I am first to admit I was one of the many who turned my back on chardonnay in the last several years. It was never my intention but I was trapped in the monotony of predictable styles and flavor. However, a few weeks ago my palate was offered a revival of sorts, with a spectacular French Burgundy. I took to exploring this chameleon of a grape hoping to renew my expectations and once again became a fan of chardonnay.
Chardonnay’s character is often obscured by the use of oak but France’s Cote d’Or seems to have perfected the balancing act. If you enjoy the rich, soft, creamy side of this grape look to wines from this region. But if you enjoy chardonnay without the oak consider French Chablis, a classic dry white wine of north Burgundy. French Chablis is an elegant, dry, crisp wine, unlike other chardonnays most people have tasted, with subtle light mineral and apple flavors.
- 2009 Joseph Drouhin Vaudon Chablis, France (about $26 retail)
- 2007 Joseph Drouhin Puligny Montrachet, France (about $76 retail)
California’s Carneros region stands apart from the others with significant variations in growing this grape. Winds sweep over Carneros every afternoon, allowing a slow ripening in the vineyard resulting in lean, crisp wines. The climate has a lot to do with the elegance of Carneros wines, but a great deal is owed to the winemakers once the grapes are in their hands.
- 2009 Acacia Chardonnay, California (about $24 retail)
- 2009 Rombauer Carneros Chardonnay, California (about $38 retail)
Given the sheer size of Australian wine country, it isn’t surprising that Australia chardonnay ranges from perfection to average. But the best chardonnays can be found around the town of Margaret River and in South Australia. These cooler regions produce wines that are soft, creamy and buttery with chardonnays’ balance of melon and tropical fruit flavors. The warm regions are generally where the fullbodied, high alcohol “fruit bomb” styles show up.
- 2009 Grant Burge Chardonnay, Australia (about $18 retail)
- 2009 Leeuwin Estate Prelude Chardonnay , Australia (about $49 retail)