Chardonnay is one of the most prominent grapes grown around the world. People both love and love to hate this noble variety. According to OIV, the International Organization of Vine and Wine, Chardonnay is the world’s fifth most planted grape. This is due in large part to the grape’s adaptability. Chardonnay successfully grows in a wide range of climates and soils, resulting in a variety of styles from which to choose. So, in honor of Chardonnay Day, celebrated annually on May 26th, let’s explore the top Old and New World wine regions recognized for high quality Chardonnay. Read on to learn how their wines vary and some of the most delectable wine pairings to savor with each style.
Old World vs. New World
Chardonnay is one of the world’s most ancient grapes. Its’ rise to fame is due in large part to the Benedictine and Cistercian monks of Burgundy, France. The monks worked painstakingly for centuries starting around the 8th century A.D. They cultivated Burgundy plot by plot, determining the very best sites through millennia of experience, and establishing the concept of terroir. A concept which is still best experienced in Burgundy today. With only Chardonnay and Pinot Noir growing throughout the wine region, one can learn how the terroir of one Burgundian appellation differs from the next. Today, this legendary wine region is home to some of the most expensive wines in the world.
Burgundy is an example of an Old World wine region. Many Chardonnay winemaking techniques used in New World regions today originated here. These include practices such as barrel fermentation, barrel aging, and lees stirring or bâttonage. All of which are methods of adding texture, body, and complexities to the wine.
Generally, Old World wine regions are those found in Europe, as winemaking here dates back thousands of years. New World regions encompass those of the rest of the world in the Americas, Australia, South Africa, etc. There are also Ancient World wine regions, which include countries like Georgia and Armenia, where winemaking began.
Stylistically speaking, Old World wines tend to be lighter-bodied than New World wines. They are more varietally pure with bright acidity, less oak influence, and perhaps more earthy flavors. New World wines lean towards riper flavors, fuller body, moderate acidity, and higher alcohol.
Cool Climate vs Warm Climate Chardonnay
It’s not always necessary to know a ton about a wine region to understand what style of Chardonnay you’re likely to encounter. If you know what type of climate the region has, then you can make an educated guess about its’ style of Chardonnay.
Cool climate regions yield Chardonnay with higher acidity and flavors of green fruits and citrus. From a moderate climate, these wines have more fleshy fruit flavors like white peach and melon. Whereas warm or hot climate Chardonnay has notes of ripe tropical fruits, such as pineapple. However, keep in mind the impact of warmer climates can be tempered in vineyards grown near bodies of water, at higher elevations, or where other climatic conditions like winds, early morning fog, etc. come into play.
Top 3 Old World Chardonnay Wine Regions
Burgundian Chardonnay is easily one of the most prestigious wines because of the region’s incredible history with the variety. Though many Burgundian wines have higher price points, you can find more affordable bottles at the regional or village appellation level. If you’re not familiar with Burgundy’s appellation system, then this blog post is definitely for you.
The styles of Chardonnay produced in Burgundy vary widely between appellations. In the north, Chablis offers Chardonnay with crisp, high acidity and flavors of citrus and green apple. This is one of the coolest areas of Burgundy, hence these cool climate characteristics. Also, wines here rarely see oak. Therefore, they’re very varietally pure.
Côte de Beaune
Heading south into the Côte d’Or, Chardonnay grows throughout the Côte de Beaune. Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, and Chassagne-Montrachet make some of the most highly reputed Chardonnays from Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards. Chardonnay in the Côte de Beaune delivers impressive complexity. These wines can be fruit forward with hints of florals in their youth, then develop more tertiary notes of mushroom and earth as they age. They’re typically medium to full bodied with high acidity, which makes them ideal for aging. Whether or not they’re aged in oak varies by producer.
The Mâcconais lies in the south of Burgundy. Here, Chardonnay usually has riper fruit flavors of apple or citrus with medium acidity and medium to full body. Some can be creamy and rich from malolactic fermentation or have toasty flavors from oak aging.
Wine Pairings for Burgundian Chardonnay
It’s always fun determining wine pairings for Burgundian Chardonnay because the region has so many different styles. Refreshing, crisp Chablis pairs beautifully with raw seafood, like oysters or sushi, and lighter seafood like shrimp or mahi mahi. It’s a great match for fresh cheeses, such as goat cheese or feta, and is delicious with herb-based dishes or springtime salads.
Chardonnay from the Côte de Beaune pairs well with roasted chicken or rich, cream-based dishes like potato soufflé. Dishes highlighting mushrooms also work well with these Chardonnays, especially aged examples, as they bring out the earthiness in the wine. Match wines from the Mâcconais with fattier fishes like salmon or sea bass, as well as creamy cheeses.
Located north of Burgundy, Champagne is another world famous French wine region. At this northerly latitude, the climate is even cooler than Burgundy. Consequently, Chardonnay grown here is highly acidic with green fruit flavors. Chardonnay is one of three grapes permitted in Champagne along with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Champagne production utilizes the traditional method of fermentation to create the bubbles we know and love. Large Champagne houses often blend base wines from multiple vintages to create their recognized house style.
Much of Champagne’s flavor and texture comes from the aging process and lees contact. This imparts texture, creaminess, and breadlike characteristics to the final wine. However, Chardonnay plays a key role in the high acidity and aromatics of Champagne. Grapes are typically picked early in order to retain high acidity since these wines have extensive aging requirements ahead.
In order to taste Chardonnay in its purest form in Champagne, look to Blanc de Blancs Champagne. These sparklers are made only with Chardonnay and have a beautiful aromatic intensity. They range from tight and crisp to layered and textured, but always ever so elegant. Blanc de Blancs Champagne will have you celebrating Chardonnay Day in style.
Wine Pairings for Blanc de Blancs Champagne
Pair Blanc de Blancs Champagne with foods that are salty, fried, creamy, or all of the above. You could keep it low key with salty potato chips or go high-class with caviar. Fried kitchen is a delectable match for Champagne, as is rich, cheesy fondue or foie gras. The bubbles and acidity act as a palate refresher, balancing out the salts and fats of these dishes.
Franciacorta is an Italian wine region in northern Lombardy known for traditional method, or metodo classico, sparkling wines. Just as in Champagne, these wines undergo a secondary fermentation in bottle. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc are the main grapes permitted in Franciacorta production. Though Chardonnay dominates the regional vineyards, accounting for 80% of all plantings. This beloved grape variety contributes elegance, richness, and aromatics to the wines of Franciacorta.
Wine Pairings for Franciacorta
For Chardonnay Day, pair Franciacorta with soft-ripened cheeses like Brie, Camembert, or Epoisses. This Italian sparkling wine is a great match for creamy pasta dishes, such as gnocchi with gorgonzola, lemon ricotta spaghetti, or baked cannelloni with ricotta and bechamel. Franciacorta is also delicious alongside baked scallops or crab legs dipped in butter.
Other Old World Wine Regions for Chardonnay:
- Tuscany, Italy
- Piedmont, Italy
- Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Top 3 New World Wine Regions for Chardonnay
Russian River Valley, California
Russian River Valley is one of America’s foremost wine regions for Chardonnay. Ideally situated in Sonoma County, Russian River Valley reaps the benefits of the Petaluma Gap. This break in the coastal mountains helps draw in fog and cool air, which moderates the influences of the California sun and warm climate. Consequently, the Russian River Valley growing season is extended, allowing grapes to develop more complex flavors while maintaining acidity. There are a lot of microclimates and even more producers, each with their own production style, in this world class wine region. You’ll find full-bodied and buttery Chardonnay with toasty notes from oak influence, as well as fresher, more fruit forward styles with flavors of lemon and peach.
Wine Pairings for Russian River Valley Chardonnay
Russian River Valley Chardonnay is a mouthwatering wine pairing for lobster rolls, crab cakes, smoked salmon tartines, or roasted turkey. It’s also a great wine to pair with salty cheeses or grilled white fish like cod or halibut.
Limarí Valley, Chile
The quality of Chilean wine production has steadily increased over the past few decades. This is because Chardonnay grows well in several Chilean wine regions, including the Casablanca and San Antonio Valleys. These regions lean towards a more international style of Chardonnay that’s fuller-bodied with oak influence and ripe fruit flavors. Yet in Limarí Valley, producers show more restraint yielding a structured yet elegant style of Chardonnay. The lack of rainfall, minimal drip irrigation, and calcareous soils of this region contribute freshness and mineral qualities to the final wine.
Wine Pairings for Chilean Chardonnay
To celebrate Chardonnay Day, pair a Chardonnay from Limarí Valley with scallop or shrimp ceviche. Grilled chicken kebabs, Chilean sea bass with mango salsa, or seafood empanadas would also be delicious with Chardonnay from Limarí Valley.
Margaret River, Australia
Chardonnay thrives in numerous Australian wine regions, as it’s the country’s most planted white grape. Cooler climate regions like Tasmania produce zippy, fresh styles. While more moderate climate regions like Adelaida Hills, Mornington Peninsula, and Yarra Valley dish up elegant, distinctive wines made from this noble grape.
However, Margaret River is widely recognized as the Australian wine region known for premium Chardonnay production. Margaret River is a coastal region south of Perth in Western Australia. The warm maritime climate here helps produce Chardonnay with concentrated stone fruit aromas and naturally high levels of acidity. Some Australian producers use barrel aging and malolactic fermentation to increase complexity.
Wine Pairings for Margaret River Chardonnay
Hand pies are popular in Australia and Chardonnay from Margaret Rivers pairs exceptionally well with creamy chicken or curried chicken hand pies. Alternatively, calamari thrown on the grill or baked calamari with an herb based stuffing are also delicious matches for this wine. Otherwise, try grilled lobster, shrimp scampi, or light curries.
Other New World Wine Regions for Chardonnay:
- Los Carneros, California
- Aconcagua Valley, Chile
- Tasmania, Australia
- Yarra Valley, Australia
- Mornington Peninsula, Australia
- Adelaide Hills, Australia
- Walker Bay, South Africa