BRUNELLO’S NOSE KNOWS….
Before you turn your nose up at this versatile varietal, let’s explore the rich history. Let’s take a tour through some famous wines that we think we know, during these last hot few weeks of summer. You may be surprised to find something you haven’t tasted in a while. Remember, too, that as we experience different wines, our tastes change and develop over the years. If you haven’t tried a Chardonnay in a while, you may be in for a fun surprise.
Chardonnay is the most popular white wine varietal in the world, and the white grape of Burgundy, France. As with most of our familiar grapes, it was likely brought to the eastern part of France by the Romans, where it flourished in region of Chablis; The Cote du Nuits to the north, Cote de Beaune further south, and Cote Chalonnaise and Maconnais. These regions all have their own micro climates, so the famous Burgundy houses producing Chardonnay today all have distinctive characteristics. The combination of terroir (climate and soil) and history is responsible for this distinction. Some famous regions to look for are AOC (Appellation d’ Origin Controlee- the government regulated system for wine quality in France, which are clearly stated on the label.) Chablis. It is a larger region with generally unoaked Chardonnays that are clean and crisp and show flavors of citrus, lime and the minerality of the soil in the region.
Pouilly Fuisse and Puligny Montrachet may not fit your every day budget, however, these wines are unique and special.
Cote de Beaunne Chardonnay tends to be heavier in style, more apple and pear flavors, the addition of some oak aging gives these wines a more toasted bread and nutty characteristic.
Maconnais is the furthest region south and flavors of these Chardonnay wines range from citrus to apple, and even pineapple. The majority are left unoaked (not aged in a wooden barrel).
Champagne – that’s right, bubbles! Most Champagne grown in the very tiny region of Champagne, France, is made with Chardonnay grapes. Look for Champagne Ayala, made with mostly Chardonnay. We carry a beautiful Mommessin Bourgongne Blanc, and Bouchard Aine & Fils Pouilly Fuisse that are beautiful expressions of French Chardonnay. These wines are very different compared to New World Chardonnay and sparkling wines.
Some time around the 1700’s it is believed Chardonnay was transplanted to vineyards in California. As recently as 50 years ago, the varietal was planted in the southern hemisphere, where Chile makes fine Chardonnay at a great value price. Santa Ema is one to try. Chilean Chardonnay will express flavors of pineapple and citrus. Less ripe Chardonnay will show flavors of lemon and green apple. A great example to try from California for unoaked Chardonnay is Chamisal Estate Stainless. The wines are grown in the Central Coast of CA, showing bright acidity and tropical fruit flavors. The opposite spectrum is an oaked version of CA Chardonnay, and Rombauer vineyards produce the biggest- apple, citrus, melon, crème brulee with a touch of butter and vanilla. Raeburn Chardonnay we like to call the “baby Rombauer” in a less expensive price range. Some wonderful examples of typical, yet well balanced CA Chardonnay can be found in Alexander Valley Vineyards from Sonoma, Fess Parker a little further south in Santa Barbara, or even Sonoma Cutrer made in the Russian River Valley.
A wonderful South African Chardonnay to try is Hamilton Russell. This classically elegant Chardonnay is styled more closely to the mineral and perfume of the French style, yet it is unique on its own with bright pear flavors and hints of lime.
There are thousands of Chardonnay styles in the world, and dozens here at Ed’s Fine Wines! We even have some from Italy and Australia. Try some again, find your style, and see what you like. They are all tail waggin’ wines, whether paired with a meal, or just sippin from a glass. Hope to see you soon.
By Brunello Giancola as told to CRBrown