Chardonnay is one of the most popular white wines in the world and it is grown extensively in most major wine regions, where it particularly thrives in France (Burgundy) and in the US (California). California Chardonnay was put on the world map when it beat out its French counterparts at the 1976 “Judgment in Paris” with French judges blindly choosing the Chardonnay from California’s Chateau Montelena over their own White Burgundies.
And Chardonnay continues to thrive today, offered in many different styles from different regions of the wine world.
At your wine shop you will want to look for the Burgundy section and then begin to segment out the white burgundies. I would aim to try at least two bottles of white burgundy to begin with, one from Chablis and one from Pouilly-Fuisse. This should be easy to find as these are two of the primary areas you will see represented in US wine stores.
French Chardonnay is going to be stylistically different from what you will find elsewhere. It won’t be over oaked and buttery; instead it will be more pure, citrusy and clean. Its fruit flavors will really come to the forefront. In Chablis, winemakers may use stainless steel fermenting to keep the wines even more pure and fresh.
Using stainless steel for fermenting is growing in popularity in other places too, particularly in the US which is a relief from what I’ve found to be severely over oaked Chardonnays. For a time, the US consumer preferred the oaky style, but having recently returned from a Napa trip, I can say there’s been a marked shift, not necessarily to all stainless, but they’ve definitely turned down the dial on oak influence on the wines.
Many of the areas of Sonoma we’ve covered also produce excellent Chardonnay including Alexander Valley, Carneros and Russian River Valley. California’s central coast is also a hot spot, particularly Santa Barbara County, with its cool ocean side climate. And big name Napa producers will offer good Chardonnay as well. Expect to start in the $10-15 to get going, with some of the really tasty bottles priced in the $25-30 range.
Outside of California, you should seek out Chardonnay (and Riesling) from upstate New York’s Finger Lakes region. Given the cooler climate, these grapes fare very well.
Based on the popularity of Chardonnay it’s no surprise that it is grown all over the world. Australia and New Zealand produce good Chardonnay, as does Italy, Chile and Argentina. I would keep an eye on South Africa and Canada, since both are up and coming Chardonnay regions.
Your Chardonnay Check List:
– French White Burgundy (Chablis, Pouilly-Fuisse)
– Blanc de blancs champagne made from Chardonnay
– California Chardonnay from Alexander Valley, Carneros or Russian River Valley (Sonoma)
– California Chardonnay from Napa Valley
– California Chardonnay from the central coast, Monterey, Santa Barbara
– New York Chardonnay
Fast Fact: Chardonnay is the top selling varietal in the United States.