When it comes to white wine, Chardonnay reigns supreme as the most versatile grape variety.
Its adaptability to various climates and winemaking techniques has made it a favourite among wine enthusiasts worldwide. From buttery oaked American wines to elegant unoaked Chablis, Chardonnay showcases an array of flavours and styles that cater to every palate. In this blog post, we will explore the diverse world of Chardonnay, its distinctive flavours, the regions where it thrives, and its perfect cheese pairings.
The Global Reach of Chardonnay:
Chardonnay grapes are grown in many wine-producing regions around the world. In Burgundy, France, Chardonnay is the foundation of some of the most prestigious and expensive wines, known for their elegance and complexity. These wines embody the terroir, expressing the nuances of the soil and climate. In contrast, South Africa has emerged as an affordable alternative, producing excellent Chardonnays with a touch of tropical fruitiness.
Distinctive Flavours and Climate Influence:
Chardonnay grapes can thrive in both cool and warm climates, resulting in distinct flavour profiles. In cooler regions like Chablis, the wines exhibit vibrant citrus and green apple notes. The cooler climate retains the grape’s natural acidity, giving the wines a refreshing crispness. Moving to warmer climates such as California or Australia, Chardonnay develops ripe stone fruit flavours like peach and apricot, sometimes even venturing into tropical fruit territory.
From Buttery Oaked to Unoaked Wonders:
One of the defining features of Chardonnay is its ability to transform with winemaking techniques. Oaked Chardonnays, particularly popular in the United States, undergo fermentation and ageing in oak barrels. This process imparts a rich, buttery texture and flavours of vanilla, caramel, and toast. On the other end of the spectrum, unoaked Chardonnays like those from Chablis are fermented and aged in stainless steel, allowing the pure expression of fruit flavours and a clean, mineral-driven profile.
Champagne and Blanc de Blancs:
Chardonnay also plays a vital role in the production of Champagne (along with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier), where it shines in the form of Blanc de Blancs. These sparkling wines are made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes, showcasing its finesse and elegance. With delicate bubbles and a crisp, citrusy character, Blanc de Blancs are perfect for celebrations or as a refreshing aperitif.
Cheese Pairings with Chardonnay:
Chardonnay’s versatility extends beyond its winemaking styles, making it an ideal companion to various cheese types. Let’s explore a few classic pairings:
Brie (France): The creamy texture and mild flavours of Brie harmonise beautifully with the rounded, buttery character of oaked Chardonnays. The wine’s toasted oak and caramel notes complement the earthy richness of the cheese. You could also try; Brillat Savarin, Saint Marcellin, Fougerus or Camembert. British alternatives include; Baron Bigod, Winslade, Tunworth and Sharpham Brie.
Cheddar (United Kingdom): Aged Cheddars with their sharpness and nutty undertones find a delightful partner in unoaked Chardonnays. The wine’s bright acidity cuts through the richness of the cheese, creating a balanced and satisfying combination. I would recommend looking for Westcombe, Quicke’s or Keens Extra mature (my favourite!).
Comté (France): This nutty, semi-hard cheese from the Jura region pairs exquisitely with Burgundian Chardonnays. The wine’s mineral notes enhance the nuttiness of the cheese, while its vibrant fruit flavours provide a delightful contrast.
Gorgonzola Dolce (Italy): Not your usual pairing but one I was delighted to discover. This cheese is rich, sweet yet salty and creamy with bursts of subtle blue mould flavours. It is so soft it can be eaten with a spoon! It works particularly well with aged champagnes with toasty and brioche flavours.
Chardonnay’s remarkable versatility, from its ability to grow in various climates to the diverse range of wines