I don’t know when it happened. I don’t know why it happened. I don’t even know if it ever
really happened but there seems to be a disdain for that noblest of white grapes, Chardonnay.
Genetically it’s known that Chardonnay is a cross between a nearly extinct varietal, Gouais Blanc
and a member of the Pinot family – most likely Pinot Noir. That’s why Chardonnay was also
thought to be a member of the Pinot family during its early days in the United States – I still
remember Paul Masson labeling their Chardonnay as Pinot Chardonnay. I don’t understand this
disdain since this amazing grape has flavor qualities ranging from stone fruits to citrus to
tropical fruit with oak, butter and vanilla depending on the winemaker and in the Old World,
minerals and pebbles. It can be paired with various seafood, white meats and even leaner cuts of
red meats. Therefore, I don’t understand the ABC attitude in certain wine circles – Anything
But Chardonnay!

California Chardonnay

In the Golden State, Chardonnay usually produces rich wines with flavors of nectarine and
peach, butter and vanilla, apples and citrus that fill the mouth and give a long finish to the
wine. I find that the Central Coast tends to produce the richer wines while Napa and Sonoma
produces fruit centric wines. Since California seems to be ideally suited for Chardonnay, it’s easy
to find good examples in the $10 to $15 range. Spend another $10 to $15 and you’ll find a wide
assortment of very good to excellent Chardonnays. Hit your seven numbers on Lotto and you
can shop in the over $50 club and believe me, this isn’t a small, exclusive club. There literally are
100’s of Chards residing in this price range. From the individual vineyards selection from Kistler,
Brewer-Clifton, Patz & Hall, Williams Selyem and Peter Michael to the pushing-triple-digit
prices of Marcassin, Kongsgaard and Aubert. My personal wine shopping is determined primarily
by price and my own preference. I would rather spend $100 on four bottles of say, Chateau
Montelena even if both Wine Spectator and Robert Parker gave it only 88 points than one
bottle of Kongsgaard that got 96 points from both reviewers. Of course that’s not to say that I
wouldn’t partake in your one bottle of Kongsgaard if you invited me over.

Aussie Chard

They’ve been producing good to very good Chardonnay down under for some time now. The
difference between California and Aussie Chards usually has to do with oak exposure and fruit
ripeness. Whereas California Chards usually have that rich, ripe fruit that’s balanced with toasty
oak notes and supporting alcohol, Aussie versions tend to limit that toasted, vanilla, buttery
richness in favor of a balancing acidity with refreshing, citrus fruit notes. Once again, be
forewarned that Aussie doesn’t necessarily mean lighter on the pocketbook like the ubiquitous
Yellow Tail label. Leeuwin Estates Art Series and Penfolds Yattarna approach the $70 to $100
range.

Old World Chardonnay

Once again, the original standard by which all others are (were) measured is in the Cote d’Or
region of France. The Corton Charlemagnes, Mersaults, Puligny and Chassagne Montrachets and
Chablis are all excellent examples of the noble white grape. The main difference I find is that
most of these exhibit the terroir or specific flavor characteristics in the soil itself. Sometimes
you find flavors of pebbles or stone or chalk. Sometimes it’s as pronounced as graphite or iron.
Sometimes there’s even a hint (or in some cases, an overt) scent of barnyards and well,… funk.
When attending a blind tasting, this is the first characteristic I look for when determining which
wine is Old World versus the New World. It’s not that New World Chards don’t have terroir; it’s
just that it’s usually muted on the back palate instead of right up front in your face (or nose). I
also find that these Old World versions can age a lot longer – most New World chards are meant
for consuming early or at least within 7 to 10 years whereas their French counterparts can live
for 20 years or more. Understandably, the fresh fruit qualities do fade but other flavor nuances
emerge like baked apple or candied fruit along with a spice rack assortment of various baking
spices.

Chard Blends

Where once there only existed pure Chardonnay, there now exists a variety of Chard blends that
are very food friendly, especially with Asian cuisine. Caymus makes their Conundrum which is a
blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat Canelli with a touch of Semillon and
Viognier. In fact this bottling is so successful that Caymus created a Conundrum brand separate
from its Caymus label. Folie a Deux makes it Menage a Trois white mixing Chardonnay, Moscato
and Chenin Blanc that pairs equally well with a variety of foods while Querciabella of Italy
blends Chardonnay with Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio) for their own version of Batard Montrachet.
And don’t forget that Chardonnay blends with Pinot Meunier and/or Pinot Noir for that
perfect champagne… but that’s another column.

What to Eat With Chardonnay?

Due to the different styles of Chardonnay vinification, what to eat depends on the style itself.
The crisper varieties make perfect partners with raw seafood or seafood that’s poached with
lighter sauces. Think lemon wedge. Would a squeeze of lemon enhance the dish? If the answer is
yes, then Chablis or Chards without or very little oak aging would also be perfect partners. For
medium body Chards with that nice fruit, oak and acid balance, well, the world is your oyster.
Literally, any faire from oysters on the half shell all the way to chicken with cream sauces will
make your palate sing. And for those rich, oak and vanilla laden monsters with concentrated
fruit and hefty alcohol such as Marcassin and Corton Charlemagne, richer poultry dishes all the
way up to lighter meats such as pork and… beef tenderloin won’t overwhelm these full throttle
whites.

The Gochiso’s Short List of Chardonnay

Under $15                                        Under $30                        More than $30
Eschol                                             Chateau Montelena           Kistler
Gallo of Sonoma                             Au Bon Climat                  Patz & Hall
Hess Select                                      Landmark Overlook           Chassagne Montrachet
Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve        Miner Family                     Testarossa
Not Another Chardonnay!