Like most of the world’s great wine, Chardonnay began in a French vineyard a long, long time ago. The grape gradually made its way across the New World where, as it turns out, everyone loves it. Today Chardonnay reigns as the world’s most popular white grape.
Winemakers especially love Chardonnay because of its versatility. Its flavors are not as distinctive as other varietals giving it a blank canvas for winemakers to use individual techniques to create their own imprint on the wine. Winemakers who want flavors of spice, toast, and vanilla ferment the wine in oak barrels, while those who want a leaner, crisp wine ferment in stainless steel tanks and so on.
Climate also dramatically affects the flavor profile. Cool climate Chardonnays tend to have more citrus flavor, minerality and acidity. Warm climate Chardonnays tend to have less acidity, ripe fruit flavors, and tend to be fuller-bodied, higher-alcohol wines.
Because of Chardonnay’s variations of flavors, mouth feel, and body, pairing it with food is not as easy as saying “it's a white wine so serve it with fish,” Here is a quick guide to help you pair your next bottle of Chardonnay with the right meal.
California Chardonnays have garnered a reputation of being butter-bombs that are oaked-out-to-the-max, but as Bob Dylan said, “the times they are a changing.” Cali winemakers are shaking off that reputation by creating wines that do not rely on oak to add flavors. Case in point- the 2018 Kendall-Jackson Avant Unoaked Chardonnay.
Cold fermented in stainless steel tanks, this crisp wine showcases the pure expression of the Chardonnay grape. Green apple, citrus and tropical fruit make it a lively wine with a superb affinity for food.
The wine’s crisp nature allows it to pair well with just about anything. Keep it light by pairing the delicate flavors of the wine with simply flavored foods like poultry with butter and herbs. The acidity helps neutralize spice, so it is a great wine for a Mexican or Thai night.
Lightly oaked Chardonnays combine light butter nuances with tropical fruit making them exceptionally food friendly. The 2017 Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay, California is medium weight wine with a well-balanced palate of pineapple, mango and papaya mixed with a hint of toasted oak.
Pour a glass of it alongside a dish of piping hot Alfredo or mix it up at your next backyard BBQ. The oaky flavor of the Chardonnay pairs nicely with grilled or smoked meat.
Medium oaked Chardonnays are the cat’s meow for those wanting a creamer white wine. The barrel-fermented 2017 Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay has a rich texture of lush tropical fruit, floral notes, and a hint of spice to round out a long finish. Mineralitly is present providing saline notes typical of Santa Barbara where 75 percent of the fruit is sourced. Apricot, honey, dried flowers, mint and butter notes lead into a creamy finish.
Two words for this wine: crab cakes. Those little lumps of heaven loosely held together with bread crumbs, eggs, and light seasoning pair with the rich, full-bodied Chardonnay. This big, rich Chardonnay also pairs well with big rich foods like lobster and drawn butter.
Warm-climate Chardonnays in newer regions, like those from Chile, tend to be buttery and oaky with flavors of vanilla and caramel. Some can be fruit explosions with flavors of pineapple, coconut, and banana.
Big, oaky bottles of wine call for bold cheeses like blue cheeses and washed rinds. To complement the fruiter wines, serve a curry, chicken salad with grapes, apples, golden raisins and toasted almonds tossed in the mix. Or match the creaminess of the wine with a creamy bowl of Clam Chowder.