|Rich is the word that best
both describes Chardonnay and explains its popularity.
Its aroma is distinct, yet delicate, difficult to characterize,
easier to recognize. It often smells like apples, lemons,
peaches or tropical fruits. Its delicacy is such that
even a small percentage of another varietal blended into
a Chardonnay will often completely dominate its aroma
and flavor. Oak commonly takes over Chardonnay if the
wine is fermented or aged in new barrels.
delicacy also allows Chardonnay to absorb the influences
of both vinification technique and appellation of origin.
In the Chablis region of France, it is the only grape
permitted and it renders a "crisp, flinty"
wine. In the Meursault appellation, Chardonnay takes
on a lush, ripe, "fleshy", "buttery"
quality. Even in quality sparkling wines and French
Champagne, it is the major varietal used.
Vineyards in France are commonly
planted with an intermingling of chardonnay and pinot
blanc vines, so that "pinot" has often been
attached to Chardonnay, incorrectly. In spite of its
heritage, Chardonnay is not considered a member of the
"pinot" grape family (pinot noir, pinot blanc,
pinot gris, etc.).
Unfortunately, Chardonnay vines
are shy-bearing and susceptible to a myriad of maladies.
Chardonnay berries are relatively small, thin-skinned,
fragile, and oxidize easily. This makes chardonnay somewhat
more sensitive to winemaking techniques and more difficult
to handle from harvest to bottling than most other grape
Different wine making techniques
also produce wide variances in the Chardonnay flavor
profile. Such techniques as barrel fermentation, proportion
of new to old cooperage, lees stirring, and partial,
complete, or prevention of malolactic fermentation generate
controversy and lively discussion among winemakers.
Chardonnay's intrinsic blank
canvas quality also allows its flavors to be dramatically
affected by differences in soil, climate, and vineyard
practices. Not uncommon among wine grapes, the Chardonnay
vine also has a tendency to mutate and research has
identified over 400 clonal variants. Each clone has
Chardonnay family traits, but displays individually
specific tendencies in such characteristics as length
of ripening cycle, crop load, berry and cluster size,
acid retention, etc., therefore producing wines with
various flavor differences.
Two popular trends keep California
Chardonnays from reaching the level of respect given
to those from France: one is to satisfy consumer lust
for any wine labeled "Chardonnay" with bland
but inexpensive "cookie-cutter" wines; the
other is to overwhelm any varietal personality or microclimatic
subtlety with lavish amounts of oak barrel fermentation