is the word that best both describes Chardonnay and explains its popularity. Its aroma is
often appealing, yet delicate, difficult to
characterize, easier to recognize, although it is often masked by heavy-handed winemaking and aging techniques.
smell like apples, lemons, peaches or tropical
fruits. Its delicacy is such that even a small
percentage of another variety blended into
chardonnay will often completely dominate its
aroma and flavor.
Oak commonly takes over
chardonnay if the wine is fermented or aged in
new barrels or for too long in seasoned
ones, especially when full malo-lactic fermentation is allowed or encouraged. Many consumers that claim to like Chardonnay are misdirected; the aromas and flavors that they find appealing are actually the influences of oak. This preference is so prevalent that many inexpensive offerings of Chardonnay are flavored with oak chips, oak powder, or other methods to introduce this component, since the cost of processing in oak barrels prohibits lower retail prices.
Chardonnay tend to soak up flavors of
the vineyard soil and vinification, more so than most other white grape types, making vineyard site selection a critical factor.
spite of any variance in style, Chardonnay is
unmistakable in the mouth because of its
impeccable sugar/acid balance, its full body,
and its easy smoothness. Chardonnay's
intrinsic blank canvas quality also allows its flavors to
be dramatically affected by differences in soil, climate,
and vineyard practices, as well as those in the winemaking process.
In the Chablis region of
France, chardonnay is the only grape permitted and it
renders a "crisp, flinty" wine. In the Meursault appellation, chardonnay takes
on a lush, ripe, "fleshy" character.
Even in quality sparkling wines and French
Champagne, it is the major variety used.
California chardonnay is every bit as variable
and possibly even more exciting because of the
effusive varietal quality it develops there.
at the University of California at Davis used DNA profiling
in 1999 to prove that chardonnay originated about the beginning of the modern era as an inadvertent cross between pinot blanc and an obscure, ancient, and nearly extinct variety called gouais
blanc. The Roman Emperor Probus (b 232 AD -d 282 AD), probably introduced gouais blanc, a native grape from his Croatian homeland, to Bourgogne.
Chardonnay was named for a village in the Macon region, where it has grown at least since early records of it in the late 1600s. Vineyards
in France are commonly planted with an intermingling of chardonnay and pinot blanc vines, so that "pinot" was often incorrectly prefixed
to chardonnay. The two varieties have quite similar plant structures, so their confusion was common prior to modern methods of ampelography. In spite of its heritage and some resemblance, chardonnay is not considered a member of the "pinot" grape family (pinot blanc, pinot gris, pinot meunier, pinot
Early budding makes chardonnay vines susceptible to frost damage in the Spring. Although it also ripens fairly early, quality improves over a moderately long growing season. It responds best to cool locales and is considered a Winter-hardy variety, successful over a fairly broad seasonal temperature average of between 56° and 65° F. Chardonnay vines are fairly easy to grow, naturally vigorous, and can consistently produce fairly large crops. Overcropping, however, results in bland-tasting wine.
chardonnay is susceptible to a myriad
of maladies, including powdery mildew, shatter and uneven fruit set. Clusters are compact, so botrytis bunch rot is of concern when late summer rains occur. Berries are relatively small, thin-skinned,
fragile, and oxidize easily. This makes chardonnay somewhat
more sensitive to winemaking techniques and maybe more challenging
to handle from harvest to bottling than most other grape types.
Not uncommon among wine grapes, the
chardonnay vine also has a tendency to mutate and research
has identified over 400 clonal variants. There are more than two dozen clones officially authorized in Burgundy. Each clone shares chardonnay family traits, but displays individually specific tendencies
in such characteristics as length of ripening cycle, crop
load, berry and cluster size, acid retention, etc., therefore
producing wines with various flavor differences.
has achieved real success growing chardonnay and earned considerable consumer popularity
for the wine produced. Australia has also had chardonnay success and also at times has misnamed or mislabeled it as "pinot chardonnay".
Chardonnay is so commercially popular and so malleable in the winery that it is grown and produced worldwide in areas where marginal climate conditions might not nurture the best fruit. Chardonnay is ubiquitous in nearly every wine-producing country and region. Colorado, Idaho, New York, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, and Washington states, as well as Argentina, Australia, Chile, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, New Zealand, South Africa, and Yugoslavia all grow and produce wine from chardonnay.
widespread popularity of varietally-labeled Chardonnay wines
spurred many new California plantings in the early 1970s.
The most commonly planted clone was the "Wente"
clone (UCD 2A) and, later, clone 108, isolated at UC Davis
from vines grown in Carneros. Due to this grape's blank canvas
nature and the proliferation of new vineyard sources using
essentially only two clones, regional variations in Chardonnay
wines became more apparent than perhaps in any other varietal
wine in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
the 1990s, California vintners began paying much more attention
to matching, not only varieties but also clones, to specific
microclimates and vineyard sites. Many new vineyards and replantings
since then, especially in cooler regions, have propagated
the "Dijon" clones (particularly 75, 76, 78, 95
and 96), the "Espiguette" clone (352) or, in fewer
locations, "Champagne" clones. These clones have perhaps increased the range of aromas and flavors, but also somewhat suppressed "terroir" identities.
wine making techniques produce wide variances in the
Chardonnay flavor profile. Such techniques as extended skin contact, whole cluster fermentation, barrel fermentation,
level of barrel toasting, proportion of new to old cooperage, lees stirring, and partial,
complete, or prevention of malolactic fermentation have shown success while they generate
controversy and lively discussion among winemakers.
common (but not exclusive) smell and/or flavor
elements found in chardonnay-based wines
Chardonnay Smell and/or Flavor Descriptors
depends upon individual tasting ability and experience
and is also affected by terroir and seasonal conditions,
as well as viticultural and enological techniques.
This list therefore is
merely suggestive and neither comprehensive nor exclusive.
Fruits: apple, pear, peach, apricot
Terroir: flint, mineral, mint
Fruits: lemon, lime, orange, tangerine
Malolactic: butter, cream, hazelnut
Fruits: pineapple, banana, mango, guava, kiwi
(light): vanilla, sweet wood, coconut
|Floral: acacia, hawthorn
(heavy): oak, smoke, toast, lees, yeast
|Mouth Feel / Texture:
smooth, creamy, rich, fleshy
popular trends keep California Chardonnays from reaching
the level of respect given to those from France: one is
to satisfy consumer lust for any wine labeled "Chardonnay"
with bland but inexpensive "cookie-cutter" wines; the other
is to overwhelm any varietal personality or microclimatic
subtlety with lavish amounts of oak barrel fermentation
California appellations have a shorter history than those
of France, distinct regional characteristics emerge with the
passage of each vintage. Eventually, proper site and clone
matching and judicious production techniques may allow California
AVAs to consistently
show Chardonnay with distinct regional flavors.
nominees for Best Supporting Appellation in a California chardonnay are: Russian River Valley, shared by Sonoma and Mendocino
Counties (apples, pears & peaches); Carneros, shared by
Sonoma and Napa Counties (flinty); Monterey County (citric,
lemony); Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County (pineapple,
tropical); Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County (apricot, fleshy).
and difficulties in growing chardonnay and higher production
costs from barrel treatments, combined with increasing popular
demand over the past decades, contribute to making chardonnay-based
wines one of the most expensive on the shelf or wine list.
1. Julia Harding, Jancis Robinson and José Vouillamoz. Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours (pages 221-27) London: Allen Lane/Penguin and New York: Ecco/Harper-Collins, 2012
2. Benjamin Lewin, Wine Myths and Reality, (Vendage Press: Dover, DE) 2010
3. Jancis Robinson (ed), Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition, (Oxford University Press: London) 2006
4. Jancis Robinson (ed), Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes, (Oxford University Press: New York) 1996
5. L. Peter Christensen, Nick K. Dokoozlian, M. Andrew Walker, James A Wolpert, et all. Wine Grape Varieties in California (University of California, Agricultural and Natural Resources Publications: Oakland) 2003
6. Steven Spurrier & Michel Dovaz, Academie du Vin, Complete Wine Course (G.P. Putnam & Sons, New York) 1983
7. Charles Sullivan, A Companion to California Wine: An Encyclopedia of Wine and Winemaking from the Mission Period to the Present (University of California Press: Berkeley) 1998
8. Gerald Asher, Vineyard Tales - Reflections on Wine, (Chronicle Books: San Francisco) 1996
9. History-- A Brief History Of Wine
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