The Many Personalities of Chardonnay

Among red wines, no variety reflects its terroir as vividly as Pinot Noir.

Among white varieties, the most reflective of its terroir is Chardonnay.

That’s why there are so many styles of Chardonnay around the world—and that’s not even taking into account the stylistic preferences of a given winemaker and the decisions he makes in the cellar.

When Chardonnay grapes are grown in soil that’s granitic or chalky, mineral-like notes show through in the wine. This is the style that’s common in the Chablis region of France, as well as the southern sector of Burgundy.

Plant those same vines in Puligny, where limestone soils abound, and the wines tend to be quite powerful, even if the flavors are a bit restrained.

In California and Australia, the soils generally are richer and receive much more sunshine, so the wines are both deep and flavorful.

Given such expressive fruit, a vintner must make a critical decision when it’s brought in for crushing at harvest time. Does he take a basically hands-off approach, and allow the natural fruit flavors to shine through in the finished wine, or does he pull out all the cellar stops and make the biggest, boldest, most buttery expression of Chardonnay possible?

Just a few of the options involve whether to use malolactic fermentation, whether to age the wine in oak barrels, and if oak is used, what type and of what age. Each of these factors can greatly impact the flavor of Chardonnay.

Every grape variety has a range of nuances, but no white variety provides as many options to a winemaker as Chardonnay. And as a result, every bottle of Chardonnay can be a discovery.

Posted in Wine in the Glass
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