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What Does Chardonnay Taste Like? Unraveling Chardonnay

Chardonnay is the most famous white grape in the world. It is a relatively neutral grape but people’s opinion of it is anything but! There are two types of people; Chardonnay lovers and Chardonnay haters. I can’t think of any other grape that had a whole movement against it called ABC, Anything But Chardonnay. It’s really not the grape’s fault. So what does Chardonnay taste like to invoke such strong opinions? Well, it depends.

Because the Chardonnay grape is so adaptable, it fully embraces whatever the winemaker does to it in the winery. What does Chardonnay taste like to make it so divisive? Very oaky buttery California styles of Chardonnay dominated the market throughout the 90’s and 00’s. A lot of it was bad. It can taste like burnt popcorn, plywood, and canned peas in the wrong hands. This turned people off to anything and everything to do with Chardonnay. What does Chardonnay taste like to you? Leave me a comment and let me know.

Chardonnay sign
Chardonnay vineyards are all over the world.

Thankfully, that over the top oak-bomb trend has toned itself down and people are coming back to Chardonnay. The key to becoming a Chardonnay lover is to find the style that you like. The styles are so diverse, there really is something for everyone; this grape can do anything! 

Origin Story

Chardonnay as we know it, hails from Burgundy in the northeast of France. How it got there exactly is up for debate. Chardonnay might be a cross between Pinot Noir and the Croatian grape Gounais Blanc. According to legend, it was King Charlemagne’s wife that demanded that a white grape be planted in their vineyards in Burgundy. Apparently, King Charlemagne was a bit of a slob. Red wine would stain his beard so his wife thought a white wine would be less embarassing. Any bottle of white labeled Burgundy or Bourgogne is Chardonnay. The word Chardonnay comes from the French word chard meaning thistle. (This has nothing to do with the wine but I thought that was interesting.)

Vineyards of Chablis
Vineyards in Chablis

Best regions

Chardonnay grows in a wide range of regions throughout the world. What does Chardonnay taste like from different regions? Check out the differences below:

  • Burgundy (north to south)
    • Chablis
      • Unoaked and the cold climate retains crisp acidity
    • Cote de Beaune
      • Oaked
      • Full bodied and luscious
      • Most prized Chardonnays in France and therefore the most expensive
    • Maconnais
      • Ripe, plush fruit 
      • Good values
  • Champagne
    • The sole white grape in Champagne
    • Blanc de Blanc is exclusively Chardonnay
  • California
  • New Zealand
    • Burgundy styles at half the price
  • Australia
    • Cooler areas make the best Chardonnay
    • Great balance of oak
    • Good values
what does chardonnay taste like
What does Chardonnay taste like?

Eyes– What does Chardonnay look like?

Chardonnay is a greenish yellow grape. The bunches are small and tightly clustered. Chardonnay is early budding and early ripening which is why it does well in cooler climates with shorter growing seasons. In the glass, unoaked Chardonnay will have a pale straw color. Gold accents will be present in oaked Chardonnay wines. 

Nose– What does Chardonnay smell like?

On its own, Chardonnay smells of lemons, green apples, and tropical fruit. Oaked versions will easily pick up the smells from the barrel like vanilla and baking spices. If the wine has gone through malolactic fermentation, then smells of butter and cream will emerge. Burgundian Chards have mineral characteristics like chalk and seashells.

Mouth– What does Chardonnay taste like?

Chardonnay doesn’t shout in any direction. Medium acid, medium body, medium alcohol. Stainless steel Chardonnays taste like apples, lemons, and depending on the soil, can taste minerally. Full bodied styles of Chardonnay come from MLF and oak barrels and can taste like buttered toast and apple pie.

Chardonnay and lobster
Chardonnay with lobster is *chef’s kiss*

Chardonnay Food Pairing

Chardonnay pairings are as diverse as its styles. Unoaked Chards go great with shellfish, sushi, and of course poultry. Barrel-aged Chardonnays with a buttery characteristic will go well with anything you would put butter on- think of it as an alcoholic condiment. For this reason the classic oaky Chardonnay pairing is lobster. The heavier the dish the more oak you’ll need.  

Glassware and serving tips

Serve Chardonnay cold, slightly less cold if it’s oak aged. Serve unoaked Chardonnay in a classic white wine glass. Oaked version will benefit from a wider bowl. Chardonnay does not need to be decanted. Consume unoaked Chardonnay within 3-5 years of harvest. Oaked Chardonnays can age up to 10 years. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Chardonnay

Does Chardonnay need to breathe?

All wines benefit from a little swirling but decanting a Chardonnay is not necessary.

What foods go with Chardonnay?

Unoaked Chardonnay is great with lighter dishes like salad with grilled chicken, delicates seafood flavors, and summer vegetables. Oaked Chardonnay is best with heavier dishes like lobster, halibut, salmon, roast pork, roasted chicken, and anything in a cream sauce.

What is a buttery Chardonnay?

A Chardonnay becomes buttery by going through a process called malolactic fermentation. This process converts malic acid into lactic acid. The byproduct is diacetyl which is also found in butter.

How many calories in Chardonnay?

Chardonnay doesn’t have any more calories than other white wines. A small glass (100ml) has 84 calories. A large glass (150ml) has 126. A bottle of Chardonnay has 630 calories.

What does Chardonnay taste like?
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