Your Style of Chardonnay
By Gary Parker, Owner
The WineSellar & Brasserie
Chardonnay is one of the worlds most planted and recognizable wine grape varietals on our planet. If Cabernet Sauvignon were to be deemed king of wine grape varietals, Chardonnay would be enthroned as the likely queen.
However, the queen is not without controversy, especially here in California. Seemingly, all wine drinkers have opinions about Chardonnay, some regarding the drink with royal praise, and others as if to behead the scoundrel. More on this later.
The crown event in the life of this Queen Chardonnay came exactly forty years ago, at what was deemed the “Judgment of Paris”. In short, a tasting was held in Paris with competing France’s fine white Burgundy wines against California Chardonnay (and Cabernet Sauvignons). The wines were tasted blind by a prestigious tasting panel, basically all French wine experts in the industry.
To their shock and dismay, a California Chardonnay won first place, and three of the next four places in the Chardonnay flight of the event. This coronation rumbled through the wine community, and many wine producers around the globe were trying to fashion their next noble Chardonnay bottling ASAP.
Here in California, the style back in the mid 1970’s was shaped towards producing a longer-lived, leaner style of the wine. They are meant to age in the bottle, much like the great Chardonnays from France. This type of Chardonnay is still made today, and is termed “Burgundian” in style. The “Burgundian” style Chardonnay have flair, grace, polish and class, and will age well in your wine cellar.
Also in the 1970’s some California producers had the audacity to introduce a stylistic change to Chardonnay. Essentially, the grapes were harvested when they were riper, and then subjected to extended oak barrel aging. These two new wine making procedures combined to make a fuller and sweeter mouth feel, one that was immediately more appealing to the consumer. This type of Chardonnay has been termed “oaky”, and is very popular in the United States to this day. People love it. Think butter, oak, and sweet impressions.
Alternatively, a third style, called “non-oaked” Chardonnay, is produced with no oak aging and not picking the grapes when overripe. The wine produces a more pure Chardonnay flavor profile, one that allows apple, pear, and some touches of lemon and citrus to stand out, making it a great partner for food pairing. It doesn’t have the bravura of the oaky, sweeter style, but it is generally less expensive and more versatile.
What’s your favorite style?
The Annual Chardonnay Shoot-Out tasting held at The WineSellar & Brasserie in June gives you a chance to try the different styles of Chardonnay from different parts of the world.