aka Arnaison Blanc, Chablis, Bargeois Blanc, Petit Sainte-Marie, etc…
For a long time, Chardonnay’s true origins were uncertain due to claims by vineyard owners in Lebanon and Syria that the grape’s ancestry could be traced to the Middle East. It was said that Chardonnay was introduced to Europe by returning Crusaders, though there was little to no external evidence to support that theory. Another theory reported that the grape originated from an ancient indigenous vine found in Cyprus.
Researchers, aided by today’s latest technology, have been able to utilize DNA fingerprinting to pinpoint the origin of the Chardonnay grape. Researchers at University of California, Davis suggest that the grape was a result of the crossing of the Pinot and Gouais Blanc (Heunisch) grape varieties. The Gouais Blanc, it is believed, was brought to Europe by the Romans from the Balkans region, and that it was widely cultivated by farmers in Eastern France. The Pinot grape, most closely related to the French aristocracy at that time, grew in close proximity to the Gouais Blanc. This gave both grapes the needed opportunity to interbreed and produce a successful hybrid grape.
From it’s humble beginnings in the Burgundy wine region of eastern France, Chardonnay can now be found growing wherever wine is produced; from England to New Zealand. Within the wine industry, new and developing wine regions must plant this grape variety. Viewed as a rite of passage, growing Chardonnay is also an easy way to enter into the international wine market.
To this day, Chardonnay remains one of the most widely-planted grape varieties. As stated above, the grape’s humble beginnings were in the Burgundy wine region of eastern France. From there it spread to Chablis and Champagne where it helps to account for more than three-fifths of all Chardonnay plantings in France. Outside of those three regions, Languedoc is the next highest producing region. Other French wine regions known for production of Chardonnay are Alsace, Ardèche, Jura, Savoie and the Loire Valley.
In Italy, most Chardonnay plantings are located in the northern wine regions. However, plantings can be found as far south as Sicily and Apulia. In the regions of Piedmont and Tuscany, the grape is being planted where it is less ideal to plant other grape varieties, such as Dolcetto and Sangiovese. Chardonnay is also grown in Lombardy, Veneto, in the Valle d’Aosta DOC and Friuli-Venezia Giulia wine regions.
Chardonnay can be found throughout the rest of Europe as well. Greece, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, England, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Macedonia, Moldova, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Serbia and Switzerland and Yugoslavia all grow Chardonnay. It has also found a home in South Africa, Argentina and Chile. Chardonnay was introduced in Australia during the 1830s and was the most widely planted grape in New Zealand from 1990-2002.
There are over 160,000 hectares (400,000 acres) of Chardonnay being grown worldwide. It is second only to Airén among white wine grapes. Chardonnay is planted in more wine regions than any other grape – including Cabernet Sauvignon- and peaked in popularity in the late 1980s. This popularity gave way to the rising tide of negativity towards the globalization of wine and the amount of influence the Chardonnay grape was deemed to have in such a process.
In North America Chardonnay is very popular. North of our border in Canada, Chardonnay can be found growing in British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec. It is the dominant wine in California and can also be found growing in Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vermont.
Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape that is used to make white wine. The berries are relatively small, thin-skinned/fragile, and oxidize easily. This poses challenges to the winemaker and his/her wine making techniques and also makes the grape more difficult to handle from the harvest to the bottling stage; more than other grape varieties.
The grape is widely known for easy cultivation and its ability to adapt to different conditions. It is said that the grape is very “malleable.” This means that it can very easily reflect and take on the impression of the terroir (land, air, soil) and the winemaker. Chardonnay can also adapt to most vineyard soils. However, the three it seems to grow the most successfully in are chalk, clay and limestone; all highly prevalent throughout Chardonnay’s traditional “homeland”.
The Chardonnay vine is highly vigorous and grows with extensive leaf cover that can inhibit the uptake of energy and nutrients needed by the grape clusters. Vineyard managers are forced to employ aggressive pruning and canopy management strategies to protect the grapes. In certain conditions Chardonnay vines can be very high-yielding. However, a high yield most often results in a drop off in overall quality. Thus if yields go beyond 4.5 tons per acre (80 hl/ha) the resulting wine will have poor balance and overall flavor. That is why producers of premium Chardonnay limit their vines so that yields are approximately less than half that amount. Premium producers also plant Chardonnay somewhat sparsely. Vines planted too densely are forced to compete for the needed sun and nutrients from the soil.
Chardonnay grapes tend to bud early and need a moderately long growing season. It responds best to cooler climates. Unfortunately, Chardonnay vines are shy-bearing, susceptible to a wide range of maladies and have a tendency to mutate. Over 400 clonal varieties have been found that produce similar variations of the Chardonnay theme.
Many of the characteristic Chardonnay flavors result from influences such as oak and terroir. Otherwise, the grape itself is very neutral. Vinification overrides this neutrality and as a result many different styles have arisen. There are the lean and crisp mineral wines of Chablis, France and the New World wines with tropical fruit flavors and lots of oak. Chardonnay is also an important component of many sparkling wines around the world, including Champagne in France and Spumante in Italy.
When you open a bottle of Chardonnay you might smell apples, lemons, peaches or tropical fruits (depending upon where it was grown). The grape is easily dominated by other varietal blends making it a very delicate and touchy grape. If Chardonnay is left to ferment in new oak barrels of left in seasoned barrels for too long the aroma and flavor of oak takes over.
Partnering With Food
Rule #1: Matching the alcohol level and body of the wine to the heaviness of the food should make for a proper pairing every time.
Not all Chardonnay is created equal. As stated above, where the grape was grown will influence the wine’s overall flavors and aromas. Generally speaking, many Old World Chardonnay wines emphasize the richness and mineral and earth components of the wine and carry fewer tones of oak. If your Chardonnay is from the New World it will be more fruit forward and also have aromas of roasted nuts. There are also Chardonnay wines that carry a rich, oaky and buttery finish and those that are more developed and mature.
The following dishes will pair well with Old World-style Chardonnay:
- Roasted Chicken with Garlic
- Sauteed Snapper and Tart Sauce
- Grilled, Herb Marinated Tuna with White Beans
- Salmon Carpaccio
The following dishes will pair well with New World-style Chardonnay:
- Roasted Spaghetti Squash
- Turkey stuffed with Chestnuts
- Pasta with Butter and Garlic
- Roast Lobster with Tarragon-Lemon Butter
The following dishes will pair well with rich, oaky, buttery Chardonnay:
- Polenta with Smoked Fish and Creme Fraiche
- Grilled Pork Chops
- Roasted Chicken with Morel Mushrooms in a Cream Sauce
- Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce
The following dishes will pair well with mature/developed Chardonnay:
- Baked Ricotta with RusticToast
- Sole Almandine
- Chinese Prawns with Cashews
- Pan Fried Lobster
Restaurants With These Types of Dishes
To view restaurants that serve appetizers, entrees and other dishes that partner well with this grape type, click here….