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The Chardonnay Grape


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About Chardonnay

(Synonyms: Arboisier, Arnaison blanc, Arnoison, Aubain, Aubaine, Auvergnat blanc, Auvernas, Auvernas blanc, Auvernat blanc, Auxeras, Auxerras blanc, Auxerrois blanc, Auxois, Auxois blanc, Bargeois blanc, Beaunois, Biela Klevanjika, Blanc de Champagne, Blanc de Cramant, Breisgauer Sueßling, Breisgauer Sußling, Burgundi Feher, Chablis, Chardenai, Chardenay, Chardenet, Chardennet, Chardonay, Chardonnet, Chatenait, Chatey Petit, Chatte, Chaudenay, Chaudenet, Chaudent, Clävner, Clevner Weiß, Cravner, Epinette, Epinette blanc, Epinette blanche, Epinette de Champagne, Ericey blanc, Feher Chardonnay, Feherburgundi, Feinburgunder, Gamay blanc, Gelber Weißburgunder, Gentil blanc, Große Bourgogne, Klawner, Klevanjka Biela, Klevner, Lisant, Luisant, Luizannais, Luizant, Luzannois, Maconnais, Maurillon blanc, Melon blanc, Melon D'Arbois, Meroué, Moreau blanc, Morillon blanc, Moulon, Noirien blanc, Obaideh, Petit Chatey, Petit Sainte-Marie, Petite Sainte Marie, Pineau blanc, Pino Sardone, Pino Shardone, Pinot Blanc à Cramant, Pinot Blanc Chardonnay, Pinot Chardonnay, Pinot de Bourgogne, Pinot Giallo, Pinot Planc, Plant de Tonnerre, Romere, Romeret, Rouci Bile, Roußeau, Roußot, Ruländer Weiß, Sainte Marie Petite, Sardone, Shardone, Shardonne, Später Weiß Burgunder, Weiß Burgunder, Weiß Clevner, Weiß Edler, Weiß Elder, Weiß Klewner, Weiß Silber, Weißedler, Weißer Clevner, Weißer Rulander)

Background

Map showing Burgundy

Chardonnay is a white-wine grape originating in the Burgundy region of France, but now grown practically everywhere in the world where wine grapes can be grown at all. It is more widely planted than any other white-wine grape except the low-grade Airén of Spain. It is probably the foremost white in popularity, having soared to a dominant role in the 1980s to become, for novice wine drinkers, virtually a synonym for "white wine". It is generally considered one of the dozen and a half or so of world-class white-wine grapes (those in boldface in the varietals list to the left of the page).

While Chardonnay certainly can and often does produce some of the world's finest, its stupendous popularity inevitably brought a tidal wave of inexpensive plonk, which severly dampened the grape's reputation. That, and its eclipsing of many excellent but less-well-known regional wines—as planters adapted to the world market by tearing out such less-known grapes and replanting in chardonny—produced in the mid-1990s, a distinct backlash against the grape, sometimes called the "ABC Movement" (Anything But Chardonnay). Chardonnay today retains a very strong position, but no longer so completely dominates white wine.

(This is illustrated by the continuing fame of a quotation from noted wine writer Oz Clarke, describing Chardonnay as "...the ruthless coloniser and destroyer of the world's vineyards and the world's palates." Others have expressed similar feelings about not just Chardonnay, but all the so-called "international varieties".)

American wine drinkers are generally familiar with the Burgundian style of Chardonnay, which also dominates most New World vinification of the grape: put through malolactic fermentation (which produces distinctly buttery overtones and a fruity quality) and heavily (not a few think excessively) oaked. Much less familiar in the New World is the Chablis style (it is arguable that most casual wine drinkers are unaware the "Chablis" is 100% Chardonnay), typically without malolactic or oak, which produces a wine that emphasizes minerality, a vaguely citrus quality, and a sense of "leanness". (The Mâcon region also produces many unoaked Chardonnays, many at value prices.)

(Actually, it's much more complicated than that as to what malolactic fermentation does or does not accomplish; check out the back-and-forth expert comments at The Gray Report.)

In either of those two styles, Chardonnay is well capable of producing magnificent and distinctive wine. But the two are so different that one must almost think of them as two separate wines. Chardonnay grapes are actually surprisingly neutral in flavor, and acquire most of their characteristics from the vinification process; they are said to also be especially good at transmitting terroir, a distinctive taste derived from the soil and climate in which they grew. As you will see from some of the descriptions below, though there are general styles, in truth Chardonnay wines can be pretty much anything the vintner wants to make them as.

Factoid: half a century ago, when Chardonny was rising in renown, it was commonly known in the U.S. as "Pinot chardonnay".


Some Descriptions of Chardonnay Wines


Some Chardonnays to Try

(About this list.)

Because Chardonnay produces such diverse wines, we have tried to make this list representative of at least a few of the many alternative styles: we have broadly distinguished oaked and unoaked samples, and within each have tried to present some regional diversity (though good unoaked Chards tend to be French).

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
Oaked Chardonnays
Bayten Chardonnay
(From South Africa.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

This is quite oaky upfront, with bold scents of baked apple, toasted hazelnut and vanilla bean. The palate offers more of the same, in addition to a bright yet decadent lemon-custard flavor. Honey-drizzled apple pie comes to the fore on the finish, with just enough acidity to keep the opulence in check. 89 points.

Lovely, with singed hazelnut and warm butter notes that glide along, matched by fresh Jonagold apple, quince and white peach flavors. Offers a honeysuckle-gilded finish, with a toasty hint lingering. Chardonnay fans will love this. 92 points. [Wine Spectator]

The 2014 Chardonnay spent ten months in barrel and matured in 30% new wood with around 20%-30% malolactic with no bâtonnage. Apparently it was the one vineyard that they got into the cellar on the desirable day. The nose is quite rounded and honeyed, nicely defined, a more Sonoma style rather than Burgundy, and it works well. The palate is well balanced, very approachable and generous with light tropical fruit mixed with hazelnut and smoke; the acidity is nicely judged with pleasing weight on the finish. It is a well-made Chardonnay that should offer pleasure over the next 5-8 years. 90 points. [Wine Advocate, November 2015]

This dark yellow colored Chardonnay from South Africa opens with a fragrant banana and pineapple bouquet with a hint of pear. On the palate, this wine is medium bodied, slightly acidic and juicy. The flavor profile is similar to the bouquet with pineapple and banana flavors with notes of fig and mild oak. I also detected a hint of lemon as well. The finish is dry and its flavors and acidity linger nicely after the wine is gone. This Chard is very good on its own. I would share a glass with a lover of this grape.

[A] surprise from the first sip to the last swallow: rich, creamy and buttery with the right amount of acidity to keep all that richness in check.

Luxuriously creamy, complex '14 offers scents of jasmine & classy oak. Seductively accessible, persistent flavors peach & citrus flavours are rich & softly rounded, textured by lees & 10 months in barrel. ***** [Platter's South African Wine Guide, 2016]



Robert Oatley Vineyards "Signature Series" Chardonnay
(From Australia)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Bright and sunny with pear, apple and white peach flavor before then raising more serious points. Said points come in the form of flint, matchstick and the grunt of grapefruit, all laced with smoky oak. Drinkability meets sophistication meets value. 94 points. [James Halliday, Australian Wine Companion, 3 March 2015]

Despite its moderate alcohol level, this wine offers plenty of weight and richness. Oak-derived elements of vanilla and toast frame exotic hints of mango, pineapple and citrus. With its ample weight and plush texture, this wine is a throwback of sorts, yet it manages to achieve that with great focus and citrusy length. 90 points.

Nose of lemon curd, daisies, honeycomb, lime, river rocks. On the palate, this is crisp, clean and tangy, only 13% alcohol. The apricot, green apple and lime play well together, and I enjoy the floral, perfumed aspects. Unassuming, lovely stuff, especially for the price. 88 points.

At the suggested retail price, this constitutes a fine value. It's rich and full in body, but balanced, with “tangerine dream” notes of ripe citrus backed by hints of peach and vanilla. Plush and mouthwatering on the finish. 91 points. [Wine Enthusiast, February 2017]

This elegant Chardonnay is made from grapes grown across the region, aged for a few months in French oak barrels, 20% of which were new – which helps with a creamy texture. I assume there is some lees ageing and stirring too as there is a lovely, delicate creamy quality. The wine undergoes no malolactic fermentation, which helps to keep it fresh and lively.

Silky and seamless yet remarkably lively and aromatic. The succulent tropical fruit comes through without a trace of cloying sweetness or clumsy oak in this poised white from cool Margaret River in Western Australia. Very fine for the money. 91 points.



Arboleda Chardonnay
(From Chile)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Elegant nose, understated, with spicy notes of clove, cinnamon and fresh toast. Then the wine emerges in the glass, layered, vigorous, with harmonious flinty, salty, citrusy and almondy character. It is profound, savoury-sweet in that way really good Chardonnay can be. An impressive wine with a tremendous energy. 95 points. [Decanter, July 2016]

This wine is barrel fermented with all natural yeasts. Bright and fresh aromas of white flowers, lemon and green apple dominate the nose, with some riper melon and white peach notes, a hint of vanilla, and a clean, stony minerality. Bone dry, with fresh acidity, balanced alcohol, the palate takes on a creamy note that adds some richness, and provides a nice contrast to the stony/mineral finish. This is a fine cool climate expression of Chardonnay, and one of my favourites of the lineup. 89 points.

Smoke with toasty oak and notes of dry apricots.Also, hints of vanilla. On the mouth,dry. Crisp with a fresh acidity. Long with a finale reminiscent of mineral and flowers notes.

A chardonnay that shows sliced apple and pear aromas with hints of stone and mineral. Medium to full body, lively and very intense with bright acidity and lemon rind. 93 points. [James Suckling]

Medium+ intensity nose offering clean lime, apple, pear, stone fruits and some butter notes in a fresh package. It's medium-bodied on the juicy palate with sharp acids and pleasing aroma replays. It has a rounded mouthfeel, with good texture and some creaminess. Wild fermented. Good length on the finish. Paired really well with the fish tacos and really started to come to life as it warmed up in the glass. Score: 87 pts.

You get the crystalline minerality from the first whiff. After that, a very linear and straightforward wine that is all about adding on to this stony spine. Orchard fruit, green apple and some tropical notes offer up a complex yet nuanced chardonnay. Great value at under $20.



J. Lohr Arroyo Vista Vineyard Chardonnay
(From the U.S.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

A faint smoky character wafts through warm, inviting aromas of lemon peels, nectarine and sea salt on the nose of this wine from Monterey County. There is a lot of energetic acidity on the palate, where even flavors of apple and pear are cut by lemon-lime briskness and a briny character. 92 points.

Moderately light golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Welcoming aromas of ripe apple, peach, lemon-lime and whipped cream. Slightly richer with riper flavors than the October Night bottling, offering flavors of apple, white peach, nectarine and brioche along with a hint of sweetness and a tiny bit of spritz. Impressive barrel management and overall exemplary balance. Score: 91.

It has lots of texture, body and complexity. Intense aromas of white nectarine, white peach, crème brûlée, vanilla and a kiss of white flowers are followed by flavors deftly woven with spicy French oak. Flavors exhibit the “leesy” character of weekly stirring during aging.

Winemaker Kristen Barnhisel continues the fine-tuning on Lohr’s ultimate version of the great white Burgundys of France. Classic techniques abound, from early-morning handpicking/sorting and stirring of the lees to extended barrel aging (14 months). Great mouth feel, very viscous, rich flavors, and a long, lingering finish. A true Monterey classic that should have the French looking over their shoulders. *****, 98 points.

Apple, pear, pineapple, white nectarine, toasted hazelnut, buttery vanilla.

Rich and lush; juicy and crisp with racy acidity and smooth texture; toasty, long and balanced; ripe, dense and fresh. 90 points.



Unoaked Chardonnays
Andre Tremblay "Les Pierres Blanches" Chablis
(From France)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Pierres Blanches lies just above the Beaune 1er Cru les Bressandes with an ideal easterly aspect. There’s about 1½ metres of sandy clay overlying limestone mother-rock. Low yielding, deep rooted bio-dynamically tended vines give a crystalline pure wine, with zesty citrus fruits and hazlenuts and long saline finish.

And this Chablis is LIT people! 2014 Andre Tremblay "Les Pierres Blanches" Chablis: coconut, vanilla and melon on the nose; stone, clementine and lime peel on the palate. Don't sleep on it. Please enjoy.



Le Domaine d'Henri Chablis Saint Pierre
(From France)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

…a focused, steel-fermented Chardonnay from Michel Laroche, who’s been making wine in Chablis for almost 50 years and whose family has owned vines here since 1695. The wine sees no oak and the fruit does the talking, all finesse and elegance. It’s bone-dry, of course, with whistle-clean keen acidity, making it a perfect aperitif. [Mark Pardoe, Wine Spectator]

Classic Chablis, mineral and ash nose, zippy acid and lemons.



Patrick Piuze "Terroir de Courgis" Chablis
(From France)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Pale yellow with a green tinge. Musky stone and lime aromas are lifted by a floral topnote. Juicy, brisk and on the lean side but with more thrust and flavor ripeness than the Terroir de Fyé. Should make a versatile food wine. 89 points. [Stephen Tanzer, Vinous, July 2016]

The 2014 Chablis Terroir de Courgis comes from deeper, clay-rich soils and tends to be a little reduced after bottling. That is evident on the nose despite being bottled a month ago but that will blow off with decanting. The palate is clean and fresh on the entry with lime and green apple, with a delicate, saline finish that lingers nicely in the mouth. [Wine Advocate, 20 August 2015]

An oyster shell note adds depth to the apple and lemon flavors in this textbook Chablis. Rich and fleshy, finishing in a clean, focused way, with a lemon and stone aftertaste. 91 points [Wine Spectator]

Displaying aromas of crushed green apples along with candied apple, ripe lemon, , white peach, white florals, sea salt and stones. Not quite the acid spectrum one may expect but has excellent length along with great concentration. It’s good going now, but should you forget you have it, be sure to find it again sometime in the next 5 years and ideally drink it on a warm summers day.

A pale and pristine chablis with focused citrus and apple fruits with delicate leesy/mineral complexity. Long, elegant and angular with no barrel maturation, it will reward drinking over the next three to four years.

Mild reduction suppresses the fruit but there is plenty of verve and freshness to the intense, detailed and mineral-driven middle weight flavors that possess a relatively tender mid-palate that contrasts with the clean, dry and intensely saline finish that is notably persistent. The natural coolness of Courgis shows as the acid spine is a bit more prominent here. [Allen Meadows, Burghound, October 2015]



Morgan Winery "Metallico" Chardonnay
(From the U.S.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Dan Lee's annual stainless-steel release is quite dynamic on the nose, with lime blossom, red apple, soda and freshly cut kiwi notes. The flavors are light, bright and intriguing, trending toward the green-fruit side of the spectrum, with apple and pear cider, pomelo rind and a touch of quinine. 88 points.

Bright straw-gold. Intense melon and orchard fruit scents are complicated by subtle floral and mineral nuances. The palate offers flavors of underripe pear, honeydew and tangerine, along with a gingery note that builds with air. Rich but lively as well, finishing with good stony clarity and tangy acidity. [Vinous, June 2015]

This Chardonnay was grown in the Roger Rose, Leavens, Double L, and Kristy vineyards, which splay across the Santa Lucia Highlands, Arroyo Seco, and Monterey appellations. It was whole-cluster pressed and the wine spent five months in stainless steel (hence “Metallico”). It did not go through malolactic. It’s redolent of stone fruits, yellow apple, and wet stone, but the body delivers a shaft of light across the palate: Cleansing—almost astringent—suggesting yellow fruits and citrus. I admire its restraint, linearity, and vibrancy. It’s a good value for those who, like me, love this forthright style.

A solid value that has a Chablis-like minerality and oyster-shell quality, the 2013 Chardonnay Metallico gives up pretty lime and citrus fruit in its medium-bodied, balanced and refreshing style. 89 points. [Wine Advocate, October 2014]

Three months in stainless steel result in a very pale wine with aromas of lemon peel and grapefruit flesh. The palate is painted with bright, citrus zest acidity throughout, yet retains the varietal's flavors of nectarine flesh and yellow melons. It makes a leading option for the unoaked crowd. Score: 88. [Wine Enthusiast, 1 April 2015]

This offering is a great example of pure Chardonnay without oak or malolactic fermentation. It is rich tasting with delicious melon fruit flavors, medium weight, good balance, freshness, acidity and a fine finish. One of California’s finest un-oaked Chardonnays.

This wine begins with aromas of freshly cut grass and outdoor floral, garden scents. The flavors really come through without the oak influence; pineapple, apricot and peach, more lemon toward the finish. The wine has that nice body you get with a Chardonnay (compared to a Sauvignon Blanc which often feels lighter to me) and the wine finishes with a healthy does of acidity and tart. After each taste if feels like you just ate a yellow Skittle.



For a Splurge

If you really want to splurge, take out a second mortgage and buy a bottle of real Montrachet, for which you can expect to pay a few thousand dollars (that's a new bottle, not an aged one—aged, they're even more, circa $6000). For more plausible splurges, try the items below.

Unoaked

A good unoaked-type and not outrageously priced splurge would be a bottle of Jean-Paul & Benoit Droin "Montée de Tonnerre" Chablis Premier Cru.

• That wine at 1000 Corks
• That wine at Wine Searcher
• Its Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.
• Its CellarTracker pages.
Oaked

A good oaked-type reasonable splurge would be a bottle of Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay from New Zealand.

• That wine at 1000 Corks
• That wine at Wine Searcher
• Its Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.
• Its CellarTracker pages.

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