Chardonnay Styles

In my experience selling wine, Chardonnay is one of those varietals that drinkers either love or hate.  Those who love it will then be a Chardonnay drinker for life and often find one brand they love and hold on to it tightly.

Conversely, some drinkers try one glass, decide that Chardonnay is not for them, and never look back.  Little do they know that there are two faces to Chardonnay.  You should try both ends of the spectrum before you give up completely!

Greig told us in this profile on Chardonnay that it has one of the widest ranging tasting and aromatic profiles of any grape variety. But is it necessary to try hundreds or even thousands of Chardonnay’s before you find “the one?”  No! (Although it’s a lot of fun). Just ask yourself the questions below to find your style.

Chardonnay StylesAre you Oaky?

Mouthfeel

  • Do I like a wine that’s full bodied, thick, or of a creamy texture? (Think whole milk or heavy cream)

Fruit flavors

  • Do you want subtle fruit flavors of apple and pear?

Complexities

  • Do you enjoy loads of vanilla, coconut, or even a bit of clove and toast?

Butter

  • Do I like movie theater butter on my popcorn?

Acidity

  • Do I like lower acidity, as in not too much bite?

If you answered yes to all, or the majority of these questions, your drinking style is likely to be an Oaked Chardonnay that has gone through secondary fermentation.  California celebrates this winemaking style. Some of the most prestigious Chardonnay’s have been coming from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma, or Carneros in Napa Valley. These types of Chard’s are often aged in New American Oak barrels.  It’s in these barrels that the butter, toast and vanilla flavors from the wood begin to escape into the wine. Secondary malolactic fermentation enhances the creamy texture and buttery flavor while cutting out some of the natural acidity of the juice. These wines often have a long finish.

Chardonnay styles

The Chablis growing region within Burgundy, France towards the end of the summer season.

Or are you not Oaky?

Mouthfeel

  • I like Light to Medium bodied wine with a subtle creaminess (think skim milk).

Fruit Flavor

  • I like bursts of green apple, lemon, pineapple, guava, or even banana.

Complexities

  • I like floral notes and cold limestone minerals.

Acidity 

  • I like elevated acidity, creating a crisp finish.

If this is more your style, you’ll love an “un-oaked” or more sparingly oaked Chardonnay.  Preferably from a cooler climate, grown in rocky, mineral laden soil. Many argue the best Chardonnay’s crafted this way are from Burgundy.  Wines here are often aged in neutral oak, stainless steel and or concrete.

Try a Pouilly-Fuissé.  Or, for a similar style done in the New World – the Eve Chardonnay by Charles Smith from Washington State.

The wine may still go through secondary fermentation, giving it an edge of creaminess, but the buttery texture will not be as prevalent. You will be able to taste more of the fruit forwardness and acidity from the Chardonnay grape.  Ripeness also greatly affects flavor.

I Can’t Decide!!

What if you fall somewhere in between the two styles? There is a perfect Chardonnay for you too!

Luckily, we can blend grape juice that’s been fermented in different ways.  Winemakers may take 50% New Oak aged juice and mix it with 50% stainless steel aged juice to create a well balanced Chard with mild hints of oak and medium acidity.  (Try the 2013 River Road Russian River Valley Reserve for under $15, Total Wine has it).

It’s even common to blend 20% malolactic fermented juice with 50% ‘malo’ to achieve a very precise texture. The possibilities are endless!

Chardonnay stylesFinding Your Perfect Chardonnay Style

By now, hopefully you have a better idea of your preferred Chardonnay style.  So how to shop for the perfect bottle? Unfortunately it’s unlikely the label will give away all the winemaking secrets.  My advice?  Start with the region that is known to make the kind of Chardonnay you are looking for.

California is experimenting widely with oak aging.  If that’s your thing, try the Russian River Valley or Central Coast.  Un-oaked Chardonnay can also be found throughout Cali, but you’ll have a better chance in Chablis, Burgundy, France.

I hope there is a little Chardonnay drinker inside of all of you. Cheers!

Images courtesy Temecula Wines, Forbes, Wine-Searcher and Wine Folly.

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