Know Your Chardonnay
TC Whysall, Sommelier at Red Pump, has worked tirelessly to refine our wine list to its current award-winning state. In addition to his 20 years’ experience in restaurant and beverage management, TC earned his WSET Level 3 Advanced Certificate and has studied in Argentina, California, Canada, France, Germany, Portugal, and Spain. TC shares his expertise with the Red Pump Kitchen staff in the wine training program, ensuring that our team can find the perfect wine for you.
Each week, TC spotlights one wine varietal and provides an in-depth examination of the wine’s origins, flavor profile, growing regions, fun facts, and much more. This week, it’s Chardonnay!
WHAT IS CHARDONNAY?
Chardonnay is a white wine variety made from green-skinned grapes. It is a member of the Pinot family of wines. Depending on who you choose to believe, this variety of wine either originated in Israel and was taken to France during the Crusades, or it originated in a Maconnais village by the same name. Whichever is the true origin, sources say Chardonnay was present in California by the 1880s.
Chardonnay is planted all around the world with some of the most favored varieties coming from France’s Burgundy region, as well as California, Oregon, and Washington. Other popular regions for Chardonnay include Argentina, Chile, and New Zealand. Fun fact? Anywhere you find Chardonnay, you will find Pinot Noir.
Chardonnay, along with its sister grape Pinot Noir, grows well in warm or cool climates. The warmer climates produce Chardonnay with honey and butter flavors, while the cooler climates tend to produce wines with more fruit flavors.
Chardonnay Characteristics, by region:
- In Burgundy, look for characteristics of crushed rocks and minerals, tropical fruits, chalk and white flowers alongside some really ripe, bright and mild flavors.
- California Chardonnay is loaded with tropical tree fruits, pear, vanilla and oak spice, as well as ripe fruits such as pineapple, peach, Bartlett pear, and lemon custard.
- In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, with its Burgundian-like climate, you will notice a similarly delicate style with complex structures including a base of minerality, green and yellow fruits (like apples and lemons), and a restrained use of oak.
- Washington Chardonnays contain a lot of fruit flavors ranging from apples and pears to peaches and apricots. I can’t help but wonder if that has anything to do with the prevalence of stone fruit orchards throughout the state of Washington.
Chardonnay can take on different styles of winemaking, from dry still wines to sparkling wines and sweet late-harvest wines. Chardonnay and other whites such as Sauternes and White Bordeaux, will become more honeyed and turn a deeper golden color as they age.
The full flavors of Chardonnay pair excellently with full-flavored dishes:
- Crisp Chardonnay – Fish, seafood, light hors d’oeuvres
- Oaky Chardonnay – Smoked white meats, creamy sauces
- Elegant Chardonnay – Grilled chicken, pork roast, veal
OTHER INTERESTING POINTS
In his book, Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine, George M. Taber chronicles the shock wave in the wine world, when in 1973, California’s very young Chardonnay industry outscored esteemed French winemakers and their prestigious white wines. Rather see the movie? Check out Bottle Shock. Bottle Shock gives you a look into the Judgment of Paris, with plenty of Hollywood scripting and editing. It’s a fun movie with nice scenery, great music and a decent overview of what went down between California and French Chardonnays in the 1970s.
After the success of Chardonnay’s victory in Paris, Chardonnay plantings went from 2,700 acres in 1970 to 45,000 acres by 1988. The increase in acreage brought with it an overproduction of “ﬂabby” or “fat” Chardonnay and brought about the “ABC boycott,” ABC meaning “Anything But Chardonnay.” Responding to these criticisms, Chardonnay producers started making a more crisp style, fermented in steel tanks, with high acidity.