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Chardonnay

by Joanna On March 20th, 2016

Chardonnay is the most popular white wine in the world, partially because it can be grown in such a diverse array of regions.  From upstate new York to the Russian River Valley from Burgundy, France to Austria Chardonnay is grown and the diverse geography creates a diverse range of tastes.  Other regions that produce the grape include New York, Austrailia, South Africa, Chile, and Argentina.

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Most known regions

France

 Chardonnay was born in the Burgundy region of France, where it is known as White Burgundy, and it was there that the wine gained great acclaim for its elegance.

Soon after Chardonnay’s rise in popularity, winemakers in Champagne began to grow the grape as well, using it as the dominant ingredient for their sparkling wines.

While France is the birthplace of Chardonnay in recent decades it has become known for its wide range of styles, ranging in tastes across the spectrum.  The video below provides a brief interview of French Chardonnay’s.

Chardonnay from Total Wine & More on Vimeo.

New York

Chardonnay can be grown throughout New York state, but perhaps it is best loved from the Finger Lakes.  Check out the website New York Wines for more information, including maps, facts and figures about the Finger Lakes region.

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California

The state is known for its Oak heavy Chardonnays, all though in recent years there has been  movement to cut back and even avoid it all together and use stainless steel.   Some facts and figures about California Chardonnay from the Wine Institute:

The variety is California’s most widely planted winegrape, with 97,826 acres reported in 2014. Chardonnay far and away remains the most popular wine in the U.S. and has continued to be the leading varietal wine for the last decade, with sales increases every year. Chardonnay represented an estimated 21 percent of table wine volume purchased in U.S. food stores in 2014, according to estimates by Gomberg-Fredrikson & Associates. In 2014, California crushed 718,000 tons of Chardonnay, and more than 54 million cases of California Chardonnay were shipped to all outlets in the U.S. market.

Fans of Chardonnay are familiar with the wine’s usual descriptors: green apple, fig and citrus flavors, a complex aroma, and high acidity for a crisp wine. The wine is often aged in oak to produce toasty, vanilla and buttery overtones.

Oak vs. Steel

A major debating point among the Chardonnay enthusiasts is the proper use of oak, which greatly changes that taste of the grape.  Vine Pair recently went over the use of oak and how it has changed over the past decades, region by region.

 If Chardonnay is so versatile, then what has caused the wine to get a bad rap in recent years?  One word: oak. In addition to winemakers discovering how adaptive the grape was to different regions of the world,they also found that it was incredibly responsive to being aged in oak. A little oak on a Chardonnay is a very good thing — it creates the luscious mouthfeel we expect in a Burgundian Chardonnay, and gives us just a kiss of vanilla. The problem is, if the wine gets too much oak, bad things can happen.

 

In California during the ‘80s and ‘90s, winemakers, especially the mass market ones, started going oak crazy. Determining what they thought was Americans’ desire for oak, oak and more oak, they over-oaked the heck out of Chardonnay and created what came to be known as butter bombs, a white wine that literally tasted like liquid butter in a bottle. This turned many wine drinkers off and caused many to say they hated Chardonnay, but that should not be the case!

The practice of over-oaking Chardonnay has pretty much stopped worldwide, with most winemakers who now want their Chardonnay to spend a little time in oak reverting back to the heritage of the French Burgundian winemakers. That being said, a good way to avoid the liquid butter wine is simply to avoid Chardonnay that is made by any of the worldwide mega-producers, who basically sell the stuff for under $10 a bottle, using the oak to mask the poor qualities of the fruit. Another way, is to simply buy an unoaked Chardonnay.

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