Chardonnay: A Delicate Yet Challenging Wine
Chardonnay – A Delicate Yet Challenging Wine
Chardonnay, it can be argued, is the most popular white wine in the world. In the United States alone, we consume 24 million cases per year. That is equal to 300 million bottles! Chardonnay has one of the highest alcoholic contents of any wine, between 13 and 14 percent. It has a pronounced oak flavor due to the amount of time that it spends aging in oak barrels. As a result of oak barrel aging and high amounts of alcohol, it can be difficult to pair Chardonnay with most foods.
The grapes harvested for Chardonnays grow in a variety of locales by many different vintners; as a result, Chardonnays can vary greatly in body and style. These are not complex grapes and as such, they require a longer fermentation process in order to achieve their full flavor. It is possible to forego lengthy oak barrel fermentation when making Chardonnay, and some vintners do forego it. Their wines are less full-bodied and easier to pair with foods because they lack the oak flavor. These wines tend to concentrate more on the flavor of the grape than the barrel.
The stronger the oak flavor, the less likely it is to pair well with food. Wine experts have perfected the use of “bridge” ingredients when cooking foods that are to be paired with wine. The purpose of “bridge” ingredients is to marry the flavors of the food and wine. Chardonnay pairs well with foods that use “bridge” ingredients such as butter, cream, toasted nuts, mushrooms, tarragon, bacon and corn. The most successful pairings of food with Chardonnay come not only from choosing the right “bridge” ingredients, but also from choosing dishes that have the same approximate weight and body as the wine.
Lighter Chardonnays are often fermented in stainless steel vats as opposed to oak barrels. They contain slightly less alcohol and have a delicate fruity flavor. Medium barrel aged Chardonnay is has richer, toasted oak flavor and medium body. Full barrel-aged Chardonnay boasts a medium to full body and somewhat buttery texture. Each fuller-bodied wine contains slightly higher alcohol content than the lighter wines as a result of the extended fermentation process.
Typical aromas and flavors of Chardonnay include honeydew melon, pear, peach, green or golden delicious apples, butterscotch, vanilla, honey, oatmeal, fig and toasted hazelnuts. When matching foods to your Chardonnay consider relatively rich dishes to underscore the full-bodied quality of the wine. These may include foods with butter or cream sauces. If you prefer the oaky quality of the Chardonnay, try sprinkling foods with toasted nuts to enhance the oaky flavor. It is best not to pair Chardonnay with spicier foods because they only serve to accentuate the oak and alcohol flavors, but do nothing to enhance the buttery quality, fruit flavors, or to bring out the fullness of the wine.
High quality Chardonnays can be found all over the world. Some of the most popular come from California’s Napa Valley, Sonoma, Mendocino and Santa Barbara. French Chardonnay from Burgundy and Chablis are also quite popular. Australians are also known for producing quality Chardonnays. Look for those specifically from the Barossa, Hunter, or Yarra Vallies.
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