Eight Things You Might Not Know about Chardonnay

Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape variety, an important component of many sparkling wines around the world, including Champagne. Popularized in the 1980s, this neutral grape originated in France but now grows around the world. Here are eight things you might not know about Chardonnay.

Many theories have been proposed on the origin of Chardonnay. Reknown viticulturalists Maynard Amerine and Harold Olmo believe that Chardonnay is a descendant of the wild Vitis vinifera vine but some vineyard owners in Lebanon and Syria trace the grape’s ancestry to the Middle East. Others claim that Chardonnay is the descendant of an ancient, indigenous vine found in Cyprus. Modern DNA fingerprinting research at University of California, Davis, however, suggests that Chardonnay is the result of a cross between the Pinot noir and Gouais blanc grape varieties.

Chardonnay originated in the Burgundy wine region of eastern France, but is now grown in wine regions around the world, from Argentina to New Zealand, thanks to its adaptability, and is vinified in a variety of styles. In cool climates, Chardonnay wine tends to be medium to light bodied with noticeable acidity and notes of green plum, apple, and pear. Warm climate Chardonnay wines offer notes of citrus, peach, and melon. Expect notes of fig and tropical fruit in Chardonnay wines from very warm climates.

Chardonnay wines

Chardonnay is known for its ability to adapt to different conditions and stands as one of the most widely planted grape varieties, with 520,000 acres planted worldwide.

Chardonnay remains one of the dominant grapes in Burgundy, France’s premier wine region, and is grown in eight grand cru vineyards, including the “Montrachets”-Montrachet, Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet, Bâtard-Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet, and Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet, as well as Charlemagne, Corton-Charlemagne, and Le Musigny.

Chardonnay is the only permitted AOC grape variety in the Chablis region and was believed to be first planted in Chablis by the Cistercians at Pontigny Abbey in the 12th century. The simplistic style of winemaking favored in this region emphasizes the terroir of the calcareous soil and cooler climate that makes for high acidity.

Chardonnay wines
Abbaye Pontigny, France

Chardonnay is also found in the Languedoc region, where it was first planted around the town of Limoux, where it transformed into the sparkling Blanquette de Limoux. In the region of Jura, you’ll find it transformed into sweet Vin de Paille dessert wines.

In the 1940s, Chardonnay was introduced to California vineyards. By the 1950s, California winemaking entrepreneurs including James David Zellerbach of Hanzell Vineyards began dedicating themselves to making Burgundian-style Chardonnay, an extraordinary effort that led to Chateau Montelena’s unbelievable victory over Burgundy Chardonnay in the famous 1976 blind tasting event conducted by French judges known as the Judgment of Paris.

Chardonnay is most commonly paired with roast chicken or turkey. Heavily oak-influenced Chardonnays pair well with smoked fish, spicy southeast Asian cuisine, garlic, and guacamole dips. Older, more mellow Chardonnays are best paired with earth dishes containing mushrooms or aged cheeses.

Amy Bizzarri
Amy Bizzarri
Amy Bizzarri is a freelance writer focused on food, fun, and adventure, with a special interest in adventure and green/eco-friendly travel destinations, both in the US and abroad. A proud member of the Society of American Travel Writers and a fluent Italian speaker with an M.A. in Italian from Middlebury College, Amy holds a special place in in her heart for il bel paese.

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