Dispelling Old Wine Myths: The Untold Story of Chardonnay
This International Chardonnay Day, we are putting the rumours to rest. Chardonnay is not all cheap, overly oaky, and unfavourable, but rather, it is complex, versatile and delicious, and it’s time that this varietal is shown some love.
Chardonnay was first grown in Burgundy, a wine region in Eastern France, but is now the world’s most widely planted white grape varietal. On average, it is a moderately dry, medium to full-bodied wine with a golden hue that is commonly used in Champagne and other sparkling wines.
Known as a winemaker’s grape, this neutral varietal gives winemakers lots of room for manipulation and creativity. The three main components that impact the flavours are climate, barrels and fermentation methods. For example, grapes that are grown in warmer climates tend to be sweeter, while cooler climates produce more acidic flavours.
Not sure if you have ever started looking up the words “why is Chardonnay” in Google, but the first suggested search is “why is Chardonnay so bad.” So in order to alter this thinking, let’s revert back to when all of these fallacies began.
The fabricated dislike behind Chardonnay connects back to the barrels, and more specifically, oak barrels. Simply put, during the 1980s and 90s, the oakiness in Chardonnay was too overpowering. Between oak barrels, oak chips, oak staves or even oak powder, all of the other delicious flavours like pear and vanilla were concealed. However, this is not a problem with the grape, but rather a flawed technique that was being used by winemakers. Yet, rather than blaming the style, Chardonnay as a varietal got the short end of the stick!
On top of taste, Chardonnay has been painted in a negative light through pop culture references. For instance, a series of emotional breakdowns are paired with “enormous” glasses of Chardonnay in the Bridget Jones movies. It also earned the nickname “cougar juice” in the television show, Cougar Town.
Now that we understand what went wrong, let’s talk about why you should be drinking Chardonnay. The first step is knowing what kind of Chardonnay you like. This is determined by how the wine was made, specifically how it was barreled because this element really changes the flavours of the wine. Unoaked Chardonnay is fermented and stored in stainless steel barrels which produce notes of apple, pear, and citrus fruits. There may also be hints of minerality. On the other hand, there is oaked Chardonnay, keep in mind this means one that is not overly oaked. This style will contain the initial fruit-forward tones of stone-fruits and citrus, but the oak also brings out flavours such as vanilla, butter, caramelized sugar and coconut.
Now that you know what kind of Chardonnay you like, you can start experimenting with food!
Typically, you should go for dishes that are low in spice and flavour intensity. Instead, think creamy and buttery, such as soft cheeses.
Need some inspiration? Well, an oaked Chardonnay is delicious with crab cakes, linguini vongole, halibut, or pork tenderloin. For a more plant-based approach, rich or starchy vegetables like corn, pumpkin, squash or mushrooms are a great combination. In terms of unoaked, pair with raw seafood such as oysters, sushi, or sautéed fish (Wine Folly).
So the next time Chardonnay is being put down when you are around, speak the truth. Or even better, open up a bottle, and let the wine do the talking!