The Chardonnay grape is like an aging pop star. It once reveled in the glory of white wine spotlight, but, in an era where the more “common” wine palate is becoming more distinguished (thanks to unique inventive wine making styles and education), its appeal may be fading. The varietal is now upstaged by better (and more widely available) Sauvignon Blancs, Rieslings, Rousannes, Viogniers and Pinot Blancs. Its popularity backslide notwithstanding, the Chardonnay still remains one of the most versatile of wines, on occasion oaky and bursting with malolactic creaminess, other times robust in rolling fruit flavors.
In the annals of wine history, Chardonnay hails from the Burgundy region in east-central France (as does the Pinot Noir), where it predominantly factors into such Chablis blends. It is the most widely planted white varietal in the world.
History: The origins of its heritage remain largely obscure. Many contend that the grape originated in the levant, and was brought to Europe during the various crusades, but there is no proof of that. UC Davis fingerprinting avers that its parentage is of Croatian ancestry, and that the Chardonnay resulted in a cross breeding of Pinot Blanc and Gouais Blanc grapes, shepherded by the ancient Romans. As did most of the famous varietals, it was brought to the United States, where it eventually flourished closer to California’s and Oregon’s coasts. Chardonnay was one of the varietals that made California an ascending, then dominant, winemaking force in the 1970s during the famous Judgment of Paris.
Climate/Terroir: Chardonnay favors a cooler coastal climate (Sonoma County and Livermore, for starters). Some chardonnay thrives in the upper Sierra Foothills.
Flavor Profile: Chardonnay is a bit of a shape-shifter, and can assume anything from an large, fruity, buttery oak bomb to a sleek, think stainless steel-aged wine with more emphasis on caramel, smoke, cream and spice.
Get Local: 2011 Heartfelt Russian River Chardonnay – Available at Treasure Island Wines on Treasure Island.