Chardonnay is a type of grape that was originally grown in a small town in France. The name, Chardonnay, actually means “thistle covered place”. Today, the Chardonnay grape is the most planted grape in the world!
What you need to know about Chardonnay grapes
There are oaked Chardonnays and unoaked Chardonnays. If you desire the full-bodied richness of oak flavored Chardonnay then you are shopping for an oaked Chardonnay. This type will have hints of tropical fruit flavors, citrus, or even green apple flavors depending on the climate temperature. The unoaked Chardonnay will more closely resemble the flavors in Pinot Grigio or even a Sauvignon Blanc.
The flavor also depends on the ripeness of the grape itself. For example, a “less ripe” Chardonnay grape will imitate a citrusy flavor whereas the “more ripe” Chardonnay grapes will boast more tropical fruit flavors. The Chardonnay grape is actually the main grape found in sparkling wines including Champagne, Cremant, and Trento.
How Chardonnay goes from grape to great! Chardonnay grapes are easily influenced by other flavors due to its neutrality. Therefore, during the production of Chardonnay wine, the flavors of oak or terroir are often added one way or another. Below is the conventional Chardonnay making process, but the process may change vineyard to vineyard.
The first step is to harvest the grapes from the vines. This is often done in the evenings while the air is cool and crisp. The grapes are then inspected by hand and put into the crusher where the stems and skins are removed. The juice from the grapes will then go into a barrel or tank where the fermentation process begins. Chardonnay with a crisp and fresh taste was likely fermented in a stainless steel tank. In comparison, Chardonnay that has a buttery, creamy, taste is likely fermented in a barrel. This Chardonnay may also undergo a secondary fermentation process known as Malolactic Fermentation.
The final steps include removing the wine from the tank or barrel and bottling it. The bottles are corked and stored for aging before being released to sell. The aging process of Chardonnay is typically a few years.
Food pairings to bring your Chardonnay to a whole new level!
Chardonnay is a very neutral grape and can be a very adaptable wine. There are sweeter Chardonnays and dryer Chardonnays. While preference is important, the flavor of the Chardonnay will affect the pairings, as well. Chardonnay can be easily conquered by intense flavors in some foods. Therefore, it is important to pair this wine with mild-flavored foods such as lobster or seafood, poultry, pork, pasta, and risotto. Spicy dishes and funky cheeses should not be paired with Chardonnay as they will almost certainly diminish the levels of flavor in the wine.
Dishes to pair with Chardonnay
● Southern Shrimp and Grits
● Lobster Macaroni and cheese
● Chicken Kiev
● Salmon and rice
Chardonnay is also a great wine to use when recipes call for an unspecified white wine during the cooking process.
Chardonnay brands to try that won’t break the bank There are endless winemakers and vineyards in the world that create their very own Chardonnay. They may vary in taste to some degree but their prices will almost certainly differ. Price can depend on location, quality, aging process, and other factors. However, there are some brands that I have personally tried and would highly recommend to anyone on a budget that doesn’t want to skimp on quality.
The 2015 Robert Mandavi Chardonnay was made in Napa Valley. The grape was oaked giving it the full-bodied rich flavors of pineapple, pear, vanilla and oak. This is a delicious, lush Chardonnay that costs an average of $24 per bottle. However, he does offer a cheaper Chardonnay under the Woodbridge brand.
The Kendall Jackson Chardonnay also boasts tropical fruit flavors, such as mango, pineapple, and oak similar to the Robert Mandavi. However, there are also hints of honey and citrus. This is considered a sweeter Chardonnay at an affordable price of $10.99 per bottle, on average.
Almaden Chardonnay tends to lean towards the apple and pear flavors, with hints of butter. This is known as a semi-dry Chardonnay and one of my personal favorites. The Almaden vineyard has been one of the leading winemakers in the country and is located in California. I can personally attest to the old-world flavor that is totally worth every cent! My husband and I buy this brand religiously and always have it “in stock” in our fridge. The bottle can be bought for around $10 whereas the box (which we buy) is closer to $20.