Chardonnay is a green-skinned variety of grape that is used to make white wine. This variety of grape can be grown wherever wine is produced from California to New Zealand. The Chardonnay grape is quite a neutral grape. The time of harvesting is crucial because as the grape ripens it rapidly loses it’s acidity. For creating sparkling wine the grapes need to be harvested early and while slightly unripe so they maintain the acid levels. Because low acid levels can be a concern winemakers can add tartaric acid in a process known as acidification. Sparkling Chardonnay wines tend to have a more floral and steely flavor while still young. As the wine ages the wine will develop more “toasty” notes. Since Chardonnay grapes usually have little trouble developing sugar content it limits the time needed for chaptalization. Chaptalization is when the winemaker adds sugar to un-fermented grapes in order to increase the alcohol content after fermentation.
This gives it a wide berth to be used in many styles of wine making. Chardonnay can be used to make dry still wines, sparkling wines, sweet late harvest wines and more! There are two wine making decisions that most widely affect the end result of a Chardonnay wine. Whether or not to use malolactic fermentation(MLF) and the degree of oak influence used for the wine. With MLF the harder malic acid gets converted into softer lactic acid. This creates the “butteryness” that is associated with some styles of Chardonnay wines. When MLF is not used the Chardonnay wine will have a more green apple like flavor. Oak can be used during fermentation if desired to give it toastiness and flavors that are associated with using oak such as caramel, smoke, spice, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla. The other wine making decisions that have a significant effect on the outcome of Chardonnay wines include the temperature of fermentation and how long it is left to ferment.
Chardonnay wine can have a wide varitey of flavors. Some can be semi-sweet while others can be sour, some can be heady while others are quite light. The typical flavors of a Chardonnay wine are apple, tangerine, lemon, lime, melon, and oak. Due to it’s wide range of styles and flavors, Chardonnay can be paired with a diverse spectrum of foods. Most commonly Chardonnay wines are paired with roasted chicken or other white meats. Chardonnays that have a heavy oak influence are better suited to smoked fish, Asian cuisine or garlic based dips. Older Chardonnays which are more mellow are quite delicious when enjoyed with food such as mushroom soups and aged cheese. Chardonnays from Washington, which usually have a higher acidity level and tend to go well with tomato or sweet onion based dishes.