Guide to Chardonnay

Chardonnay is revered around the world as one of the most popular white wine varietals, courtesy of its extreme versatility as a winemaking grape type.

In its flavour profile it can often appear as a medium-bodied and crisp style dry white wine or a full-bodied and rich style wine with sweeter notes of oak and creamy butter, making it a bit of chameleon.

It is grown throughout many of the world’s top wine-producing regions, in warm and cool climates, as it has the innate ability to grow almost anywhere.

Depending on your preference for taste and occasion, there will almost always be a chardonnay to fit your needs.

To get a quick understanding of the typical flavour profile of these wines, and some of the best food pairing options, consider our graphic below.

Chardonnay Quick Guide

Why is it Called Chardonnay?

The origins of how the grape came to be named chardonnay are incredibly murky, with there being no clear reason for this.

We do know that the grape varietal has existed for centuries, with its origins lying in the Burgundy wine-producing region in eastern-central France, where it has been found under a whole range of name variations.

It wasn’t until 1896, during a wine congress held in the Burgundy village of Chardonnay, that it was decided to call the grape by this name henceforth, leading some to draw the conclusion that the varietal is named after the village itself.

This hasn’t been proven, however, and it continues to be a source of mystery as to exactly where the grape actually draws its name.

To learn more on how chardonnay has been called over the years, read this interesting article. which explains its origins in greater detail.

Naming aside, the grape, biologically speaking, is a cross between the pinot noir, pinot blanc, and gouais blanc grape varietals, a combination that might have occured during the Roman times.

From its spiritual home in the Burgundy region in France the grape has seen a highly success spread to other parts of the world, to the point where it now sits as one of the most cultivated grape varietals in the world.

How do Chardonnay Wines Taste?

Chardonnay Flavour Wheel

As mentioned previously, chardonnay grapes can produce a very different style of white wine depending upon the preferences of the winemaker and the climate in which the grapes used are grown in.

In cooler climates it is often used to produce a crisp, light to medium bodied, dry, and moderately acidic style of white wine that exudes prominent flavours of citrus and crisp white peach and other crisp white fruits.

When originating in these regions the wine is also typically left unaged, meaning the wines will be better able to retain their moderate levels of acidity and crisp fruit flavours.

In warmer climates, however, chardonnay wines are often aged in oak for some time where they can undergo a special fermentation process called malolactic fermentation, where much of the wines inherent acidity is softened and flavours of creamy butter, oak, and vanilla are often added to the wines fruit flavours of papaya, mango, pineapple, and yellow peach or apple.

Here, they also typically taste decidedly more full-bodied and softer in their levels of acidity, making them rich in taste, colour, and aroma.

When looking to determine how a particular bottle of chardonnay tastes it is incredibly important to consider the geographical conditions in which the grapes used were cultivated, as this is perhaps the best indicator of how the wine will taste.

Outside of this, it is often the case that special regional variations will adhere to a particular pattern or style.

This is best exemplified in the famous Chablis regional denomination that is produced exclusively in the northern area of Burgundy, where a very dry, crisp, and decidedly less fruit-forward and unoaked style of chardonnay is produced.

Depending upon the style of wine you’re looking for it is possible to find many variations of chardonnay produced the world over that can fit to your taste preferences.

Chardonnay in France

Chardonnay grapes have been cultivated throughout many of France’s wine-producing regions for centuries, where it often appears under special regional denominations.

By far the most important region to look at when considering French chardonnay is Burgundy, as this region is the spiritual home of the grape varietal globally.

Whilst it is possible to find the varietal grown in more moderate climates, such as the Languedoc region near the Mediterranenan coast in the south of the country, the most famous examples originate in cooler climate Burgundy, making it vital to start here when beginning your French chardonnay tasting journey.

Burgundy Chardonnay

Alongside pinot noir, chardonnay is the most important grape varietal grown throughout many of the famous subregions of Burgundy, where it is known locally as “Bourgogne Blanc”.

Burgundy Wine Region Map

When looking at a particular bottle of Burgundy wine, red or white, always consider the label and the names used, as this will tell you more about where the wine has come from, some of the flavours you can expect, and its level of quality.

It is within the area’s famously cooler climate areas, particularly Chablis, where the best examples of lean, crisp, dry, light to medium bodied, and moderately acidic chardonnay originate.

That being said, it is possible to find richer and sometimes oaked styles of chardonnay being produced in some of the area’s other, slightly warmer, subregions, including Côte de Beaune, making Burgundy quite diverse in its offerings.

Those wines labelled with Grand Cru use grapes coming from only the best and most select vineyards in the area, Premier Cru represents one step down from Grand Cru, though they are almost the same, Village Wines utilise grapes coming from one of the particular villages of the region, and finally, Regional Wines use a blend of grapes coming from right throughout the area, typically seen as the entry level for Burgundy wines.

Whether you’re seeking a dry, lean, and crisp style of French chardonnay or a richer, and more fruitier version, Burgundy offers you almost everything you could need, making it perhaps the best place to begin your chardonnay journey.

To explore more into this incredibly famous wine-producing region, visit this website here, which details more about the history and wineries of this area.

Chardonnay in America

Though chardonnay grapes were first planted in vineyards on the west coast of America during the early 20th century, it wasn’t until the latter half of that century that the varietal really took off.

During the “Judgement of Paris” wine awards in 1976, a bottle of 1973 French chardonnay won against a swathe of other local and international wines in a blind tasting competition, sky-rocketing the grape varietals popularity almost overnight.

For more on this story and the history of the grape in America, consider this article here.

Following this, American winemakers, particularly those in California, began cultivating chardonnay grapes in greater amounts, with many simultaneously importing large quantities of French oak barrels to age their products prior to bottling.

Today, winemakers in two of the most important wine-producing regions of America, the Sonoma County and the Napa Valley, both produce oaked and unoaked styles of chardonnay, making it possible to find an American chardonnay to suit your taste buds.

Californian Chardonnay

The Sonoma County and Napa Valley wine-producing regions, both located on the west coast of America in the state of California, produce the most popular and widely exported examples of American chardonnay found today.

When considering these two regions, which are located side-by-side just above the city of San Francisco, it is important to remember that Sonoma County, which borders the Pacific Ocean to the West, is known for possessing a moderate climate, courtesy of the cooling seaside influence.

The Napa Valley region, however, is considered more of a warmer climate region as it is situated further inland and benefits less from the maritime influence, which is particularly the case in the northernmost areas of the region.

The climates of these two regions are important as it helps us in determining the styles of chardonnay typically produced by winemakers from these two neighbouring but distinct wine-making areas.

Sonoma County Wine Region Map

Those originating in Sonoma County are often considered to be more crisp and light to medium bodied in their overall character, with many left unaged or minimally so, so as to preserve the crisp and fresh fruit flavours of apple and citrus and moderate amounts of acidity.

Napa Valley Wine Region Map

When looking at those examples of chardonnay coming from the Napa Valley region, however, it is often the case that these wines will contain softer amounts of acidity and riper fruit flavours of pineapple, mango, and papaya alongside stronger oak-influenced flavours of creamy butter, vanilla, and toasted hazelnut.

To discover more about these two wine-producing regions in America we suggest reviewing both of these websites, which offer additional insights into the styles of wine produced in both regions.

Chardonnay in Australia

The chardonnay grape varietal began life in Australia around the same time that many other varietals did in the early 19th century, having been brought to the country thanks to the work of famous viticulturist James Busby.

Whilst it wasn’t until the 1970s that the grape varietal really took off in the local market, it has always held a place in many of the best vineyards around the country thanks to its strong ability to grow in a range of warm or cool climates and other geographical conditions.

The two regions that ought to be considered when exploring the grape varietal in Australia include the Margaret River region in Western Australia and the Adelaide Hills region in South Australia, which together combine to showcase the best examples of warm and cool climate Australian chardonnay.

Adelaide Hills Chardonnay

The Adelaide Hills wine-producing region is a hilly area located to the east of the major city of Adelaide in the state of South Australia. The region is as famous for producing exemplary bottles of pinot noir as it is for chardonnay, much like the Burgundy region in France.

Adelaide Hills Wine Region Map

As the region possesses a typically cooler climate, the winemakers from this area often produce a lighter and more medium-bodied style of chardonnay that is known for its crisp fruit character and moderately high levels of acidity.

Common flavours include crisp white peach, white melon and citrus and only minimal amounts of oak influence.

To learn more about the Adelaide Hills wine region, including some of the other prominent grape varietals found there, visit this site, which offers more information on the region.

Margaret River Chardonnay

The Margaret River region, located towards the southern tip of the state of Western Australia, possesses a highly unique set of climate conditions that means it is quite Mediterranean in its style.

Whilst it is considered a moderately cool region, with warm days buttressed by cool sea breezes and evenings, the examples of chardonnay produced there are known for being typically more fruit-forward and richer in style than those produced in definitively more cooler regions, such as the Adelaide Hills.

Margaret River Wine Region Map

With this in mind, the examples coming out of this area tend to be softer in their levels of acidity and more intense in their body, typically sitting around the medium to full bodied mark.

They also tend to lean towards flavours of yellow peach and apple alongside pear, pineapple and subtle mango, as well as stronger amounts of oak influencing, which imparts layers of butter, spice, and roasted hazelnut flavour.

These attributes mean that the examples coming out of the Margaret River region are ideally for those who prefer a richer style of chardonnay that has stronger amounts of oak influencing, though unoaked examples can still be found in abundance.

This site here offers you the chance to explore some of the key producers out of the region, including how to find them.

Pairing Food with Chardonnay

Due to its incredibly varied flavour profile depending upon where and how it is produced, there are many types of food that can be paired with chardonnay, as there will almost always be a bottle to suit your taste and preferences.

Pairing Food with Chardonnay

The fresher, more acidic, and typically unoaked or lightly oaked examples coming out of cooler climates, such as in Chablis, will often pair best with many types of fresh seafood dishes, particularly oysters or lightly cooked salmon.

Slightly more medium-bodied expressions, however, can match well with roast chicken, especially those coated in herbs or mild spices.

The far richer, heavily fruit-forward, and oaked examples coming out of warmer climates, such as those from the Napa Valley, are often best served alongside grilled meats loaded with spices or herbs, heavier seafood dishes, again those coated in spices or herbs, and finally, creamy blue cheeses or other strongly flavoured cheeses.

There's a bottle of chardonnay out there for everyone. Here are some of the brands and bottles that we recommend you look out for the next time you're browsing online or in-store.

Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay 2017 Tasting Notes
Butter, pineapple, & mango flavours abound in this wine ideally for those after a subtly sweet & gift-worthy white.

Kendall-Jackson Vinter's Reserve

2017 Californian Chardonnay
Domaine Astruc Chardonnay Réserve Chardonnay 2018 Tasting Notes
A great first step towards oaked chardonnay, this wine is buttery & smooth, with enough crisp acidity to make it refreshing.

Domaines Astruc Réserve

2018 Languedoc-Roussillon Chardonnay
Chapel Hill Chardonnay 2020 Tasting Notes
A perfect example of dry, crisp, & unoaked Chardonnay, this wine is vegan friendly & has flavours of citrus & melon.

Chapel Hill

2020 McLaren Vale Chardonnay
Simonnet-Febvre 2018 Petit Chablis Tasting Notes
An ideal introduction to unoaked chardonnay, this wine is crisp, strong in white fruit flavours, & great with seafood.


2018 Petit Chablis
Elephant In The Room Jumbo Chardonnay 2019 Tasting Notes
With moderate amounts of acidity & flavours of refreshing citrus & subtly creamy butter, this is a smooth & very approachable wine.

Elephant In The Room Jumbo Chardonnay

2019 Limestone Coast Chardonnay

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