While Chardonnay can get a bad rep for being your mother’s favorite wine, its apple and lemon flavors make it a refreshing white staple to have around. Plus, this full-bodied vino is one of the few white wines that ages in an oak barrel. Pretty cool, huh?
Chardonnay is one flexible wine since it can be aged in both steel tanks as well as oak barrels. The best part about aging Chardonnay in oak barrels is the vanilla, buttery taste, that winos love, you know the one. It also results in a lower acidity. Oaked Chardonnay typically takes place in warmer climate regions like Southern & Eastern Australia, Napa Valley, Mendoza, Argentina, Burgundy, France, and Puglia, Italy.
We have cool climate regions like Western Australia, Chablis, France, and even Oregon to thank for unoaked Chardonnay. Does the climate have anything to do with the way your Chardonnay tastes? Surprisingly, yes. A Chardonnay from a cool climate typically tastes more fruity thanks to its citrus flavors. On the other hand, a warm-climate Chardonnay will taste more like tropical fruits. One of the best parts about the Chardonnay varietal is that its grapes are so easy to grow (hence its popularity). But no two regions can produce the exact same bottle.
Born in Burgundy, France, Chardonnay was first known as White Burgundy before it gained popularity and was used as a key ingredient in sparkling wines. Chardonnay’s responsiveness to oak created an even wider variety of the same wine. But winemakers got oak-crazy in the 80s and 90s, thinking that the more oak the better, and they forgot that sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Soon, over-oaked Chardonnay was so buttery it was nicknamed “butter bombs.” This bad press is probably one of the reasons you’ve stayed away from Chardonnay for so long. But don’t worry, you’ll no longer get a mouth full of butter every time you take a sip. Thankfully, winemakers have stopped over-oaking Chardonnay, leaving just the best parts about this wine.
If you’ve ever noticed that compared to other varietals, Chardonnay has an oily, creamy texture, it’s actually due to the winemaking method used to create it. This is called Malolactic Fermentation — or MLF for short. MLF takes place after the wine goes through its first fermentation process (aka when the grapes are squished and the sugar converts to alcohol). Hang with us a for a second, we’re about to get all science-y on you. The MLF method turns the sour taste of malic acid (similar to the acid found in fruits) to the softer taste of lactic acid (basically the acid found in milk). Not all Chardonnays go through MLF though, typically it’s just the oaked varieties.
Want to go all out with your Chardonnay? Pair it with some soft, tart goat cheeses or lemon seasoned veggies like zucchini or yellow squash. Buttery dishes like cod, chicken, or shellfish (think lobster, crabs, scallops, shrimps, clams) will pair perfectly with your oaked Chardonnay. Smother your lobster in truffle butter and revel in the buttery goodness of your meal. Cheers!
Sources: Wine Folly 1, Wine Folly 2, VinePair