All chardonnays are not equal
By: Jessica Mizia, Living North
Have you ever felt overwhelmed while shopping for a bottle of chardonnay? Chardonnay has a reputation as a safe white wine to pick up last minute. But how do you really know which bottle of chardonnay is the sure thing?
Chardonnay is the chameleon of the grapes. It is easily persuaded to become
what the land and wine maker want it to be. So depending on what I am in the mood for, I start geographically.
Let’s begin with France, exploring the region of Burgundy. When you see
Chablis, Cote d’Or, Cote de Nuits, Cote de Beaune, Cote Chalonnaise,
Maconnais and Beaujolais, they all equal chardonnay.
Chablis is a town that grows fantastic chardonnay grapes. The winemakers
use neutral oak or stainless steel barrels, resulting in a more pronounced
lean fruit with smoky metallic flavors. It’s a perfect match if you want a clean wine without the high acid of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and if you’re accompanying it with fish or simple appetizers.
Now within the region of Maconnais, the villages Macon, St. Veran and Pouilly-Fuisse all produce chardonnay resulting in wonderful values, especially if you see Macon-Villages on the label. Stylistically the villages have well-rounded fruit, honey tones and an overall appeasing
wine. It is half the cost of the other Burgundian wine regions.
If you really are in the mood to treat yourself, shop for a Cote de Beaune in the towns Puligny-Montrachet, Aloxe-Corton, Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet. Here you will find a white wine that is worth sipping and
appreciating. The intoxicating aromas of honey, crème brulee, truffles and vanilla are sure to spark engaging conversations over the elegant wines.
Heading back over the pond, explore Willamette Valley, Oregon. It’s famous
for pinot noir but it also makes wonderful, rich, rounded chardonnay.
The wine is well-balanced and is always a good choice. A majority of the
vineyards are farmed organically, which is an added bonus. One to try is Bethel Heights Chardonnay.
California has many unique climate zones, resulting in a wide variety of
chardonnay. Northern California has the Mendocino, Lake County and Amador
wine regions. Napa Valley and Sonoma County have the ability to produce
jaw-dropping chardonnay. Pay attention to the location of the vineyard. The sun does not lie, and sometimes you can wind up with an over-ripe wine that is too high in alcohol.
The Napa Valley floor and the Russian River Valley produce decadent,
spicy wine loaded with ripe pears and apple pie.
Southern California has fabulous chardonnay. Here you have Paso Robles
(think “Sideways”), Edna Valley and Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valley.
A last tip while reading the wine label: French and Hungarian oak is more
neutral than American oak. If you like spicy, rich wines, look for American oak.
And here’s an interesting factoid for you: Minnesota is one of the leading
producers of oak for the wine industry.
Jessica Mizia represents The Wine Co. to area restaurants and wine shops.