Wine Style Focus: Chardonnay

Chardonnay is one of the most universally enjoyed and versatile wines in the world. The range of flavors coaxed from this humble grape is truly astounding: from bright and crisp to dense, oak-aged and buttery; tropical fruit to flint and steel. It is the number one white wine in the United States and an excellent one to keep in the cellar for friends and gatherings of all sorts.

The Chardonnay grape is exceptionally adaptable and easy to grow, which makes it a clear choice for vineyards around the world. The grape is very terroir-expressive, it can grow in almost any vineyard condition, and is vigorous enough to warrant pruning and intentionally keeping yields low. Timing of picking is important to achieve a good balancing acidity. It’s flavor is fairly neutral, which gives it a wide appeal for wine drinkers and a wide range of options for wine makers. The basic Chardonnay is slightly fruity with a noticeable green-apple acidity, but depending on the vineyard and the winemaker, Chardonnay can exhibit banana, flint, butter, hazelnut, licorice, marzipan, guava, lime, smoke, and more. A classic California-style Chardonnay has oak and buttery notes from barrel-aging and malo-lactic fermentation. In Burgundy extended aging on the lees is used to impart toasty, bready, and nutty flavors. In Australia and many other New World wineries, fermentation temperatures are kept cool to increase the tropical fruit presence. Chardonnay pairs well with a variety of lighter foods, as it lacks the bracing acidity or tannins of many other wines. Try it with chicken in white sauce, shrimp salad, or braised pork.