Chardonnay is one of the most common wines in the world. A famous white wine which traces its origins in the Burgundy Region of France, this wine is grown all over the world and is known for its widespread appeal. Most notably, Chardonnay is known for having a buttery taste to it.
This buttery taste is mostly confined to Chardonnay aged in oak barrels and comes from various chemical reactions which occur during the aging process. The aging process produces chemicals such as lactic acid and diacetyl which help contribute a buttery, full, soft flavor which distinguishes this wine.
The Chardonnay Grape
The chardonnay variety is a green skinned grape. It is fruit forward and has its origins in the east-central part of France, in the Burgundy Region, which has a relatively cool climate by French standards. Chardonnay gets its name from a village of the same name which exists in the region from which it originates. For several centuries, there was controversy over the origins of the chardonnay grape, with people believing it was related to various other types of grape. Some people even believed the grape originated outside of France.
However, modern research suggests the grape traces its origins to the Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc grapes, with both parent grapes have a long history in France. The grape is relatively low maintenance, which has contributed to its worldwide popularity. In fact, it is so low maintenance that densely planted plants can end up growing too much, reducing the overall quality of the wine given the limited resources within a specific patch of land.
Chardonnay will lose acidity quickly after ripening, so it must be harvested appropriately. The grape thrives the most in soils which contain chalk and limestone. It is grown all over the world and is easily one of the most popularly grown white wine grapes.
It is grown in regions such as the United States, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, and Italy. However, the largest presence of Chardonnay grapes is in France, Australia, California, and Oregon. It is particularly well-grown in warmer areas of the world, although its capable of being grown in most types of climates.
General Characteristics of Chardonnay Wine
Chardonnay is known as a full-bodied wine, compared to other white wines. It has a relatively neutral taste, compared to other wines, and is usually made as a moderately dry wine. Chardonnay typically is low in tannin. Like many white wines, Chardonnay is best served slightly chilled.
Generally speaking, chardonnay is higher in alcohol content and medium in acidity. Chardonnay can exist in several different forms, to include a sparkling wine. In fact, most champagne blends include chardonnay as one of the main grapes. Chardonnay grapes grown in cooler climates are higher in acidity, more restrained, and crisper. They tend to have flavors such as pear and citrus. On the other hand, chardonnay grown in warmer climates are much bolder, and include tropical notes.
Chardonnay is one of the most common wines to make sparkling wines out of. This involves a slightly different method of production compared to normal Chardonnay. When Chardonnay is cultivated for sparkling wine, it is picked earlier and then fermented a second time within a sealed container.
The CO2 produced during fermentation has nowhere to escape and will thus dissolve into the wine, giving it its “fizz”. The wine is then aged with its yeast lees to add flavor. As previously mentioned, Champagne very often includes Chardonnay. Other sparkling wines, such as Cremant, Franciacorta, and Trento, also include Chardonnay. The versatility of Chardonnay is perhaps what best lends itself to being used as an ingredient in various sparkling blends.
Fruit Notes of Chardonnay
Chardonnay has a number of fruit notes, to include lemon or grapefruit. For grapes grown in warmer climates, flavors such as melon and peach are discernible, while for grapes grown in colder climates, citrus and apple can be tasted. Chardonnay notably brings forth different notes depending on the environment in which it is grown.
Chardonnay pairs well with various types of seafood as well as heavier foods. Lobster, crab, poultry, butter heavy foods, and pork all go well with chardonnay. Soft cheeses and fish go well with chardonnay as well.
The Neutrality of Chardonnay
Most notably, Chardonnay is a relatively neutral wine. It can be difficult to definitively identify its taste during wine tasting competitions, due to its ability to evade obvious notes. At first glance, it may seem like a neutral taste would cause people to dislike Chardonnay – some people may assume that a “neutral” taste is too bland for most people’s palettes.
However, to the contrary, this is in fact a big reason why many wine aficionados love chardonnay, as its neutral base flavor allows winemakers to add various notes and flavors through varying methods of cultivation and production. The grape is known to be very “malleable”, and able to shift its qualities based off the efforts of the winemaker.
Careful selection of soil, environmental conditions, water, cultivation methods, timing of harvesting can enable winemakers to dial in various unique and distinct types of Chardonnay wine which can be readily distinguishable from each other. The ability of Chardonnay to adapt its flavors based off the growth conditions and terrior has made it a favorite of many winemakers around the world.
Why is Chardonnay Buttery?
Not all Chardonnays are “Buttery”, per se. The buttery flavor comes from a specific way of preparing the wine which is not a part of all chardonnays. There are two major types of chardonnay – those that are stored and aged in oak containers, compared to those that are stored in other types of containers such as stainless steel or clay. Chardonnay which is stored in more inert containers tends to bring forth flavors which are minerally and lean.
On the other hand, chardonnay aged in oak is an entirely different wine. When aged in oak, more oxygen is introduced to the wine. In addition, various bacteria turn the malic acid present in the wine into lactic acid. Malic acid is found in apples, while lactic acid is found in many milk products, which explains the shift in taste caused by this process. This lactic acid gives a round soft feeling to the wine, which many people describe as a buttery flavor. Oak aged Chardonnays also produce diacetyl, which is an organic flavor which provides a very “buttery” flavor.
Aside from the lactic acid, oak barrels also add various other aromas, to include cinnamon, coconut, butter, caramel, and vanilla. Other flavors such as hazelnut and baked apple also are common in oak aged chardonnays. The effects of the oak are more pronounced with smaller, newer oak barrels.
Chardonnay is one of the most widely grown and consumed white wines in the world. The green Chardonnay grape, which originates from France, is known for being very easy to grow, which has contributed to its popularity across the entire world.
Moderately dry and full bodied, the Chardonnay is most widely known for being neutral in taste, which allows winemakers to add various notes and flavors to it, like paint to a blank canvas. One of the better known flavors which can be added to Chardonnay is a “buttery” taste.
This buttery flavor exists when the malic acid in the wine is transformed into lactic acid through the work of bacteria. The production of diacetyl also aids in giving the buttery taste to Chardonnay. Although not all Chardonnays have this buttery flavor, proper techniques can help bring about this unique flavor and add to an amazing wine tasting experience.