Chardonnay has been America's favorite white varietal since 1994, but will the real Chardonnay please stand up? Having proven very easy to manipulate in the winery, Chardonnay is a moving target, capable of tapping dozens of aroma and flavor buttons along its stylistic stretch from light aperitifs to big woody monsters.
Flavors and aromas: In its most natural state, Chardonnay flavors lean toward crisp apple and pear; French versions range from light and fresh to steely and minerally.
However, generally speaking, California Chards are noticeably oaky. That oaky quality may come from a huge steel tank where the wine was infused with wood chips. Or the wine may have been fermented in barrels to gain complexity from the yeast and wood alike. The effect is essentially the same—it's as if the winemakers are adding woodnotes like a chef uses spices.
Ranges from yellow to gold; those from France tend to be lighter colored. Prominent plantings:
Chardonnay's runaway success in the U.S. and the fact that the grapes are quite easy to grow have helped spawn Chardonnay bottlings all over the globe. New waves are coming from Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, and South Africa. The most celebrated examples still come from the Burgundy region of France. Pairing with food:
Chardonnays tend to work well with mild fish, creamier pasta dishes, corn, crab, shrimp, and chicken. Insider tip:
The buttery character in many California Chards comes from a trick in the fermentation that turns tart malic acid (think green apple) into lactic acid (think butter, cream, etc.).