Chardonnay is one of the most popular white wine grapes in the world and has led to incredible notoriety for many new and developing wine regions. This grape is believed to have originated in the subregion Mâconnais (mack-kohn-NAY) of Burgundy, France. The grape is extremely adaptable to different climates and winemaking techniques—virtually anywhere there are vineyards, Chardonnay is ever present. It was a California Chardonnay wine that was responsible for bringing great fame to California (and overall the New World) back in 1976. The famous “Judgment of Paris” wine tasting placed the best white and red wines of France against California. Chateau Montelena winery took first place for the Chardonnay category beating the French and several other California wines.
The Chardonnay grape itself is fairly neutral and is unusually adaptable both to its surroundings and winemaking techniques. It is sometimes thought of as a painter’s “blank canvas,” as the grape is quite moldable and has the ability to be influenced greatly by the winemaker. The primary flavors in cool climates include tree fruits (apple and pear), citrus fruit (lemon), and earth (mineral and wet stone) while flavors in warm climates include tropical fruits (pineapple, fig, banana, and mango). Secondary flavors derived from winemaking techniques are commonly associated with bakeshop (vanilla, butter, honey, toast, butterscotch, cinnamon, and clove).
Chardonnay can range from a medium to full body. It showcases a medium body when aged in stainless steel or neutral oak and full-bodied and rich, when aged in new oak. California versions can yield high alcohol (from the warmer climate and the extensive hang-time concept), which arguably can produce a wine to be considered out of balance.
Chardonnay has grown prevalent throughout the wine world and has become ubiquitous in both the Old and the New World wine-producing countries. In France, Chardonnay is most reputable in the regions of Burgundy and is vitally important in Champagne. In the New World, Chardonnay is significant in California (Carneros, Russian River, Sonoma Coast, Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, and Monterrey), Australia (Margaret River), New Zealand, and Chile (Casablanca Valley and Maipó).