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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 widely considered one of the dozen and a half or so “Noble wine grapes” of the world, and was one of the three white-wine grapes on the original short list.

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.)

The idea of making a list of actually decent or better Chards each reasonably available at $20 or under may seem like a crazy fool’s errand, but we persevered—and it took a lot of perseverence!—and were able to come up with what we think are sound candidates meeting our criteria. (We even found some “splurge” wines actually priced at less than the GNP of a small nation.)

Because Chardonnay produces such diverse wines, we have tried to at least distinguish between oaked and unoaked samples. It was, unsurprisingly, rather easier to fill out the “oaked” list, becaue Chablis and Chablis-like wines are thoroughly fashionable and thus thoroughly expensive if any good (and, too often, even when not too good).

Oaked Chardonnays
Chalk Hill Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
(Do not confuse this “Sonoma Coast” bottling with any of their several other Chardonnays.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Reviews” 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 Reserve Chardonnay
(Do not confuse this with their unoaked “Silver” bottling.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Reviews” page.
    CellarTracker has two separate listings for this wine:
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks.



Au Bon Climat Chardonnay
(Have a care: they bottle numerous different Chardonnays: this is the basic “Santa Barbara” bottling.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Reviews” 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.



Louis Latour “Grand Ardèche” Chardonnay
(Unusually inexpensive.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Reviews” page.
    CellarTracker has two separate listings for this wine:
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks.


For a Splurge

Our nomination is the Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay, which retails for about $39 to $70.

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Reviews” 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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Unoaked Chardonnays
Kumeu River Village Chardonnay
(Actually very lightly oaked.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Reviews” 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.



Castello della Sala “Bramito del Cervo” Chardonnay

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Reviews” 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 standard Chablis bottling; do not confuse it with their Petit Chablis—listed below—or any of their other bottlings: 1er Cru, Grand Cru, or Vielles Vignes.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Reviews” 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 Petit Chablis
(Do not confues this Petit Chablis bottling with any of their other Chablis bottlings—see the listing just above.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Reviews” 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

Our nomination is the Domaine du Colombier Bougros Chablis Grand Cru, which has modest but sufficient availability and retails for about $44 to $80. It actually sees some slight oaking, but consensus is that it is indetectible as such in the wine, making it effectively unoaked.

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Reviews” 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.
Colombier+Bougros

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This page was last modified on Monday, 25 October 2021, at 4:14 am Pacific Time.