Chardonnay is THE most popular white wine grown worldwide; almost everyone likes to opine about it. Chardonnay wine is just pretty easy – easy to say, easy to spell (watch out for that extra "n" though), and easy to buy. Hence the reason for this blog and why we visited almost 30 wineries in Napa and Sonoma that feature outstanding Chardonnay and are sharing our experiences.
So given that, and the fact that I really love lists, here's a list of 5 things about Chardonnay, why you should drink it (at least try it) and visit these wineries.
1. It's French! Like its red counterpart (well, sort of), Pinot Noir, Chardonnay hails from Burgundy, specifically the area around Champagne, Chablis, and southern Burgundy. And, like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay is grown throughout the world. Northern California, in particular, is known for its stellar Chardonnay wines (that's where I come in).
The United States is the second largest producer of Chardonnay (France, of course, being number one).
2. It's extremely versatile because the wine has a huge range of styles, from lean, austere wines such as French Chablis to buttery, oaky wines that California vintners are famed. Chardonnay offers everything from everyday easy-drinking wines to uber-sophisticated wines.
3. Winemakers love Chardonnay because it's easy to grow, unlike other finicky wines. And, because Chardonnay's out-of-the-box flavors are not as distinctive as some other wines, the wine is somewhat of a blank canvas where winemakers can hone their craft and make a wine uniquely theirs. In other words, who is making the wine matters.
4. Unlike other wines, Chardonnay wines' flavor is more discernable than its aroma. And where the place of origin or terroir of the wine matters. The warmer the climate, the more tropical fruit such as pineapple, mango, and guava are noted in the wine. Chardonnay from cooler climates displays apple and lemon flavors. Some Chardonnay from very cold climates, such as Chablis (both a place and wine), have wet stone or flint notes in their wine. It sounds strange, but those flavors can make a wine.
5. Technique matters. This is where the skill of the winemaker counts. Most Chardonnay wines go through a second fermentation called Malolactic fermentation, ML for short, t Transforming the tart malic acid, like apples, into softer lactic acid. This process gives Chardonnay that prized creamy, buttery mouth feel and taste. Using oak barrels in the fermentation process imparts the flavors of toast and baking spices such as clove, vanilla, or nutmeg. Too much oak can have your glass of Chardonnay tasting like a bucket of popcorn or an oak log.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, California Chardonnays were known for their very oaky buttery tasting notes, almost detrimental to the wine. But, as with most things, tastes change; now, less is more. Winemakers use much more restraint when choosing what oak type and how long they leave the wine in the barrel. Winemakers also use stainless steel tanks as an alternative to oak for aging. Aging Chardonnay in stainless steel tanks produces much more fruit-forward and crisper wines.
We're doing things a little bit differently. Usually, we put together a winery guide. We thought putting the guide information into a series of blogs might be more fun. So look for a blog for each winery. And, to help readers decide if a particular winery is their cup of tea, I'm instituting a new system. I've come up with four winery visitor types. Each of us may be one or all of these types. And there is no implied judgment here. This is to give potential visitors an idea of what to expect from a winery: So, here goes:
Winery Visitor Types
Authenticity Seekers :
Visitors that want an up-close and personal experience, maybe with the winemaker or wine production staff, if possible. They revel in the nitty-gritty part of winemaking and enjoy treks through production areas or vineyards. Smaller wineries tend to offer these types of experiences.
Visitors looking for an an-over-the-top experience or the group that just wants "more." Obviously, great wine is a given, but they want super-attentive, knowledgeable staff (preferably sommeliers) acting as wine concierges and opulent-tasting salons.
Visitors that are all about the wine and wine quality. Usually are interested only in the wine quality and not so much emphasis on the tasting room amenities.
Casual Wine Drinkers:
Visitors that enjoy a glass of wine but aren't too fussy about the particulars of the wine. They enjoy a convivial atmosphere and mostly just want to sit back and relax.
We selected 28 wineries in Sonoma and Napa that showcase California Chardonnay and fun! So stay tuned. Our first Chardonnay winery blog is Anaba Wines in Sonoma.