One of the most challenging aspects of describing Chardonnay also is one of the reasons it’s one of the world’s most popular white wines.
Like few other white wines, Chardonnay can take on the personality not only of its place of origin, but also its winemaker.
A cool-climate Chardonnay is going to taste different than one from a warmer growing area. Typically, there will be plenty of fruit flavor regardless of its region of origin, but the specific impressions can run the gamut from citrus fruits to stone fruits.
Then there’s the winery’s or the winemaker’s stylistic preference. It begins with the type of fermentation undertaken. A process called malolactic fermentation — which may be undertaken after or concurrently with the primary fermentation — helps to “soften” the wine and typically lends a buttery flavor to it.
So what is Chardonnay? A wine that’s brimming with fruit flavor, or a wine with fruit flavor along with a layer of butter?
But wait. Those aren’t the only styles. The aging regimen — whether to use oak barrels, and if so, of what type, of what age, and for how long — also can greatly impact the aroma and flavor of Chardonnay. When you hear someone talk about a “full-blown” style of Chardonnay, it’s one that combines fruit, butter and oak impressions.
Frankly, a full-blown Chardonnay is next to impossible to pair with food. On the other hand, it can be a whole lot of fun to drink, as the layers of flavors and textures pamper the palate.
The fruit-forward style of Chardonnay also can be fun to drink, but primarily as a refreshing quaff.
The style that splits the difference between fruit-forward and full-blown is the one that I seek out to sip and savor with a meal.
With three distinct styles from which to choose, it’s easy to see why Chardonnay has become so popular. I always try to have all three styles on hand, because you never know when you’re going to need them.