When it comes to wine, I can’t think of one that’s more derisive than Chardonnay. Some people love it while others can’t stand it. Both sides are adamant about their opinions on the matter and absolutely no one is on the fence. Thanks to mass production and the Chardonnay “boom” of the 1980s and 1990s, many of us associate the wine with the glasses of golden elixir, ever-present in our tipsy aunts’ hands at family gatherings. It’s a shame, really, because Chardonnay has so much to offer than to be typecast in such a disparaging roll. It’s the primary grape in Champagne, after all.
The problem stems from the fact that Chardonnay styles vary substantially by taste and characteristic, depending on the region and method of vinification. The Chardonnay grape’s most desirable qualities – its adaptiveness and versatility – are also the most detrimental to its reputation, lending to the commercialization of the subpar bottles of decades past. Thankfully, with new production guidelines and regulations and generations of more sophisticated wine drinkers with palates far more refined than any drunk aunt’s, Chardonnay is reasserting itself as a grape for connoisseurs and taking it’s rightful place at the top of the wine hierarchy once again.
So how did one variety come to have so many different iterations in the world of wine? It all starts with the grape. Chardonnay is the most popular white grape grown and used for wine making. While originally from France, specifically Burgundy, the Chardonnay grape grows well across many regions and terroir, but especially in Central and Northern California.
The flavour and character variations in Chardonnay come as much from the vineyard’s terroir as they do from the winemaking process. Is the soil chalky? Rocky? Full of minerals? Acidic? Was the wine aged in oak or steal? If in oak, what was the ratio of old barrels to new? There are so many contributing factors that affect the taste and style of Chardonnay they are almost too many to list.
When it comes to Chardonnay, there are three predominate types – Crisp, Creamy and Sparkling – with infinite diversity among them all, each as different from the others as tomatoes are from, say, buttered toast.
Crisp, light and citrus-y Chardonnays are generally un-oaked, which means the fermenting process occurred in stainless steal barrels, as opposed to oak. This allows the finished wine to stay true to its fruity and floral elements.
Bold and creamy Chardonnays, by contrast, are aged in French oak, which gives them a depth more similar to red wines, with notes of wood smoke, spice, vanilla and sometimes butter.
When it comes to sparkling wines, Chardonnay is one of the most popular Champagne grapes, and when the bottle is labeled Blanc de Blancs (White of Whites) it’s made with 100 percent Chardonnay. Champagne and sparkling wines are a subject deserving of another post (or fifty!) so I’ll save them for later.
I personally lean toward the rich and creamy Chardonnays, so this one from Borrowed Time Wines is right in my wheel house, being on the “light but creamy” side. It opens with buttery aromas of dark honey, white peach and fresh linen, and ends on the crisp notes of ripe melon and nasturtium. In-between, the wine is bold and smooth like satin. Notes of honeydew and hazelnut dominate while a kiss of french vanilla lingers on the tongue, thanks to its time spent in French oak barrels. Of the creamy Chardonnays, this one is interestingly fruit-forward, which I love.
If you’re like me, and see colours when tasting wine, this one opens with a pop of clover green, bleeding in long, whisper-thin streaks into pale forsythia which slowly transitions into the fullness of sunflower yellow and finishes in a warm wash of ecru.
If you’ve followed along on Instagram, you know I’ve paired this Chardonnay with a huge variety of dishes over the last few weeks. It goes especially well with rich, light meats like truffle butter roasted chicken, linguini with chard and bacon, pork tenderloin with plums, and, last night I served it with a butternut squash spaghetti which I’ll share in the next post.
I hope you’ll give this bottle a try, even if you’re on the Crisp Chardonnay side of the fence. I think you’ll appreciate the way it blurs the boundaries.