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Chardonnay

by Staff Writer - B. Scottenberg | July 09, 2011

Chardonnay wines are known for their flavors that are light, citrusy and crisp. Chardonnay is one of the masters of white wines and very popular. Chardonnay wine is low in varietal characteristics. This means that the Chardonnay grapes have mostly neutral flavors that are less identifiable than in other grape varieties. Most of what determines the flavor of the Chardonnay is what the winemaker does with the grapes. The Chardonnay grape is very hardy and that allows it to thrive almost anywhere.

Not all Chardonnays are crisp and refreshing. Some Chardonnays are heavier which is well suited when the weather is cooler outside. You will need to check the label to find what you are looking for. If you want a light Chardonnay, look for wines from the Sonoma Coast in California or Burgundy, France. Otherwise you may want to look for a warm climate Chardonnay. The flavors lean more towards pineapple, mango or baked apples. There is very little acidity left which makes the wine feel very warm and soothing. To find a warm climate Chardonnay, look for the regions of Central Coast California, Languedoc France or South Australia or other warm climates areas such as Texas.

Through DNA profiling, it has been determined that Chardonnay is a cross between a member of the Pinot family grape and an ancient, almost extinct variety called Gouais Blanc. Gouais Blanc originated in Croatia and was probably brought to France by the Romans. The very first recorded reference to Chardonnay dates back to 1330. The basic grape of French white Burgundies is the Chardonnay, which is responsible for the richness and complexity of such celebrated wines as Le Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet, Meursault, Corton-Charlemagne, and Chablis. It is also the basic grape of Blanc de Blancs Champagne and exists blended with Pinot Noir grapes in virtually all other Champagnes.

The Chardonnay is also clearly the most noble and successful white grape cultivated in California. From modest beginnings only a decade or so ago, it has evolved into the dominate grape for premium California white wines. Dozens of wineries now produce it with great success, attesting to its versatility and adaptability. Styles vary according to the region where it is cultivated and the methods of cultivation. Often it yields big, rich, buttery, creamy wines of intense flavor concentration and great complexity. Sometimes it is vinified (convert a juice into wine by fermentation) more simply, in the Chablis or Maconnais style, so that it yields dry, more elegant wines.

Some of the best Chardonnays tend to be aged for one to six months in new oak barrels from France. The oak aging imparts complexity and some of the extra vanilla flavor nuances that are responsible for the wine’s complexity. Because oak aging is expensive and because the yield of Chardonnay grapes per acre of vineyard tends to be modest for the best wines, Chardonnays are usually expensive. But most connoisseurs agree they are worth the price.

Chardonnay will pair well with just about any dish involving eggs, fish, poultry, seafood or recipes that have a heavy cream or butter base. Also consider pairing unoaked (stainless steel fermentation process rather than oak) Chardonnay with guacamole, garlic, salads, grilled shrimp and curry dishes. The best cheeses to go with your glass of Chardonnay are a provolone or a mild cheddar. Chardonnay wine also pairs great with fresh fruit. Chardonnay should be served on the cool side, around 54-56 degrees. Do not over chill the Chardonnay, or it will end up losing a lot of its flavor. Many people overcool the wine and end up losing a lot of the flavor.

Chardonnay wines give you the option of selecting from either a light and crisp flavor and style or a soothing warm flavor. Remember to check the label for location so that you are not surprised by your selection. Chardonnay is often the most requested wine for dinner so it is a great wine to keep on hand for guests.

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