This guide covers Chardonnay tasting notes, characteristics and food pairings and is part of our wine guide series. Become educated about wine grape varieties like Chardonnay and what makes them so great.
What is Chardonnay Wine?
Chardonnay is a white wine grape variety native to Burgundy, France. It’s currently the most popular white wine grape varietal in the world and can have a diverse flavor profile depending where it’s grown and if oak is used during the aging process.
What Does Chardonnay Wine Taste Like?
There’s no simple answer to this question. Chardonnay has one of the widest ranging tasting and aromatic profiles of any grape variety – both red and white. That’s because the taste of Chardonnay is heavily influenced by the climate and terroir it’s grown in, ripeness at harvest and methods of aging. In general, Chardonnay is known to be a relatively dry, medium-bodied white wine emanating fresh, crisp notes of pear, guava, lemon-peel and apple.
Now, if you were to add some oak to the aging process, the above flavors shift dramatically – giving off strong hints of butter, vanilla, English pudding and pineapple. Most wine enthusiasts will lean one way or the other with Chardonnay – oak or no oak. Let’s take a look at the subtleties that affect the way Chardonnay will taste.
Climate and Terroir for Chardonnay
One of the signature Old World Chardonnay wine growing regions is Chablis, France. Climates similar to that of Chablis are predominantly cool, thus giving Chardonnay wine a distinctly leaner feel. These lighter-bodied chards are often accompanied by notes of pear, green apple, melon and subtle apricot.
Contrastingly, Chardonnay grown in warmer regions around the world, such as the New World region of California’s Central Coast AVA, tend to emit brighter tropical fruit notes – along the lines of guava, peach, pineapple and banana.
Chardonnay grape vines tend to do excessively well in limestone, chalky mineral-esque soil. This soil composition is quite prevalent in Chardonnay’s homeland – Eastern France.
I’ve always liked wines that do well in limestone, since limestone is primarily the remains of sea-life, accumulated over millennia where ancient seas used to reside. You’re literally sampling Earth’s history with every sip.
While Chardonnay does best in chalky and clay soils, it’s also known to be an extremely versatile grape. In that it can adapt to most soil and climate types when given the right amount of attention during the growing season.
Ripeness of the Chardonnay Grape
Time of harvest is heavily influenced by the climate Chardonnay is grown in. In the Central Coast of California, where the weather is predominantly warm, Chardonnay grapes are often allowed to ripen fully, giving them their distinct tropical fruit flavor and lighter acidity. As soon as Chardonnay grapes are ripe, they begin to lose their acidity at a rapid rate. Vintners in these warmer regions must time their harvests appropriately depending what style of wine they’re looking to produce.
How is Chardonnay Aged?
In many old world regions, especially in France, Chardonnay is typically aged with little to no oak present during the aging process. Conversely in many new world regions, especially in Central and Northern California, oak is used extensively to bring about more buttery, vanilla and custard-esque flavors.
Tasting Profile of Chardonnay
Common Flavors and Aromas
- Fruit: Varied (Tree Fruit, Citrus Fruit, Tropical Fruit — depending on climate) Dragonfruit, Pear, Green Apple, Lemon-Peel, Orange, Melon, Pineapple, Banana, Grapefruit
- Earth & Mineral Notes: Limestone, Chalk
- Additional Complexities: Spring Flowers, Hazelnut, Honey, Tea leaf, Vanilla, Thyme, Almond
- Oak Aged Chardonnay: Butter, Vanilla, Spice, Smoke, Rounded Fruit, Toast, Creme Brulee
- Body: Light-Medium to Full
- Sugar: Medium-Dry to Dry
- Tannins: Light
- Acid: Varied (Medium-Low to High)
- Alcohol: Medium-High (12.5%-14.5% ABV)
- Finish: Medium-Long, Fruit-Forward, Refreshing Acid
- Soil: Clay, Limestone, Chalk
- Climate: Varied & Adaptable (Hot – Cool)
- Notable Regions: Burgundy, France | Chablis, France | Central Coast, California | Russian River Valley, California | Alexander Valley, California | Champagne, France | Riverland, Australia | Victoria, Australia | Washington State, USA
Best Food Pairings for Chardonnay Wines
Chardonnay wines typically pair very well with most white fish dishes. Depending on whether its been aged in oak or not, it can do well with a wide range of pastas — especially penne a la vodka or pastas with alfredo or other white cream based sauces. Butternut squash risotto is always a hit. It also works incredibly well with most white meat dishes cooked with lemon or honey — especially chicken.