Chardonnay | white grape variety | Burgundy

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Chardonnay grape variety
Wine glossary

Reviewed By

Sue Dyson and Roger McShane
Country: France

Chardonnay is a great grape variety that has a lot of good things done with it and also has a lot of really bad things done.
It is widely respected as the grape that the great whites of Burgundy are made with (although we won’t hear a bad word about Aligoté, the other common white variety of Burgundy that is currently being rehabilitated by ardent fans).
In Burgundian terroirs such as Meursault and Corton-Charlemagne, Chardonnay reaches its ultimate expression. It also produces great wines in Chablis and Champagne to the north.
However it is also one of the most widely planted varieties being found on the West Coast of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Spain and the Middle East.
The grape is thought to be a cross of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc - a grape variety introduced to France by the Romans.
It is a green skinned variety that is quite responsive to terroir and hence produces different styles of wine in areas that can be quite close to each other. For example the difference between the Chardonnays produced on the Cote d’Or and then in Vézelay to the north and then Chablis a bit further north again are quite pronounced.
Chardonnay also takes on wood flavours quite strongly. It has therefore become de-rigeur among many winemakers to age Chardonnay in new oak and to encourage malolactic fermentation. This produces a sweet, creamy, buttery wine that became very fashionable in the eighties and nineties, but the inevitable swing of the pendulum has occurred and consumers are looking for wines that express the grape differently.
Many winemakers now prefer leaner, livelier expressions where no new oak is used but rather barrels which are from three to ten years old. This allows the wine to breath but does not impart the dominant vanilla flavours of new oak. Some prefer to use concrete tanks to help the breathing and the influx of small amounts of oxygen.
Some of the most interesting Chardonnay we drink is from the Jura. Here the vines grow in different soil (marl) to those in nearby Burgundy and the grape is smaller. Some producers, such as Philippe Bornard, believe that some Chardonnay vines have undergone genetic transformation to a new variety which they call Melon (not to be confused with Melon de Bourgogne). Philippe produces a wine where he clearly identifies the grape as Melon and the name of the cuvée as le Rouge-Queue referring to the red stem.
 
     
     
     


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