Varietals - Chardonnay


One of two "noble" white grapes grown. A medium to full-bodied white wine that often suggests hints of green apples, pears and, sometimes, spice. Known to be one of the most complex, long-lived dry white wines made. In Burgundy, France, Chardonnay reaches its pinnacle of perfection along with its pinnacle of price. While many California, Italian and Australian winemakers use Burgundy as their model, few have been able to attain the components in their wines that send wine connoisseurs into rhapsodic ramblings. Should be served cool, but not too cold.

The principle factors determining the outcome of the finished wine are: the ripeness at harvest (riper grapes have less acid and are thus softer tasting); Malolactic Fermentation, the converting of the harsh malic acid (found in green apples) to the softer, creamer lactic acid (found in milk) thus the terms "creamy" and "buttery" used to describe the wine; and finally oak. Whether used during or after fermentation, the age of the barrels and the length of time held, oak can either enhance or obliterate the flavors of the finished wine.



At the low end, the wines have some similarity to Chile; light, simple and refreshing. The upper end tends toward the California style of big, buxom and oaky offerings that often intensify the oak by using American wood. 


Most styles are made in a bigger, riper style with appreciable oak. Some wines from the cooler areas like Santa Barbara, Carneros and Mendocino, make a leaner, crisper style, but the linchpin is always the presence or absence of oak. Malolactic fermentation also plays a large role as well. It gives the soft, buttery components that seem to be a favorite of most consumers. 


Burgundy is the top of the world for Chardonnay. From the simplest, yet appealing Macon to the gigantic and imposing Montrachets, no area offers the presence and power of this grape like the Côtes de Beaune. Price here, however, is not a guarantee of quality, although generally the expensive wines are better than the less expensive wines. 


Most of the Chardonnay is grown in the northeast, specifically Trentino, Friuli and the Veneto. Those producers tend to make a lighter, less oak influenced wine as has been the style for over a century. Small pockets in Tuscany, Sicily and Piedmont produce handsome, large scale wines that have rivaled the best in the world in both quality and price. 

New Zealand

The cool climate here forces a predisposition to cleaner, crisper wines with higher acids than most areas. But again, the style is still up to the desire of the winemaker and, while plantings are increasing here, there isn't enough around to form a consistent opinion regarding style. 

South Africa

Runs the gamut from Australia's big, oak driven style to New Zealand's crisper style. Still evolving, but promising 

South America

Chile's price point doesn't allow for much oak maturation or fermentation. Thusly, most of their wines are of the lighter style with some oak influence, but generally not a lot. Argentina has produced several larger scale wines that mimic their California counterparts but are not priced as high. Of course, that can always change. 


Most comes from the northeast around Catalonia. They tend to be California in style, but there's not enough with which to make a style judgment. 

United States

New York's climate can create a wine with cleaner, crisper components. Once again, the amount of oak will determine the outcome, especially when combined with malolactic fermentation. Washington tends to follow California's style. Oregon tends toward a leaner, less oak driven wine. 

Other Regions

Austria calls it "Morillion" and makes some very unique and exciting offerings.

Mexico has had a few standouts on the Ensenada plateau.