If you like white wine, there is a Chardonnay made for you. Chardonnay is the most-planted white wine grape in the world, and it is an international favorite for a reason: above all, for its ability to please almost anyone.
Much of the Chardonnay you’ll find on a typical retail shelf will have a common style: rich and buttery with vanilla notes (from oak). It’s a popular profile, and if that’s what you prefer, great – you’re already on your way to knowing what you like. However, it’s only one of the many faces of Chardonnay. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that there are many other styles to explore. In fact, Chardonnay can be oaky and buttery just as easily as it is fruit-forward and full-bodied, lean and mineral, and anywhere in between.
What Makes One Chardonnay Different from Another?
The differences lie in where the wine is made and the winemaker’s production style, which is often contingent on the region’s traditional expectations and/or the appellation rules.
Because Chardonnay is not very sensitive to temperatures, it is grown all over the world. And while it certainly reflects terroir, the grape’s versatility gives winemakers the ability to flex their vinification muscles. It can be harvested earlier or later in the season, takes well to oak but also stainless steel, can be sparkling or still, can undergo malolactic fermentation or not…without getting too technical, Chardonnay is a gymnast who can do all sorts of flips and still land on her feet. This trait is one reason why Chardonnay has earned a spot in the ranks of “noble grapes,” an unofficial list of grapes that please many palates, can be grown worldwide, and show high quality results, among other qualifications.
Which Chardonnay Is Right for Me?
With so many options out there, knowing which Chardonnay is to your taste can be hard to determine. Below are a few of the most classic ways that Chardonnay is made around the world. Find the taste profile you know you’ll like or go ahead and try them all for some fun wine education.
Classically oaked, balanced, and full-bodied: Napa Valley Chardonnay Cakebread. For your California Chardonnay, look no further than Cakebread, a standard-bearer of high-quality Chardonnay in Napa Valley. This full wine is beautifully balanced with creamy fruit flavors like golden apple and pear and a backbone of minerality and acidity that keeps it fresh.
Do you like soft, round, and buttery Chardonnay? St. Francis Sonoma County Chardonnay. Another great Californian choice from Sonoma County, this Chardonnay fits the bill if you are a fan of that smooth, buttery mouthfeel and flavor, especially if you’re pairing it with a nice, fatty fish like salmon or crab. This doesn’t bomb you with butter, though—crisp acidity keeps this medium-bodied Chardonnay fresh.
Classic Burgundy Chardonnay: Louis Jadot Chardonnay Bourgogne. Burgundy is the original home of Chardonnay, where it is traditionally oaked. Did you know that more Chardonnay wine is made in this famous French region than Pinot Noir? Try this classic blend of Chardonnay grapes from Mâconnais and Côte Chalonnaise and taste the light, fruity flavors, stony minerality, and full body that make Burgundy wines famous.
Rich, complex, and one of the most famous white Burgundy wines: Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuissé. The finest white wines of southern Burgundy’s Mâconnais region are called Pouilly-Fuissé. These wines are aged in oaken barrels that have themselves been aged for several years, thus making the influence of oak on the wine much more subtle. Complex, elegant, vibrant, and fresh.
Full-bodied Old World style without the oak: Tenuta di Nozzole Le Bruniche Chardonnay Toscana IGT. The Tuscan winery Tenuta di Nozzole maintains a medium- to full-bodied Chardonnay with lovely exotic fruit notes and a flavor of Chardonnay that really shines through due to the lack of any oak at all. See if you can taste the classic Chardonnay flavors of green apple and white peach.
Fruity, generous, and delightful: Montes Alpha Chardonnay. Chardonnay from Chile has been consistently growing in quality and interest from international wine drinkers. Montes Alpha has a lot of tropical fruit flavors like pineapple and mango, and the coastal climate gives fresh acidic and subtle vegetal notes that invite another glass.
Chablis-style with minerality and bright fruitiness: Craggy Range Kidnappers Vineyard Chardonnay. New Zealand might be making waves with its Sauvignon Blanc, but don’t overlook its Chardonnay, where it is often complex and fruity balanced with subtle oak. This one from Craggy Range has delicious notes of lemon zest and almond with great minerality and a coastal acidity and freshness.