This month’s grape focus is chardonnay, possibly the best known varietal in the United States. Although lots of people drink chardonnay year round, we find it’s especially delicious during the holidays because of its richness. So here’s your “primer” on chardonnay—cheers.
• Chardonnay’s ancestral home is the Burgundy region of France. All white Burgundies are 100% chardonnay.
• The “big four” white Burgundies (in terms of prestige) are: Chablis, Meursault, Puligny Montrachet and Chassagne Montrachet.
• Chardonnay’s other famed locations span the globe, and include the Champagne region of France (where it’s made into Champagne), plus California, Oregon, Washington State, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, and even Italy and Spain.
• While chardonnay can be and is grown in a myriad of climatic conditions, the grape seems to make the most elegant wines when grown in cool climates.
• Most chardonnay around the world is made in a rich style. The result are creamy, full-bodied wines, often with a sense of butteriness, nuttiness, and a discernible amount of toasty oak flavor. (Not surprisingly, such wines go well with rich, buttery, nutty, and/or creamy foods).
• The one exception to rich chardonnay is Chablis—a lean, minerally style of chardonnay that’s perfect with icy platters of raw oysters and simple seafood.
• Chardonnay can be found from $8 to $80, with good examples in every price bracket. The more expensive chardonnays are generally considerably more complex, long, and satisfying.
• Although a certain amount of oaky and buttery flavors are to be expected (and enjoyed!), too much of these can make chardonnay taste overdone, overwrought and overwhelming. The best chardonnays, on the other hand, combine richness with a sense of refinement and balance.