Chardonnay is so popular, that it is nearly synonymous with white wine. Picture: Pexels
Chardonnay is so popular, that it is nearly synonymous with white wine. 

We feel comfortable with it. And because chardonnay is so ubiquitous, it can be easy to take for granted. Here are five things to know to make your chardonnay experience more meaningful.

Chardonnay's homeland is Burgundy

Chardonnay originated in the Burgundy region of France, and takes its name from a small town in the Maconnais, an area in southern Burgundy that makes relatively inexpensive, high-value chardonnays. Because it is now grown nearly everywhere wine is made, and because we label it by the grape variety rather than the place of origin, we tend to forget that appellations like Montrachet, Meursault, Pouilly-Fuissé and Chablis are synonymous with chardonnay.

Got bubbles? So does chard

Chardonnay is one of the three main grapes used in champagne, along with (reds) pinot noir and pinot meunier. A Blanc de Blanc champagne is all chardonnay, and in my opinion the ultimate expression of the grape. Many New World sparkling wines use a significant amount of chardonnay as well.

It's the most popular white wine - by far

Winemakers love chardonnay because it is easy to grow. And since its flavours are not as distinctive as other varieties such as riesling or sauvignon blanc, chardonnay has a "blank canvas" aspect that allows winemakers to flex their technique and leave their own imprint on the wine.

David Ramey, who played a major role in developing the current style of California chardonnay, recently explained the grape's appeal during an interview with sommelier/journalist Levi Dalton on the podcast "I'll Drink to That".

"Chardonnay is the most compelling and popular white wine in the world, because it is the red wine of whites," Ramey said. "It's so complex, so interesting. And it's the red wine of whites for two reasons: barrel fermentation and malolactic."

Which brings us to our next point.

Chardonnay is so popular, that it is nearly synonymous with white wine. Picture: Pexels
Chardonnay should not taste like a tree. Or a bucket of buttered popcorn

Fermenting the wine in barrels gives added tannin and structure, as well as some flavors of toast and spice, such as clove, vanilla or nutmeg. New barrels impart more of these flavours to the wine, while ageing in older barrels gives texture. 

Today, winemakers tend to ferment only a portion of the wine in new oak, reusing older barrels for the rest. That results in a more balanced wine and saves money on expensive barrels.

Chardonnay expresses terroir

That blank canvas aspect means chardonnay is a good mirror of its climate and location - the mysterious quality wine lovers call terroir. In warmer climes, it can taste tropical (pineapple, mango), while cooler settings match the grape's refreshing acidity with flavors of orchard fruit like peaches and apricots. 

The winemaker's art is to capture that expression without obscuring it with too much oak or other techniques.

The Washington Post