Chardonnay Day!

From lean and crispy to honeyed and tropical, she’s arguably one of the most adored and often times, most ‘bashed’ white grapes in world.  While her place on the list of ‘world’s most planted grapes’ sits fairly high in the ranking (#5) and her position as ‘Queen of Grapes’ from Champagne to Burgundy make her one of the world’s most expensive white grapes in the world, there still seems to be a grouping of folks who sadly have never really given her a fair chance in their spectrum of wine drinking.  From the ABC (Anything but Chardonnay) classessearch that were taught in the 90s to the now ‘I only drink esoteric styled whites like Scheurebe and Orange wine because someone in Brooklyn told me this is what the cool kids are drinking’ kind of wine drinking millennials — Chardonnay, for many, is still a wine that folks still view as one ‘style’ because of its 1990s reputation as being too heavy and over-oaked.
Granted, the beloved (and industry coined ‘Cougar Juice’) over-oaked and alcoholic styles (cough cough, Rombauer!) weighing in at unforgivable levels of alcohol like 14.6% alcohol and heavier than a stick of Paula Deenare still out there, yet the truth to the reality is that there a wide variety of styles when it comes to this prestigious grape. So, let’s take a look at the many profiles of this gorgeous grape as we honor her and raise a glass on this day, Chardonnay Day!  A day in the world of social media that so fantastically celebrates this gem of a grape.

First, let’s start with her origin…. Yessssss, Burgundy!

True story:  One night while at an event, a woman went on and on and on to me about her loathing of this wine called ‘Chardonnay’ but said finally after her ranting of the subject, ‘…but, I found a white that I absolutely LOVE…it’s called: White Burgundy.  Have you heard of it?’  With a smile on my face, I couldn’t actually wait to tell her she was drinking Chardonnay. Not because I wanted to her to feel inexperienced as a wine drinker, but because I wanted her to see that perhaps it wasn’t necessarily the grape that she so tragically abhored, but maybe it was the style or the region that she kept drinking it from that she was not so enamored with.  This story is actually one of the main reasons why I continue to teach a majority of my classes blind.  Not to run a ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ game up on my class/event attendees, but to show folks that in the end, it might not be the grape that you don’t like, but instead the climate or the style in which is was produced.

Okay, back to Burgundy!  One of my favorite wine regions in the world.  The home of Chablis, which produces bright, oyster-y like Chardonnays that literally strike the palate with mouthwatering acid and textured minerality.  Incidentally, a fantastic oyster wine pairing!  Secondly, the home of Bâtard-Montrachet, a Grand Cru vineyard that sits snuggly amongst the townships of Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet (also famous regions for the grape).  The wine that can cost you upwards of $5k per bottle and a vineyard site that many across the world have touted as ‘the world’s most prestigious white’.  Because of its structure, yet so delicately framed notes of femininity — Bâtard-Montrachet is often described as a wine with ‘power & elegance’.  Outside of these more prestigious communes, we also have Chardonnay produced from the southern end of Burgundy from an area called: Mâconnaise.  Here, the Chardonnays lay a bit richer in mouthfeel due its the climate and style, producing a wine that often times appeals to American Chard drinkers who are ready to venture outside of their new world boundaries.
Looking for something that gives you a little bit of these two worlds, won’t break the bank AND offers a5d44a462c934dfb01612698ea886f4a3 great deal of structure and delicious mouthfeel?  Try this one: Olivier Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc ‘Les Setilles’.  Sourced from the townships of Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault, this Chardonnay is one bang for your buck!  Rich and nutty, yet clean and elegant.  A fantastic value for just under the $20 mark.
Next up:  Let’s talk about Oregon.  Why Oregon?  Well, not only have the regions of Willamette Valley and Burgundy been compared (in winemaking styles) for years, but if you’re looking to hop the border and venture outside of California, but still stay with the U.S. — Oregon is a great place for structure, acid and minerality without having to pay the price of a good Burgundy.  Some of my favorites:  Bethel Heights Chardonnay (classic and fresh with notes of white flowers & squishy lemon curd), A to Z imgresChardonnay (not only do I love the price, just less than $15, but I love the zippy green apple and pear notes of the wine’s palate), and Lange Winery’s ‘Three Hills Cuvée’ Chardonnay (alluring notes of vanilla, tangerine and herby thyme).
Keeping in line with the new world regions, let’s head to South America before heading back up to the U.S..  Chile and Argentina!  In Argentina, many of the styles mimic more of the over ripe tropical’d edges that folks sort of gripe over, yet can still offer a little something different that your ‘classic’ wooded California type.  Try this one:  Laura Catena’s ‘Luca’ Chardonnay from Mendoza.  While yes, big and insanely rich!, the wine somehow finely knits its carmelized edges so tightly around its warm tropical fruitIMG_1715 components that your mouth salivates for more, loving the abundant flavors of banana split and nutmeg that so richly coat the interior of your mouth.  Not inexpensive, the wine will run you closer to $40–but worth a buy if you’re grilling pineapple and ripe, juicy peaches for dessert!
And Chile?  I’m actually more of a fan of some of the Chilean Chards over Argentina, as they deliver a bit more acid and can really come away quite refreshing and envigorating on the palate.  Need a good pool party pleaser for right around $10-$12?  Try the Los Vascos from the Casablanca Valley — kiwi, pear and tantalizing bits of cold pineapple make this a ‘patio pounder’.  And, my favorite from the Limarí Valley in Northern IMG_0843Chile…Merino ‘Limestone Hill’ Chardonnay.  Chalky, structured and one of the best South American whites I’ve had in ages, layered with notes of spicy lemon & citrus.   A wine that will keep your mouth asking for more.

Speaking of Acid…

We’re going to have to hit up Italy, before we wrap up this whirlwind tour and head back to the U.S..  Okay, so Italy… Pinot Grigio definitely takes the cake when most Americans think of white wines in Italy, but have you tried their Chardonnays?  Check out the region of Alto Adige for a crisper, leaner approach to the grape.  From a textbook style, Italy will always be an acid driving country, so why not try their Chardonnays?

Not necessarily from the north, but a delightful white blend that leads with our ‘grape of honor’ is the Corzano e Paterno ‘Il Corzanello Bianco’ from Tuscany.  I’ve recently fallen in love with this wine, when I had the fortune of tasting this wine with winemaker, Aljoscha Goldschmidt.  A blend of il-corzanello-tosc-bian-2013Chardonnay, Trebbiano, Petit Manseng, Semillon and Sauvignon blanc — our lady grape takes the lead position in this composition, creating a creamy, yet alluring white for your enjoyment.

Here’s France 44‘s lovely descript of the wine: Wispy floral tinges decorate gently tangy citrus and juicy tree fruit while a touch of clean almond and delicate leesy richness hang out in the background, adding additional depth.

Okay, so here we are: Californ-IA

Let’s start here:  Not all California Chardonnays are created equal.  If you go back to my ‘cough cough’ example of over indulgence, try and keep your mind in check knowing that not all Chardonnays from California are of this style.  While yes, the world will always love the Rombauers, the Kistlers, and the Schugs of the world — for every over done Chardonnay, there are plenty more that are not.

Take for instance the Chappellet Chardonnay from Napa.  One of my favorites!  Ripe, yes…but all of this, too: fresh flavors of peach and citrus fruit, creme fraiche and quince with bright texture, lively acidity and a long linger-y finish.  See? Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Balance is the key.  

What about the Russian River?  It’s a region that sort of ‘splits the difference’ between ripe and rich, yet lifted and clean.  I love the minty, more eucalyptus-y edges of many Russian2013-Jordan-Russian-River-Valley-Chardonnay-Label-WebThumb2014River Chards.  Always at the top of my list from the region:  Jordan Winery’s Russian River Chardonnay.

Here are winemaker, Rob Davis’s, tasting notes of his 2013 Chardonnay:  Intense aromas of passion fruit, persimmon and Granny Smith apple leap from the glass, woven with notes of Meyer Lemon, Asian pear and wet stone minerality. A juicy mid-palate of honeydew melon, fresh guava and a touch of baking spice is balanced by firm acidity and a creamy mouthfeel that carries through the lingering finish.

And, the central coast?  Wow, okay start your engines!  There are oodles of delightful examples from: Lincourt Winery’s ‘Unoaked’ Chardonnay (apples, pears, lemons & guava), Chamisal Vineyard’s ‘Stainless’ Chardonnay (lively green herbs, citrus blossom & hints of saltiness), Calera Winery’s Chardonnay (Flavors of tropical fruits, honey crisp apple, nectarine & honeydew melon) and last Melville’s ‘Santa Rita Hills’ Chardonnay (fresh lemon, orange & orchard fruit flavors with a musky floral quality).

Just a few to get you started!

While this tour of Chardonnay could go on for pages and pages, I thought I’d leave you with one of the coolest California Chardonnays I’ve tasted in a long while.  A wine, in fact, that I just tasted for the first time earlier this week.  Made by winemaking enthusiasts: Tracey & Jared Brandt of Donkey & Goat Winery.  Their 2014 ‘Improbable’ Chardonnay from El Dorado county, located just northeast of Sacramento is one of the best new world Improbable Chardonnay 2014 – already in barrelChardonnays I’ve tasted this year.  What I loved: the wine’s fresh Asian pear & yellow apple pulp-like notes that sang of fresh minerality and summer sunshine.  Soft, feminine, low in alcohol, acid driving but so deliciously approachable–I absolutely could not stop drinking it.  A gorgeous reminder that ‘not all California Chardonnays’ are built the same, or nearly equal.

So what chya waiting for?  After all, it IS Chardonnay Day and you’re supposed to be celebrating with a glass of the ‘Queen of Grapes’ in your hand!  So get to it and try on a few of your own.

Feel like sharing your favorites with us?  Hashtag your favorites #ChardonnayDay and tag us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @amuseewine to show us your picks, too!  

Happy Chardonnay Day!


Comments 2

  1. Lovely article, Leslee! Looking forward to drinking a glass, or two, tonight! Happy Chardonney day!

    1. Thanks so much, Liz! So glad you enjoyed it. Hope you sipped on some fantastic Chardonnay for the big day. #clinkclink

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