Chardonnay

Chardonnay is the most planted white wine grape in the world. It is easily the most popular white grape that is sold in the restaurant environment, and knowing about the styles, regions and production methods will help you become a more successful purchaser and seller of the worlds most popular white grape.

Chardonnay

Styles of Chardonnay
There are many styles of this grape produced, from light and bright with no oak treatment to full and rich, with heavy oak and malolactic fermentation. Chardonnay is often at the mercy of the winemaker, as it is easily influenced though winemaking techniques to fit the desired outcome.

The most popular version of this wine is the one that sees oak and the previously mentioned malolactic fermentation, giving it a distinctive “buttery” and “toasted” aroma and flavor (see visual below). Unoaked Chardonnay will be more mineral driven, being lighter on the palate and having more noticeable acidity. The higher acidity, mineral rich examples are most often found in Chablis (the northernmost point in Burgundy, France), while the buttery and fuller bodied examples usually hail from the new world (California, Australia).

Chardonnay

Climate will always play a part in the final product, as it does with every wine grape, and the warmer regions will produce fuller bodied examples of Chardonnay. The cooler climate areas will have brighter acidity and noticeable minerality.
Chardonnay is at the mercy of the winemaker, as this grape can be made into many different styles. As noted above, the most popular expression of the grape is the full bodied and richer version found in California, Australia and sometimes Burgundy. The lighter, mineral driven style of Chablis may be the best natural expression on the grape, as the oak can interfere with showing the true depth Chardonnay is capable of. The mineral rich soils of Chablis offer up the preconditions for a diverse array of aromas and flavors, and most producers take a non-interventionalist approach to winemaking.

Chardonnay

Geography
Some of the more prolific wine regions that are famous for producing Chardonnay are in California, France and Australia. Many more locations grow this grape, as it is the most widely planted white wine grape in the world. Northern California, notably Napa and Sonoma counties, have a large amount of Chardonnay plantings. Napa Valley usually produces a slightly fuller bodied offering than Sonoma County due to the slightly warmer temperatures. Excellent examples can be found in central and southern California, as well as the Willamette Valley in Oregon.
The most prominent offerings in the world hail from Burgundy, France, where a wide array of styles are produced but are usually on the earthier side in comparison to their new world cousins. The area from Chablis in the north to the Macon in the south is varied and just because it says Burgundy on the label is not an automatic notation of high quality. Australia has a lot of Chardonnay under vine, however, the best examples can be found either close to the coast or at higher elevations. Both New Zealand and South Africa have their own bright spots for the production of high-quality Chardonnay.

Chardonnay

Selling Chardonnay
Making a great recommendation doesn’t always mean picking the wine out for your guest, as sometimes just pointing them in the correct direction is all you need. Explaining that old world examples are drier than new world examples, that Chardonnays from California have more “buttery” aromas and flavors or that Burgundy is usual a little drier is a great place to start when selling and recommending this grape to guests.

Chablis is lighter and drier than most of the rest of Burgundy, so pointing that out is a great start. California wines tend to be heavier with more fruit and oak aromas and flavors, so there is another piece of information that will get your guest going in the correct direction. Overall, we keep making these small observations, while ascertaining what their desired preferences are so that we end up in the correct place; with the right selection for your guest.

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Selling Chardonnay
Making a great recommendation doesn’t always mean picking the wine out for your guest, as sometimes just pointing them in the correct direction is all you need. Explaining that old world examples are drier than new world examples, that Chardonnays from California have more “buttery” aromas and flavors or that Burgundy is usual a little drier is a great place to start when selling and recommending this grape to guests.

Chablis is lighter and drier than most of the rest of Burgundy, so pointing that out is a great start. California wines tend to be heavier with more fruit and oak aromas and flavors, so there is another piece of information that will get your guest going in the correct direction. Overall, we keep making these small observations, while ascertaining what their desired preferences are so that we end up in the correct place; with the right selection for your guest.