Emperor Charlemagne (who probably preferred the name Charles the Great) became the first Holy Roman Emperor in 800 A.D., culminating a career that had seen him unite most of Western Europe and serve as the King of Italy.
But as the story goes, he was a little bit of a… how should be put it?… okay, slob. Apparently when he drank red wine, he’d slobber it all over his beard.
Now, you’d think a man of his power would have a servant to blot off that liquid for him, but apparently that was not so. The sticky beard eventually disgusted Charlemagne’s wife to the point that she had white winegrapes planted on the royal couple’s estate.
That area today is known as Corton-Charlemagne, an appellation within Burgundy known for some of the great Chardonnay wines made anywhere in the world.
And all because Emperor Charlemagne couldn’t drink red wine without spilling it on his beard… or wiping it off afterward.
Here are five other fun facts about Chardonnay, the “king of white wines” featured in this Vinesse sampler…
- There is more Chardonnay planted in Monterey County (close to 17,000 acres) than in any other California viticultural area. (Chardonnay prefers a cooler climate, and Monterey provides it.)
- To show how much times have changed in the California wine world, let’s hop in the ol’ DeLoreon DMC-12, fire up the engine, engage the flux capacitor and travel back a little further in time than Marty McFly — to the 1940s. As we look around the landscape of California, we find only about a hundred acres of Chardonnay grapes planted. Back from that trip, Chardonnay acreage in the Golden State now tops 100,000 acres.
- Given fun fact #2, it’s no wonder Chardonnay is America’s best-selling wine. Well over 800,000 bottles are consumed in the U.S. each year.
- A Chardonnay by any other name may be a fabulous wine… or not. The specific name to which we refer is “Chablis.” Historically, it is both a generic name for a rather nondescript type of wine made from multiple white grapes, as well as one of the most coveted white wines in the world. Yes, that’s quite a quality spectrum to navigate, so here is what you need to know: If you see “Chablis” on a bottle label that also indicates that the wine is from France, the wine will be made from Chardonnay grapes and chances are the quality will be exceptional (assuming it was a good vintage in that region of France). On the other hand, if you see “Chablis” printed on a box of wine at your neighborhood liquor store… you’re on your own.
- When you see “California” on a label adorning a bottle of Chardonnay, there’s a very good chance that wine will be of great quality. That’s because a lot of Chardonnay is planted in California (see fun fact #2), and through the years, growers and vintners have learned where the variety fares best. Today, wineries that craft “California cuvees” of Chardonnay typically have top-quality fruit with which to work, and by sourcing that fruit from a variety of regions, they can make ever more complex and engaging wines.