March 23, 2015 | Shannon Hurley
Chardonnay: The Versatile Grape
Chardonnay is the darling of white wines to many American palates. This grape and its wines are fashionable for many reasons: the name is easy to pronounce, and the wine is readily accessible and its, oak and fruit flavors make it stand out. Chardonnay is the most popular wine in the United States and it is enjoyed and admired globally.
Chardonnay was born in the Burgundy region of France, where it is known as White Burgundy, and it was there that the wine gained great acclaim for its elegance. Soon after Chardonnay’s rise in popularity, winemakers in Champagne began to grow the grape as well, using it as the dominant ingredient for their sparkling wines. While grown in the same country, the Chardonnay grapes took on a very different characteristic in Champagne than they had in Burgundy. Winemakers began to realize that the grape had a unique way for truly embodying “terroir” (that’s winespeak for the region and area where the wine is grown) No two places that grow Chardonnay produce the exact same wine, yet most regions find it is a relatively easy grape to grow. This discovery is what helped the grape quickly spread across the world.
As the grape spread, winemakers discovered that warm climates would produce a Chardonnay grape that was ripe and full of tropical flavors, while in cooler climates the grape had flavors of apple as well as earthy fall aromas such as mushrooms and the smell of fallen leaves. This worldwide variety allows Chardonnay to go extremely well on its own while sitting outside in the summer, or even on a cold winter’s night with a hearty stew. Chateau Montelena of Napa Valley even won against 9 other winemakers for their 1973 Chardonnay (half of them being French) at the Judgement of Paris a prestigious blind tasting competition, putting American Vineyards on the map.
So if Chardonnay is so versatile, then what has caused the wine to get a bad rap in recent years? One word: oak. In addition to winemakers discovering how adaptive the grape was to different regions of the world, they also found that it was incredibly responsive to being aged in oak. Some oak on a Chardonnay is a very good thing — it creates the luscious mouthfeel we expect in a Burgundian Chardonnay, and gives us just a kiss of vanilla. The problem is, if the wine gets too much oak, bad things can happen.
In California during the ‘80s and ‘90s, winemakers, especially the mass market ones, started going oak crazy. Determining what they thought was Americans’ desire for oak, oak and more oak, they over-oaked the heck out of Chardonnay and created what came to be known as butter bombs, a white wine that literally tasted like liquid butter in a bottle. This turned many wine drinkers off and caused many to say they hated Chardonnay, but that should not be the case.
The practice of over-oaking Chardonnay has pretty much stopped worldwide, with most winemakers who now want their Chardonnay to spend a little time in oak reverting back to the heritage of the French Burgundian winemakers. Or chose to make an unoaked chardonnay similar to a wine coming from an area in France 80 miles of Burgundy known as Chablis. That being said, a good way to avoid the liquid butter wine is simply to avoid Chardonnay that is made by any of the worldwide mega-producers, who basically sell the stuff for under $10 a bottle, using the oak to mask the poor qualities of the fruit.
Faustini Wines has just released a new Chardonnay! This Chardonnay apart of our ever so popular “Play Date” collection is unoaked and has a simplistic texture with flavors ranging from citrus to mild tropical fruit accompanied by soft floral notes on the finish.
Whether it be oaked or un-oaked Chardonnay that you choose to enjoy, when you have that perfect bottle you’ll understand what we mean by “Chardonnay bliss.”
Till next time Oneophiles… Cheers!