What is Chardonnay?


Let us guess, the first person you thought of when you saw the title of this article was your mom. If this is true, we have news for you: your mom is actually a cool mom, not a regular mom, because chardonnay is the most popular white wine drink. In fact, chardonnay is so popular, it is essentially synonymous with white wine. Here is what you need to know about this drink that you thought was boring because you associated it with your mom but is super popular for all the right reasons. 

The Basics  

Known as the winemaker’s grape variety because of its ability to grow in many climates (and therefore there are a ton of varietal forms), Chardonnay wine is made from green-skin grapes. These Chardonnay grapes give winemaker’s creative license, allowing them to create wines that range from light and elegant to full-bodied and buttery. Chardonnay’s alcohol levels can be higher than other wines, at around 14% but are balanced by its ripe fruity flavor. 

If you ever heard someone refer to their drink as buttery, it was probably because they were drinking butterbeer or chardonnay. But because this article's intent is on the latter, let’s assume they were drinking chardonnay. Chardonnay is typically full-bodied, fruity, creamy, and, as we mentioned, leaves a buttery texture in your mouth, due to the lactic acid.  

Chardonnay is made in a dry style, which essentially means that during fermentation, the winemaker allows the yeast to eat all of the sugar. Sometimes in winemaking, they allow for a little sugar to be left, so that it gives their product a hint of richness and sweetness. Although these wines do have residual sugar, they are still considered dry because it is still a relatively low amount.  

But don’t get too excited, just because chardonnay is low in sugar doesn’t mean it doesn’t have calories. A five ounce serving of chardonnay typically has 5 ounces and if you’ve had a particularly tough day and you accidentally drink the whole bottle, you’re looking at 625 calories. 

Why does it seem like everyone makes chardonnay?

Ironically, people seem to poo-poo on the idea of drinking chardonnay time and time again. Yet, here we are, enthusiastically drinking it all of the time. Part of the reason chardonnay has grown in popularity is that this white wine grape used for making chardonnay finally made its way to America after many years of only being in the Burgundy region of France. When the grape left its French roots behind and made itself at home in California, it became the most planted white variety grape, especially in places like Sonoma County. So, American wine drinkers fell in love with Chardonnay when it came to the new world. Plus, Chardonnay appeals to a wide audience, and now it's grown everywhere from Australia to Chile to South Africa. Kind of like Mister Rogers, everyone loves Mister Rogers.  

Chardonnay is also typically the favorite child of wine producers. Not only because winemakers know they are popular but also because it produces high yields, grows in a wide range of climates and can be made into high quality wine relatively easily, not to mention the versatility. 

What does chardonnay taste like? 

Describing Chardonnay isn’t super easy as the flavors are complex. It also really depends on what kind of chardonnay you’re drinking. Typically, it’s medium to full-bodied wine that’s dry. When aged in oak barrels, people are known to point out hints of vanilla. 

As we said, if you’ve ever heard someone refer to a wine they're drinking as buttery, there’s a very good chance that it was a chardonnay. There is actually a reason chardonnay can smell and taste like butter. The chemical that gives butter its flavor is diacetyl. Winemakers use a technique called ‘malolactic fermentation’ and diacetyl is a natural byproduct. So people are not being crazy when they note the buttery taste and sensation. 

Climate affects the fruit flavors a chardonnay will have. Warmer regions, such as California (hey, Napa Valley!) and New Zealand, tend to create more tropical fruit styles. Temperate wine regions, like southern Burgundy and New York, are commonly associated with stone fruit notes. Wines from warm climates and temperate regions are typically leeds acidic, fuller bodied and have higher alcohol. The Chardonnay vineyards in cooler climates, such as in Champagne, typically have green-apple aromas, due to the malic acid. Cool climate chardonnay typically is more acidic and has mineral character.  

Apparently, the more serious wine tasters can taste mineral descriptors, like chalk and wet stones. This is attributed to the vineyard’s soils. The Chardonnay that is most well known for its minerally are wines that come from Chablis. 

Oaked and unoaked chardonnay also affect the taste of wines. A crisp and bright wine typically is made in a stainless steel barrel to ferment and store wine before bottling. In doing so, the influence of oxygen is limited, therefore, retaining the wine’s fresh character. Full-bodied wines with secondary flavors of vanilla and spice are typically fermented and aged in oak, or fermented in stainless steel and aged in oak after to give you an oaked chardonnay.

How should I serve chardonnay and what food pairings go well with it? 

Ah, so we’ve convinced you to give Chardonnay a try, have we? First things first, Chardonnay, like most white wines, should be chilled. If you didn’t invite the Bev team over and, therefore, didn’t finish the bottle, make sure to put the cork back on the wine and stick it in the fridge. It should stay fresh for 2-4 days, but anything longer than that, the wine will start to oxidize and, therefore, be yucky to drink but okay for using to cook! Note: this is precisely why Bev's California Chardonnay is portioned and in cans. So you don’t even have to worry about this headache.  

Going back to Chardonnay, if you’re looking to pair it with food, good news, it’s a pretty versatile dry white wine and, therefore, pairs deliciously with a wide range of food styles. Because of its own butter flavor, chardonnay tastes delicious with buttery or creamy dishes.  

According to experts, the key is to match the wine’s weight with the food's weight. So, if you have medium-bodied wine, you can eat it with white meat and shellfish. Writing this article has prompted us to want to order Sugar Fish via Postmates on the company card and crack open a Chardonnay bottle or sip on our usual Bev Gris. Sounds delicious, right? 

The main part of pairing Chardonnay is matching the flavor intensities. If your Chardonnay is crisp and delicate, it will taste delicious with foods that have lighter preparations, like chicken with butter and herbs. Ripe, fruity Chardonnays are made for richer foods like pasta with a creamy sauce. If you’re going with an oaky wine, complement your Chardonnay with toasty flavors, like pastry crust, nuts or smoked foods.  

Because we already discussed what should be paired with Chardonnay here are a few tips on what not to pair with Chardonnay. Stay away from sipping on Chardonnay while eating super seasoned foods, or spicy foods. Chardonnay and bitter foods aren’t a good match because they will make the wine taste sour. Stick to a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc or a red wine like a Pinot Noir for these dishes, because of their higher acidity.