“Chardonnay” is such a familiar name among wine lovers, that some don’t even know it is a grape variety. In a sense it is a grape name that has been considered as if it were a wine brand for a very long time.
Chardonnay has its home in the Burgundy area of France, but it is a grape that was introduced relatively late in the area. It is believed that the first official mention of this variety is dated to the second half of the eighteenth century and for many decades it was considered to be the same grape as Pinot Blanc.
It is a grape that is easy to grow and that exalts the virtues of the terroir. For this reason, many wine makers have opted to grow this variety: a grape considered to be eclectic, resistant, exuberant, expressive and superior.
Its aromatic profile presents a very wide range of aromas which include peach, melon, lemon and grapefruit peel, lychee and pineapple, acacia and broom flowers; butter and nuts are also very representative aromas of this variety, especially in some specific areas of production.
It is a grape variety with considerable vigour. It has a medium bunch, medium-sized grapes with a thin but firm skin. It buds, flowers and ripens quickly and therefore is vulnerable during spring frosts in the coldest areas. It has constant and high productivity and good resistance to cryptogamic attacks, but is more sensitive to botrytis.
Chardonnay is a wine of charm and elegance with density and structure! It recalls all these sensations and if the range of aromas proves to be articulated, the same goes for its character: a red wine dressed in white, especially in the most traditional and historical production areas.
In France it is the grape variety phenomenon in terms of distribution and differentiation: in Chablis towards the extreme north of wine-growing Burgundy, the grapes acquire a maturation that results in a wine with a very fine yet austere character in its youth; the appellation expresses a double trait. The first trait is a distinctly mineral timbre from the Kimmeridgian limestone soil, which in the more "simple" versions is embellished by the fruity notes of lemon peel and flowery lime blossom, while in the "complex" Crus version, expresses aromas of flint, sea salt and smoke, accompanied by fern joints, orange peel, musk and star anise; the second distinctive feature of Chardonnay from the Chablis district is honey!
Further south, the Cote d'Or offers the most famous vineyards and wines for the variety with the corresponding characteristic aromas, two above all: hazelnuts and yellow peach. Here is the synthetic subdivision of the areas:
- Corton-Charlemagne with notes of marzipan and oats
- Meursault with notes of butter and bread crust
- Puligny-Montrachet with notes of banana and cotton candy
- Chassagne-Montrachet with notes of walnut and wet wool
- Rully, Montagny, Givry with notes of citrus and licorice
- Macon with notes of golden apple and hawthorn
- Pouilly-Fuissè with notes of hazelnuts and tobacco
And with the aging of the best cuvées, a characteristic petroleum aroma is added.
Champagne represents the other side of the coin of the varietal in which the historic Champagne bubbles combine the aromatic notes of the chalky soil of the Cote des Blancs, more chalky and spicy in Cramant, more fruity in Avize, more citrusy and mineral in Le Mesnil, more floral in Chouilly. From the deep chalk of Reims emerges a Chardonnay with notes of peach, biscuit and brioche, and from the clayey limestone of Montguex, notes of melon and citrus peel. The Chardonnay of the Grand Cru villages expresses scents of chalk, hazelnut, toast, quince!
Chardonnay is also produced in Alsace, Jura, Savoy and Languedoc in which it has had great success.
Italy boasts a long Chardonnay tradition especially in the subalpine arc with Alto Adige, with wines expressing floral notes of dog rose and broom flowers, peach and vanilla. Piedmont has proved to be excellent with the elaboration of both varietal and wood-aged versions, the Aosta Valley, which has always been sensitive to French-speaking varieties, offers a prototype with a spherical fragrance of apricot, candied lemon, honey and cinnamon. Friuli and Veneto produce classic, still versions, while Trentino produces a sparkling version that evokes mineral notes, grapefruit, almond, and vegetable traits of humus. Franciacorta stands out for the aromas of pineapple and light honey in its Chardonnays. Central Tuscany deserves further recognition for the interpretation of a fat Chardonnay with ripe peach and pear balanced by mineral and Sicily shines with a version possessing more floral character with aromas of broom flowers and dill.
The Chardonnay produced in Austria has a fruity pear character with hints of tea leaves.
In Spain it began as an international variety due to the production of Cava spumante, and then as a still wine with a fruity and crunchy style in the Catalan region; even more exciting is the wine produced in the Somontano vineyards, situated in the district of Aragon with a perfect climatic balance that delivers one of the most elegant and aromatic Chardonnays in the country.
In California, half of the Chardonnay is produced in the northern regions of Sonoma, Napa and Monterey, with an aromatic expression that ranges from the sweet and watery notes of melon to exotic pineapple and banana. The most ambitious wines express walnut, butter and toasted bread aromas; they tend to be intense with differences related to the microclimates of the different growing territories, and up until recently, they were barrel aged. This barrel aged style was a phenomenon which, as so often happens, became too popular and has since turned with its rejection by many a wine enthusiast.
There is great enthusiasm for Chardonnay in New York State as well, in the districts of Long Island and the Finger Lakes, with decidedly more floral and citrine notes and notes of candied lemon and pineapple.
In South America the grape variety is grown in the cooler areas including Chile in the notable Casablanca vineyard, with distinct notes of green apple, lime and mint, and at Curicò in the central valley with a profile possessing notes of apricot and lychee; In Argentina, Mendoza in the Valle de Uco region, produces a Chardonnay with an aromatic profile of white and yellow fruit.
In Australia, the varietal had a surge in production thanks to the initially exuberant style of the wine, although today there is a more vertical character found in the wine of Victoria and Tasmania, as opposed to the cuvée possessing notes of peach in syrup, caramel and milk chocolate from the warm central vineyards. The Chardonnay produced in the Hunter Valley has an aromatic profile that is distinctly tropical with hints of toasted vanilla.
The Chardonnay craze has also affected South Africa. In the districts of Paarl and Franschhoek there is a Mediterranean and breezy climate that produces fruity and spicy wines. The Walker Bay region is more suited to the Burgundian-style Chardonnay, rich and aromatic with vegetal nuances.
At the international level, Chardonnay has produced sensational results while remaining faithful to its area of origin from which it excels over all others, standing out for every taster who confronts himself with various territorial variations.-Luisito Perazzo