Chardonnay is one of the most misunderstood varietals. Just saying its name conjures up images of a golden buttery blur of Real Housewives and the beloved term “Cougar Juice.”
However - this common perception no longer rings true.
While the style of heavily oaked Cali Chards is what gave the grape its American popularity, it’s actually one of the most neutral flavor profiles in the grape game. The rich, buttery flavor with which it’s so deeply associated, is actually almost entirely a factor of the winemaker’s choices.
Winemaker? Is that the guy picking grapes and writing me love letters...in my dreams?
The winemaker is actually similar to a chef in the kitchen. Once the grapes - or ingredients - are picked the Winemaker is able to work with a myriad of practices to manipulate and refine the flavor of the wine to their desired outcome similar to a spice cabinet and cooking techniques. The winemaker “spices” most commonly associated with Chardonnay include new oak barrel aging, malolactic fermentation, and even oak chips. Mmm, oak chips.
And what do you mean by neutral? Like Switzerland?
Neutral means the grape doesn’t naturally impart any of its own flavors or perfumes making it a vehicle for tasting a sense of place or “terroir.” Think about splashing red sauce on your t-shirt - a white shirt will brightly display the sauce while a darker color will mask or blend with the color of the food you splattered. Chardonnay is a white t-shirt.
This neutrality is one of Chardonnay’s greatest assets that has been wildly underused - until now.
What does this all mean to me? I’m busy.
Chardonnays natural talents are now being taken advantage of all over the world as the blowback from decades of buttering it up are being noticed. That means you may actually like Chardonnay more than you think you do.
Still don’t believe me? Let’s look at a few great examples to try in our recommended items on the right.
Chardonnay Fun Facts:
- The Judgement of Paris: Have you seen Bottleshock? If not, just imagine this story being whispered to you by Chris Pine with long flowing hair. The short version is - America finally beat the French in a wine tasting in 1976 using Chardonnay as their weapon of choice.
- Chardonnay had its big break 1200 years ago in the Burgundy region of France. The wife of the Emperor Charlemagne, grossed out by the red wine that stained her husband’s white beard, ordered that white grapes be planted in their Burgundy vineyard, which is now called Corton-Charlemagne. It’s delicious.