May 26 is National Chardonnay Day! Chardonnay suffered damage to its reputation due to its association with heavy oak flavours, which were common in the Chardonnay wines of the 1980s and 90s. Some wine fans would even go as far to say their wine preference was “ABC” — Anything But Chardonnay! Nowadays, producers are much more careful not to overpower the wine’s fruit flavours with flavours from oak, seeking to repair the ‘brand’ of Chardonnay.
Chardonnay in reality is prized for its ability to produce outstanding-quality wines in cool, moderate AND warm climates. They can be oaked or unoaked, and some Chardonnays can evolve even after decades of aging in bottle.
Let’s learn more about this grape and style of wine, as well as a few of our favourites available in store!
What is Chardonnay?
Chardonnay is a white grape variety that is incredibly versatile and can grow in all kinds of climates. It’s the world’s most popular white wine — it’s grown basically everywhere wine is made! It originated in France’s Burgundy region, and takes its name from a small town in the Maconnais. Chardonnay is also one of the three main grapes used in Champagne production, alongside Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
It’s important to note that in France, wine takes its name from its place of origin rather than the grape, so Chardonnay is synonymous with White Burgundy, Chablis, Pouilly-Fuissé, Montrachet and Meursault.
Characteristics of Chardonnay
Chardonnay is very expressive of its terroir — its primary fruit aromas and the levels of alcohol, body and acidity are greatly affected by the climate where it is grown. Cool climate Chardonnay has high acidity, light to medium body and flavours of green fruits (apple, pear), citrus fruits (lemon, lime) and wet stones. Moderate climate Chardonnay has medium to high acidity, a medium to full body, and flavours of lemon, stone fruits (peach) and sometimes tropical fruit (melon). And warm climate Chardonnays are often full bodied, medium in acidity and dominated by flavours of stone fruit (peach) and tropical fruit (banana, pineapple).
Chardonnay can be made in many ways. Many Chardonnays are produced using inert vessels to avoid adding secondary characteristics to its primary fruit flavours. Some producers use a process called malolactic conversion in the fermentation process, which can add buttery and creamy flavours and soften harsh acids. Lees contact during maturation can add body and flavours of bread and biscuit. Oak barrel fermentation and/or maturation is commonly used to add body and flavours like smoke, vanilla and coconut.
The homeland of Chardonnay, this is the main white grape variety of the region. Within Burgundy, there are a few regions and appellations that dictate how the Chardonnay is made.
Bourgogne AOC: The simplest AOC, wines labelled under this regional appellation can be made from grapes anywhere in Burgundy. These wines are usually simple with apple and lemon characteristics and high acidity.
Chablis AOC: The cool climate here produces dry wines with high acidity and flavours of apple, lemon and wet stones. There are Cru and Grand Cru classifications for premium Chardonnays from Chablis. Oak is not usually used in wines from Chablis, with producers preferring to preserve the delicacy of the cool-climate fruit flavours by fermenting in inert vessels.
Côte d’Or: Moderate climate here produces more ripe fruit flavours in the grape, and production is focused south of the town of Beaune, in an area known as the Côte de Beaune. Meursault AOC and Puligny-Montrachet AOC are famous for producing outstanding Chardonnays. Complexity and body is created by fermenting and/or maturing the wines in oak barrels and aging on lees. The premier cru and grand cru vineyards are considered the pinnacle of Chardonnay in the world.
Mâconnais: Located in the south of Burgundy, this is a source of fruity and mostly unoaked Chardonnay with simple flavours, labelled Mâcon AOC. Higher quality wines are found in the village of Pouilly-Fuissé AOC, which feature concentrated stone fruit and tropical fruit flavours and are often aged in oak barrels.
Chardonnay is widely planted in California and the quality can range. Coastal vineyards in Sonoma are cooled by Pacific sea breezes which help the grapes retain their acidity while developing complex fruit flavours. Napa Valley becomes increasingly warm and sunny as you go further north, and produces full-bodied Chardonnay with pronounced tropical fruit flavours complemented by vanilla and spice from new oak. Santa Barbara County is also known for high quality Chardonnay, with vineyards that receive cooling sea breezes. The style varies but some are similar to those of the Côte de Beaune, and ranging to more tropical fruit flavoured wines with higher alcohol and more new oak flavours.
South Australia: Adelaide Hills is cooled by altitude while Yarra Valley is cooled by ocean currents from the south. These moderating influences allow for a longer growing season and produce wines with ripe peach flavours and sometimes pineapple and banana. They typically have medium to high acidity and carefully balanced oak flavours.
Margaret River: Located in Western Australia, the quantity of wine produced is less than South Australia but the quality is consistently high. It has a warm climate, but cooling sea breezes help elongate the growing season. Chardonnay wines from this area are typically medium to full bodied with ripe peach and pineapple flavours.
The Coastal Casablanca Valley region is exposed to sea breezes and morning fogs from the Paific Ocean, and produces refreshing Chardonnay wines with citrus and peach flavours and varying levels of oak influence.
The coastal Walker Bay region is among the coolest in South Africa due to its exposure to strong sea breezes, and has a reputation for producing very good quality Chardonnay with high acidity and ripe peach and pineapple flavours, along with oak influence.
Our Favourite Chardonnays
Want to celebrate with a #ChardyParty at home? Check out a few of our favourite Chardonnay wines, available in store!
Montalto Pennon Hill Chardonnay - Mornington Peninsula, Australia
Located in the Mornington Peninsula, Montalto’s Pennon Hill range of wines showcase the qualities the region is known for - perfume, purity, varietal expression and brightness.
Aged 9 months in oak prior to bottling, this award-winning Chardonnay features aromas of white peach, apple blossom, roasted almonds and hazelnuts and lemon and lime sherbet, rounded out by brioche and gentle oak aromas. The citrus and stone fruit flavours are supported by great acidity and generous texture. Australian Chardonnay is truly underrated, think subtle California Chardonnay meets refined Chablis.
Tolpuddle Vineyard Chardonnay - Tasmania, Australia
This wine is true to the Tolpuddle Vineyard Chardonnay style: fine and precise with firm acidity, and a combination of lightness of texture and intensity of flavour. Natural acidity but approachable, mouthwatering white-peach and lemon flavors with a deep draw of acidity that drives the lengthy finish. This refined cool climate Chardonnay suits many different plates, but would be a perfect match with pan-fried sea scallops.
Giaconda 2017 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay - Beechworth, Australia
Giaconda is one of Australia's best boutique wineries, and we're stoked to have their 2017 Estate Chardonnay - the first time their wine has made it to Canada! This wine is on a mission to fly the banner for grand old-world chardonnays that have poise and sophistication. Aged in oak for two years, it has intense aromas of white peach, hazelnut and lime, and it has a creamy mineral palate and persistent finish.
Carmen Gran Reserva Chardonnay - Casablanca Valley, Chile
This 100% Chardonnay is sourced from a single vineyard in the Casablanca Valley just outside of the city of Valparaiso and 30 km away from the Pacific Ocean. The world class terroir of the Casablanca Valley allows for a Chardonnay characterized by its greatness and defined character. It has distinctive citrus notes on the nose, aromas of peaches, almonds, custard and green apple. The palate is fresh, persistent and balanced, sustained by its characteristic minerality.
Little Engine Silver Chardonnay - Okanagan Valley, Canada
This small producer in the Okanagan Valley's Naramata Bench is named for the "little engine that could" and the obstacles we overcome in life. Produced with both used oak and stainless steel tanks, leading to subtle oak flavours. It has a fresh acidity with a crisp lingering finish. It has a nose of blossoms, jasmine, honey, pear and pineapple, with a palate of subtle spice, citrus and pear. Pair this wine with a rich fish like tuna or salmon.
Domaine Servin Chablis
The Servin family has owned vines in Chablis since 1570. Notes of crisp yellow orchard fruit, dried white flowers, citrus oil and clear honey. On the palate, it's medium to full-bodied, layered and satiny, with excellent concentration, racy acids and a long finish. This Chablis can age up until 2030.