Today is Chardonnay Day! I’m not sure where the day originated from, but I like it! Chardonnay is one of the most popular and widely planted grapes across the world, and winemakers have been working for decades to perfect the variety – which is no easy task, as everyone has a different palate.
For example, my mother enjoys oaky, buttery Chardonnays from Napa Valley. To other people, this type of Chardonnay is loathsome. To me, it’s not what I would prefer to drink but I understand the appeal that it has. The most well-known example of this type of Chardonnay is Rombauer from Carneros. As you can see from the customer reviews on their webpage, people who love this wine will always come back to it because it’s comfortable, and it’s generally the same every year. I’m curious how they are able to produce the same tasting wine vintage after vintage, but I’m quite certain it has to do with the level of Malolactic fermentation (ML) that is used in the winemaking process.
In general, the larger the percentage of ML that is used in making Chardonnay, the more “buttery” the wine will taste. That being said, I’ve enjoyed several Chardonnays are 100% ML, including JAQK Cellars Pearl Handle Chardonnay from Napa Valley. Pearl Handle is smooth and concentrated, with a great balance of fruit and oak.
Another great technique in making Chardonnay is to use neutral French Oak to age the wine. These are French oak barrels that have been used for several years and purchased by wineries from other wineries. The oaky flavor dissipates over time, softening the flavor of the wine and highlighting the fruit concentration, particularly citrus. Two of my favorite wines made in neutral or aged French Oak are Witness Tree from Willamette Valley and Hanzell Vineyards “Sebella” from Sonoma Valley. Both these wines have fresh acidity and elegant style, similar to a Burgundian wine.
Some winemakers have started leaning towards stainless steel barrels; if not for 100% of the juice, then for at least 50%. Chardonnay that’s aged in 100% stainless steel looses some of the flavor profile for me. It begins to taste so much unlike Chardonnay, that one might as well be drinking Sauvignon Blanc. For this reason, I appreciate the balance of a 50/50 oak and stainless steel blend. Duckhorn’s DECOY Chardonnay from Sonoma County is made with grapes from Dry Creek, Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley appellations and aged in 50/50 barrels. This Chardonnay is very easy to drink, and doesn’t need food. There are notes of citrus and tropical fruit, but enough oak to add richness and fullness.
As you can see, there are many different aspects that go into the flavor profile of Chardonnay, most of which have to do with where the grapes come from and how the wine is aged. SideDish has several other recommendations for Chardonnays to enjoy on this special day, many of which you can find at your local wine shop.
There is a Chardonnay for every wine drinker out there. And today is the day to find your Chardonnay! Good luck, and cheers!