March 30, 2017 | By RJS Craft Winemaking
Throughout the years, we see the popularity of different wines rise quickly, and then eventually drop as another variety takes their places in wine cellars around the world. For example, back in the 1990s restaurants and wine stores couldn’t keep Merlot in stock. Then, in 2004 the movie “Sideways” was released and before long, Pinot Noir was the red wine of choice. In the world of white wine, nowadays Pinot Grigio is a rock star with more craft winemakers making Pinot Grigio than any other wine – red or white.
But, one varietal that has remained popular, throughout all these fads, is the tenacious Chardonnay. Like your favourite pair of jeans, it might not be the wine you pull out to impress your fad following friends, but it is the wine you go to when you crave something tried, true and sure to satisfy. Depending on the style, a glass of Chardonnay will taste as delicious on a cold night near a warm fire as it will on a hot day in a lounge chair on a dock. Chardonnay is the comfort food of wine.
The Chardonnay grape originated in the cool climate wine region of Burgundy in eastern France, where it is still renowned as the only grape used to make such wines as Chablis and Pouilly-Fuissé. But, because Chardonnay is so beloved by winemakers and wine drinkers around the world, it is now grown wherever wine is produced. Vine-growers appreciate that, in almost any climate suitable to viticulture, Chardonnay will grow fairly easily with relatively high yields. If fact, it is one of the most widely planted grape varieties
worldwide, planted in more wine regions than any other grape – including Cabernet Sauvignon.
Winemakers, like wine drinkers and grape growers, also love Chardonnay. From still dry, to sparkling and sweet, a winemaker can use it to craft numerous styles of wine. There is no doubt about Chardonnay’s ability to make great sparkling wines considering it is the most common grape found in Champagne. Chardonnay will also make outstanding light bodied, crisp wines to rival the best Pinot Grigios and Sauvignon Blancs. But, whereas these other two varieties may not always stand up well to oak, a well-crafted, full-bodied, toasty Chardonnay fermented in and/or aged with oak, is nothing short of a triumph, boasting flavours of smoke, spice, coconut, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla.
The flavours found in the Chardonnay grape itself are actually fairly neutral and dependent upon the climate where the grapes are grown. In cool regions Chardonnay tends to be medium to light body with noticeable acidity and flavours of citrus, green apple, and pear. In warmer areas, the flavours become riper with more stone fruits like, peach or nectarine, and melon. In the very warmest locations, tropical fruit notes, like banana and mango, are found on the nose and palate.
Chardonnay has achieved its status as the world’s favourite grape (and wine) for a reason. In her book “Vines, Grapes and Wines”, Jancis Robinson said “In chardonnay is one of the happiest of all combinations: the grower loves to grow it, the wine maker lives to fashion it and we all love to drink it.” And that is why Chardonnay is sure to maintain its high esteem amongst craft winemakers for years to come.