As the grape of white Burgundy it produces a variety of flavours and styles according to where it’s grown and how it’s made. From minerally, unoaked Chablis to the grand and complex, nutty dry whites of Meursault, Chassagne and Puligny-Montrachet in the Côte de Beaune and the riper wines of Pouilly-Fuissé further south. Along with Pinot Noir, it is also the major grape variety in Champagne.
Because of its versatility, it’s spread like a bush fire throughout Europe and the New World, with brilliant, opulently and exotically flavoured whites in California, Australia and New Zealand. As winemakers lavish increasing attention on Chardonnay, it does increasingly well in Chile and South Africa.
Oak in Chardonnay
As a non-aromatic variety, it has an affinity with oak, whether new or used, French or American, and while barrel-fermented Chardonnays tend to be the richest, most complex and long-lived dry whites, the trend to unoaked Chardonnay is catching on as a backlash to the hefty, overwooded styles. Despite talk of Chardonnay fatigue, its wonderful flavours, richness and versatility ensure that it is here to stay.
In Burgundy, Chardonnay ranges in quality from bland to intense and in style from oaked to unoaked and from the minerally, unoaked, lean, bone dry chablis style to the richer, classically hazelnutty intense dry whites of the Côte de Beaune. In the New World, Chardonnay varies from the melon, apple and grapefruit cool climate styles to more tropical fruit styles with flavours of peach, mango, lime and pineapple. As a non-aromatic variety, its affinity with oak brings both a textured, buttery roundness as well as smoky, toasty, clove and cinnamon-spice and nutty features.