International Chardonnay Day is not a fixed date, rather it is the Thursday before the last Monday in May, which this year makes it May 26th. Such changeability is apropos for a grape like Chardonnay, given the range of styles and personalities it can have!
It is considered a winemaker’s grape as there are myriad choices made in the winery that affect the finished wine. Whether or not it is aged in oak is one choice. But a winemaker must also consider factors like malolactic fermentation, or lees stirring, that can dramatically affect the wine’s character. it’s not all a winemaker’s game, however. Because Chardonnay can thrive in a variety of climates it is also a grape capable of expressing terroir. In honor of the day, take the time to get to know Chardonnay’s many expressions from around the world.
Let's start Chardonnay Day with some of the most steely and crystalline examples of the grape, hailing from Chablis, the northern subregion of Burgundy. The typical style is unoaked, and has not undergone malolactic fermentation. The elevated acid levels and concentrated fruit flavors of Chablis wines, particularly those grown on the slopes of Grand Cru vineyards, make them ageworthy. They are grown on Kimmeridgian clays, thought to contribute the unique “goût de pierre à fusil”, or “taste of flint” characteristic to the wines. For a classic example, look to Domaine Pinson, a family-owned estate that has been in the area since 1640. They currently offer 6 premier crus as well as the grand crus of Les Preuses and Les Clos.
Further south in Burgundy, in the Côte d’Or one will tend to find a creamier style of Chardonnay. Both fermentation and aging tend to take place in oak in premium examples. If some proportion of the barrels are new, the wine will show flavors of vanilla or baking spices in addition to fresh apple and citrus notes. Lees stirring is also a common proactive, providing a smoother and richer mouthfeel. If you want to go straight to the top, a bottle from the Montrachet Grand Cru is an experience that cannot be beat.
It simply wouldn't be Chardonnay Day if there weren't some delightful bubbles to toast with. One cannot forget the importance of Chardonnay in Champagne, where it appears in many blends, but is the star of the show in a blanc de blancs. Again, how the wine will taste depends a lot on winemaker style. Dom Ruinart, for instance, is a crisper and more reductive style, whereas a winemaker like Bollinger makes Champagne with more oxidative notes such as nuts and toast.
In the New World, Chardonnay is really shining in Australia, especially on the island of Tasmania and in Margaret River, a region in West Australia. Tolpuddle is a terrific example of Tasmania’s way with the grape--the island’s cool climate allows winemakers to make almost Burgundian styles of the wine. For a great Margaret River example Leeuwin is one of best-known in the area, and their Art Series Chardonnay does not disappoint. While perhaps best known for their Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, stalwart Penfolds Bin 144 Yattara Chardonnay is an excellent example of age-worthy Chardonnay from South Australia.
California Chardonnay is lauded in Sonoma’s regions of Carneros and the Russian River Valley--although no one will forget when, in 1976, Napa Valley’s Château Montelena 1973 Chardonnay bested bottlings from France at the Judgment of Paris. However, if you do want to try fabulous offering from Sonoma this Chardonnay Day, Kistler and Martinelli are wineries that take advantage of the cool sea breeze, making Chardonnay wines that retain their bright acidity in addition to having ripe fruit flavor.
Chardonnay is making its way up in Oregon. Originally it didn’t fare so well, but ever since Dijon clones were planted the variety has fared remarkably well. Eyrie Vineyards has a long history in the region, having been the first to plant Pinot Noir in the state, but they had the forethought to give Chardonnay a go too. Oregon wines are known for being Burgundian in style, and a bottle from Eyrie will not disappoint.
Chardonnay is grown in many other countries, from Italy to South Africa, and displays all sorts of fascinating and unique characteristics, but that article might take a while to read, so these are just a few to get you started.
Have a very happy Chardonnay Day!
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