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The Chardonnay Grape


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About Chardonnay

(Synonyms: Aubaine, Auvernat, Auxerrois, Auxois, Beaunois, Chaudenay, Clävner, Clevner, Gamay Blanc, Luisant, Melon à Queue Rouge, Melon D’Arbois, Obaideh, Pinot Blanc Chardonnay, Pinot Chardonnay, Wais Edler, Waiser Clevner)

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.

While Chardonnay certainly can and often does produce some of the world’s finest wines, 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 that “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”.

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Some Descriptions of Chardonnay Wines

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Some Chardonnays to Try

(About this list.)

Because Chardonnay produces such diverse wines, we have tried to at least distinguish between oaked and unoaked samples.

For the Chablis wines, it was a struggle between ratings/price and availability—that is, some nice wines at fair prices had scant retail availability (in the U.S. anyway). We struck the best balance we could. It is notable that there seems a fairly sharp price breakpoint for Chablis, with wines that average 90 or more reviewer points being significantly more expensive than those averaging 89 and down; that is generally true of most wines, but with Chablis the 87-89 wines are priced much alike, and the 90-92 wines are also much alike, but the two groups are quite a few dollars apart. Now you know.

Oaked Chardonnays
Bayten Chardonnay

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



Arboleda Chardonnay

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



J. Lohr “Arroyo Vista Vineyard” Chardonnay
(Make sure it is their “Arroyo Vista Vineyard” bottling you’re looking at.)

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



Robert Oatley “Signature Series” Chardonnay
(They bottle numerous named Chards: this is their “Signature Series” bottling.)

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



Beringer “Bourbon Barrel Aged” Chardonnay

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

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For a Splurge (Oaked Chardonnay)

Our nomination is the Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay.

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks

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Unoaked Chardonnays
Morgan Winery “Metallico” Chardonnay

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



Mer Soleil “Silver” Unoaked Chardonnay

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



William Fevre Chablis Champs Royaux

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



Domaine du Colombier Chablis
(This is their basic Chablis, not the Petit, the Vielles Vignes, or any of the named Crus.)

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



Domaine Céline & Fréderic Gueguen Chablis
(This is their basic Chablis, not the Petit or any of the named Crus.)

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

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For a Splurge (Unoaked Chardonnay)

Our nomination is the Christian Moreau Pere & Fils “Les Clos” Chablis Grand Cru.

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks

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This page was last modified on Wednesday, 22 January 2020, at 2:14 pm Pacific Time.