Let’s talk about Chardonnay, shall we? It’s one of my favorite wines! Oh, what’s that, you say? You hate Chardonnay? Three words: No. You. Don’t! You know what you might hate? One specific style of Chardonnay – maybe a big, buttery, oaky California Chardonnay, that is, frankly, a little out-of-style right now, I grant you. But please, I beg you: stop the hating on Chardonnay. Stop it this instant! Allow me to drop a little knowledge on you about Chardonnay:
- Chardonnay is one of the most widely planted grapes on the planet. According to a 2014 study, it is #5 globally.
- Chardonnay is grown in more than a dozen countries and hundreds of wine regions including, of course, California (all up and down the state) and France (duh), specifically Burgundy, which includes Chablis and also the entire Champagne region (it’s one of the key grapes in Champagne for crying out loud!).
- Chardonnay also is grown in Australia and New Zealand, Chile and Argentina, Italy, Germany, the U.K. and China (the Chinese are plowing tons of Chardonnay into the ground, not that we’re seeing Chinese Chardonnay take over the U.S. market).
- There are endless styles, from minerally, unoaked Chablis (yep, it’s Chardonnay) to lush, aged white Burgundy (a tad redundant there, but oh, well, just trying to be clear that white Burgundy is Chardonnay) to sexy, well-balanced California Chard.
But one of the most important things to know about Chardonnay is this: it is one of the most versatile grapes to make wine with and there are endless styles of it – from the big butter-oak bombs to lean, almost savory gems. So I defy anyone to hate the entire category! I recently tasted through six global Chardonnays at a Chicago Gourmet seminar presented by Joe Spellman, Master Sommelier. Here are my impressions. (And for the record: ♥=like; ♥♥ = really like; ♥♥♥ = love; ♥♥♥♥ = love so much I’d marry it.
♥♥♥♥ Bouchard Pere & Fils “Les Clous” Meursault 2014: What a beauty. Yes, there’s oak, but it is balanced with creamy Meyer lemon curd, ripe apple and tied together with great, bracing acid. At about $60, this was the highest-end of the six. Bouchard is one of the most important vineyard owners in Burgundy (i.e. they own a lot of very pricey vineyards plots) and I loved this wine the most of all!
♥♥♥ Landmark “Overlook” Chardonnay 2015: From Sonoma County, this one had notes of lemon, tart green apple, and even crème caramel. It went through full malolactic fermentation (where bacteria is added to convert sour-tasting malic acid into more pleasing lactic acid). It had less acidity than the Burgundy (above) but a ridiculously long finish and I wished I’d had some steamed lobster with drawn butter in my purse (but I didn’t). Only about $20 and easy to find in retail stores.
♥♥ Argyle “Nuthouse” Chardonnay 2013: Oregon is widely known for Pinot Gris, another great white wine, but lately more Chardonnay has bubbling up from Oregon. This one was soaked (aged 16 months in-barrel) had peach and honey on the nose, with an almost savory note on the palate – kind of almond-y. I liked it, but did not love it. It’s about $40.
♥ Ritual Chardonnay 2015: This Chilean Chard from the Casablanca Valley was a little old-school to me. Very oaky (very!), so with a lot of vanilla (that vanilla aroma comes from the vanillin compound in the actual oak wood), and kind of “flabby” – not a lot of acid, too rich. Nope. Not for me. It’s about $18.
♥♥ Cloudy Bay Chardonnay Marlborough 2013: Alright, now I have a slight dislike of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (too much acid for me and all that grapefruity-ness makes it taste sweet to me – blech), but NZ Chard? Can’t say I’d tried it! I liked this one quite a bit. Definite notes of preserved lemon, lemon curd, smoke – even a slight saline note. It spent a year in French oak, but was not by any stretch an “oak bomb.” About $35.
♥ Meerlust Chardonnay 2012: From Stellenbosch, South Africa! I was excited to try SA Chard, because one of my favorite Chards ever is Hamilton Chard from SA. The Meerlust was nice. There was a bit of residual sugar in it, and it had gone through full malo-lactic fermentation, so was a little over-rich, over-vanilla for my taste, but nice stone-fruit, like apricot. May’ve been slightly past its prime, to be honest. It’s about $20.
Alrighty, there’s your global Chardonnay round-up. I hope it inspires you to explore some Chardonnays from places that are new to you. Because it really is one of the world’s most beautiful grapes. Cheers!