Chardonnay is the world’s most celebrated white wine grape. It is grown in every wine producing region and widely consumed. So on this international #ChardonnayDay I don’t need to convince you to grab a glass and join the celebration. However, before the sipping begins let’s take a moment to review what we know about this diverse wine.
Chardonnay is unusual because of its versatility. It can be grown in cooler climates such as Chablis, or warmer climates such as parts of California. The style of Chardonnay in the glass varies depending on the climate where the grape is grown and the winemaker’s techniques.
Cool climate Chardonnay can result in notes of green apples, green pears, citrus, and vegetable notes such as cucumber; white stone fruit and melon may also be present where the climate is moderate. Warmer climates can produce tropical fruit notes such as peach, banana, pineapple, mango, and even fig.
Chardonnay is also highly responsive to winemaking techniques, three techniques are commonly associated with the resulting wine.
- Malolactic Fermentation: a process that takes the harsh malic acid (think tart green apple) and converts them to softer lactic acids (milk). It’s similar to the difference between sorbet and ice cream. The result in the wines is a buttery, nutty flavor.
- Lees: lees are the dead yeast cell sediment left behind in the bottom of the tank after fermentation, these lees can be stirred through the wine to add a creamy texture and savory flavors.
- Oak: chardonnay is highly responsive to the type of oak treatment used by the winemaker, depending on how oak is used it can add flavors of toast, vanilla, and coconut to the wine.
Due to Chardonnay’s easily understood flavors and at times voluptuous texture on the palate, Karen McNeil states in the second edition of The Wine Bible, “[Chardonnay] is the Marilyn Monroe of white grapes, to be sure” (57).
The diversity of Chardonnay allows it to be grown in France (its home), Spain, Italy, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, and the US. Within the US Chardonnay is grown in many states, but is best known from California. Karen McNeil explains in the second edition of The Wine Bible that Chardonnay’s popularity is a relatively recent phenomenon. “As of the mid-1960’s, there were but a few hundred acres of [Chardonnay] in all of California” (58). But as Kevin Zraly shares in the 2017 edition of Windows of the World, Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape in California (2016 figures = 97, 826 acres), there are about 800 different California Chardonnays available to consumers, a third of all grapes grown in Sonoma are Chardonnay, AND California has more Chardonnay grapes planted than in any other COUNTRY in the WORLD!
Karen McNeil explains in the second edition of The Wine Bible all the delicious Chardonnays produced in California are either Wente clones or are derived from Wente clones, including California’s most planted Chardonnay clone, 4. Ernest Wente, son of the winery’s founder Carl H. Wente, dedicated most of his life painstakingly researching Chardonnay. He imported his original Chardonnay from the University of Montepellier, France, nursery in 1912. Today Wente is still crafting some of California’s top Chardonnays in a variety of styles.
Flora Springs shares Wente’s passion for Chardonnay. In fact, Flora Springs founder John Komes chose Chardonnay as the first wine produced by Flora Springs forty years ago! John has witness the styles of Chardonnay evolve over the years, migrating through stainless steel, oak, concrete tanks, malolactic fermentation, lees stirring, to create a variety of Chardonnay from an austere Chablis style to a buttery California style to now resonating somewhere in between. Furthermore, as John embarked on a side project in conjunction with his son Nathaniel (Nat), one of the four wines they chose to produce includes Chardonnay.
In honor of this #ChardonnayDay I am happy to share with you five California Chardonnays, three from Wente and two from Flora Springs/Jon Nathaniel ranging in price from $15 to $50.
2016 Wente Vineyards Morning Fog Chardonnay Livermore Valley California ($15): 98% Chardonnay, 2% Gewurztraminer; Medium gold in the glass; medium+ bright aromas of fresh picked apples and pears, tropical fruit and citrus, with just a touch of toasty notes; judicious use of oak and lees results in a bright wine with nice lift off of the palate, pronounced acidity in a fresh mouth-feel with a hint of oak on the long, pleasing finish.
2016 Wente Vineyards Eric’s Chardonnay Livermore Valley California ($20): Pale gold in the glass; medium aromas of fresh picked white peaches, pineapple, lemon zest, and ripe honey crisp apples; this unoaked Chardonnay offers a brighter fruit palate and crispness, it is zesty and has a racy medium+ acidity, elegantly refreshing and great for a hot summer day, medium body with a medium zesty finish.
2015 Wente Vineyards Riva Ranch Chardonnay Arroyo Seco California ($22): 98% Chardonnay, 2% Gewurztraminer; Medium lemon gold in the glass; pronounced aromas of crème brulee and toasted caramel were met with fruit notes of baked apples, banana, grilled pineapple, and lemon curd; as a result of 90% barrel fermentation in 60% new and 40% second use French and American oak, along with 100% malo and 8 mos on lees with botonnage every 2 weeks, this wine offers a full body, creamy mouth-feel, however, it is not “buttery” on the palate, it is balanced with a pronounced acidity that adds a lift in weight off the palate, making it a pleasing with wine with nice energy, perfectly paired with lobster or creamy pasta or soup.
You can purchase all three of these Chardonnays direct from Wente Vineyards. They are also widely available throughout the US so you can likely pick them up at your favorite local wine retailer. Click here to locate near you.
2016 Flora Springs Family Select Chardonnay Napa Valley ($35): Medium gold in the glass; medium aromas of baked cinnamon apples topped with warm caramel, grilled pineapple, lemon curd, and honey on toast; as a result of a combination 76% oak barrel and 24% stainless steel fermentation along with 20% malo and bi-weekly lees stirring this wine has a creamy texture and notes of toasted coconut on the palate yet it is lively, refreshing and offers medium+ acidity with a mouthwatering zesty finish that would pair very well with cedar planked salmon.
2015 Jon Nathaniel Lavender Hill Chardonnay Napa Valley ($50): Medium gold in the glass; medium dazzling aromas of a warm apple pie with a graham cracker crust with a tease of caramel topping, additionally notes of lemon curd and baked coconut fill the glass; a wine that smells this inviting better be good, and it is; as a result of 70% small French barrel and 30% concrete tank fermentation, along with 8 month bi-weekly lees stirring, this wine has an restrained palate with bright fruit flavors and soft oak driven notes with a medium+ acidity that provides an elegant tension on the palate, it is fresh while also being grounded, a beautiful Chardonnay.
- Flora Springs – May 25, Shipping Included on any purchase of Chardonnay online.
- Jon Nathaniel May 25 – 31, Shipping included on 4+ bottles of 2015 Lavender Hill Chardonnay
Grab a glass of your favorite Chardonnay, take a photo, share to Instgram, tag me and let me know how you are celebrating #ChardonnayDay. Cheers!