilla-like. Chardonnay can be dry or it can feel somewhat oily on the palate. Produced in cooler regions, it will have greener flavours. In warmer climates, you might get tropical fruit.

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