By Carolyn Evans Hammond, Taste Magazine, BC Liquor Board's magazine, Summer 2017
From the nuanced, subtle bottle that sets off that candlelight dinner for two to the one you pour with abandon as you clink glasses and frolic with friends, Chardonnay’s got you covered. It’s got more range than the Weeknd, Ariana Grande and Mariah Carey combined. So this refresher on six sassy styles of Chardonnay will keep your summertime sipping on point.
Burgundy. Generally considered the world’s best white wine producing region, it spins out silky, swoonworthy whites made almost exclusively from Chardonnay. And just what makes so many of the white Burgundies sing? French. Oak.
The vast majority of white Burgundy is fermented and/or aged in French oak barrels, which tempers the natural citric zing and makes the fruit taste cloaked in satin. It also imparts nuances such as nut, white pepper and toast.
While Burgundian vignerons were the first to use French oak many centuries ago, producers all over the have followed suit. And that’s a good thing.
French oaked Chardonnay is a fabulous dinner party wine—always quite a stylish pour.=
Although French oak is the more respected timber in the wine world thought to impart the most subtlety and finesse in a Chardonnay, judicious use of American oak can be delicious too. American oak imbues a wine with sweeter notes of vanilla, coconut and sometimes burnt sugar.
American Oaked Chardonnay is a great cocktail alternative for casual summer nights.
Unwooded and Restrained
Chardonnay tastes quite clean and crisp on its own and, when well-made, purists argue the wine doesn’t need wood at all. Why hide such pristine fruit, they say, with its characteristic flavours of Granny Smith apple and bright citrus, often edged with a minerality hinting at flint, salt, and wet stones. Look for the word “unwooded” on the label and alcohol level below about 12.5 per cent, which indicates a leaner structure. Chablis and Canada are notorious for doing this style well.
Sip this style alongside fish and seafood for a real treat—maybe mid-day in the sun.
Unwooded and Fruit Forward
Though most unwooded Chardonnays are more restrained than fruit-forward, the latter can exist too. These expressions taste a bit riper and tropical—think, pineapple and stone fruit—while never losing the bright core of acidity for which Chardonnay is known. Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay from California as well as Kim Crawford East Coast Unoaked Chardonnay are fine examples available here in British Columbia.
This style is an easy solo sipper with salty snacks thanks to its full-throttle refreshment and juicy, ripe fruit. Around the pool, maybe.
The bracing acidity and light-bodied structure of cool climate Chardonnay makes lovely sparkling wine—something winemakers of Champagne recognized long ago. Most Champagne is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. But some, called Blanc de Blancs, is pure Chardonnay notable for its exceptional elegance.
Here’s an interesting tidbit: The Champagne method of making wine bubbly, which involves a second fermentation in bottle, is particularly well-suited for Chardonnay because the variety has a certain transparency of flavour. So when the yeast is added to the bottle and sealed to create effervescence, the lees (or spent yeast) imparts hallmark but subtle notes of bread, biscuits and the like that remain when the lees is removed.
While bonafide Champagne is still tough to beat, Chardonnay-based sparkling wines are made in many cool climates and microclimate outside the Champagne region of France today, and can offer excellent value for money.
Without a doubt, sparkling Chardonnay is one of the most versatile wines in the world. Serve it with anything or nothing.
Because it’s so widely grown, Chardonnay is an easy choice for winemakers looking for a workhorse variety to use in a blend and create a spectrum of flavour. Conundrum from California is a fine example. While the producer keeps the actual blend proportions a secret, it combines Chardonnay with Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Viognier and Semillon to stellar effect.
Because blends fan out with flavour, they have something for everyone. Presto: instant crowd-pleasing pours. Anywhere, anytime.
POUILLY FUISSE – 2014 CHARTRON ET TREBUCHET CHAPELLE
FRANCE $34.99 264945
Silky and rich style of French Burgundy. Bright citric core imbued with roasted hazelnut and a hint of cool flint.
CHARDONNAY – CUPCAKE
CALIFORNIA $13.79 143776
Mouthfilling flavours of mixed citrus flavours laced with vanilla buttercream. A popular and classic style that’s dry and easy to enjoy.
UNWOODED AND RESTRAINED
CHABLIS – 2014 LA CHABLISIENNE LA PIERRELEE
FRANCE $29.49 359844
Cool, clean and crisp style of Chardonnay. Green apple, wet stones and a touch of seasalt on the finish.
UNWOODED AND FRUIT FORWARD
CHARDONNAY – 2013 MER SOLEIL SILVER UNOAKED
CALIFORNIA $28.49 143784
Vibrant flavours pineapple, mango and white flowers wrap the cool steely-lemon center of this dry-but-rich unwooded chardonnay.
CHAMDEVILLE – NV BLANC DE BLANCS
FRANCE $13.29 187740
With subtle nods toward grapefruit, fresh pear, butter croissant and almond, this sparkling Chardonnay offers outstanding value.
CALIFORNIA WHITE - 2014 CONUNDRUM
CALIFORNIA $24.99 390831
Juicy and complex with pronounced flavours and aromas of stone fruit, orange, lemon, pear, apple and a hint of honeysuckle.