Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape variety used to make white wine and Champagne/sparkling wines.
It is the world’s second-most grown white wine grape, behind Airén, the staple of Spanish wine making, but it is grown in more places than any other wine grape.
The Chardonnay grape is neutral in taste. Flavors come from the terroir (place where vines grow), fermentation method, and use of oak, so Chardonnay quality is tightly bound to the winemaker’s intentions. Styles range from “flinty” Chablis, to buttery, to wines with tropical fruit flavors.
Fermentation is the winemaker’s key decision. With malolactic fermentation (MLF), malic acid converts into softer lactic acid, producing a buttery flavor. If MLF is not used, the result is a green apple taste. Use of oak, either during fermentation or in barrel aging, is the second key decision. Oak infuses “toastiness” and a variety of other flavors, depending on the length of time the wine is exposed to the oak and the type of oak used.
Chardonnay blends with Pinot Noir to make French Champagne, and it also is used by itself to produce blanc de blancs styles of sparkling wine.
The dominant white wine grape in the U.S., Chardonnay thrives in California, Oregon, Washington, and Texas. In California, premium Chardonnays grow in areas influenced by coastal fogs that slow ripening and give grapes time to develop flavors. In the warmer Central Valley, Chardonnay is the main grape used in box and jug wine production.
• Becker Chardonnay. Smooth, buttery Texas wine. $11
• Meeker Lobster Cove Unoaked Chardonnay. Crisp, fruity, only 14% MLF. $11
• Chateau St. Jean Sonoma Chardonnay. Full, tart, don’t serve too cold. $14