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Ep 367: Chardonnay -- The Grape Miniseries Refresh

Wine for Normal People

Release Date: 03/22/2021

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Wine for Normal People

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Wine for Normal People

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Wine for Normal People

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Wine for Normal People

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Wine for Normal People

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Wine for Normal People

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Wine for Normal People

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Wine for Normal People

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More Episodes

In this show we take another look at the regal Chardonnay grape and talk about how it has changed over the years. This is a refresh of a previous show done years ago, so we cover everything we do in a normal grape mini-series. Once you get to know Chardonnay, you realize what a chameleon it really is and how important it is to understand place and producer to get the styles that you like.

Here are some brief show notes (with special focus on writing out regions that you may not have caught while listening)!


  • Chardonnay originated in Burgundy, and is a cross of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc. In the vineyard it is early budding and ripening, so frost can be an issue, however it grows very well on a multitude of soils and growers the world around love it for how it takes to most sites. Powdery mildew, coulure (shatter), and rot can cause a headache in the vineyard but with more than 28 clones to choose from, growers can pick what is best for their site.


  • The variety does different things in different climates – it has lower alcohol and higher acidities with mineral and citrus aromas and flavors in cool climates and is tropical, fruity, and full bodied with low acidity in warmer climates. Soils make a difference too – well drained soils are best. Limestone is generally considered the best type for Chardonnay with bits of clay and marl to give the wines dimension, but there are lots of different soils that yield beautiful wines from Chardonnay. Drainage and low yields make a world of difference with this grape too.

  • Chardonnay is a non-aromatic, generally neutral grape that can take on flavors from the vineyard or be a blank canvas on which winemakers show their skills. The grape can and does express terroir, as we see in places like Burgundy, its homeland, but often it is subjected to full malo-lactic fermentation (yielding buttered popcorn notes), oak aging in a high proportion of new, heavily toasted barrels (vanilla, caramel, butterscotch, smoke/char), and battonnage (stirring of the dead yeast cells or lees, to create bready, toasty, yeasty notes in the wine).


  • Chardonnay is ideal for sparkling wine. In cool climates it is floral with low acidity and brings a lightness and elegance to sparkling wines. Champagne, with its long aging on the lees (sur lie, dead yeast cells – basic Champagne is aged this way for at least 12 months, vintage Champagne 30 months and the Tete de Cuvee, the best Champagnes, even longer), has shown us the changes that can occur with this contact over time –amino acids, peptides, proteins, and fatty acids for to add aromas and flavors like hazelnuts and honey.



Old World


  • Chablis: Steely, minerally wines that are a great expression of the grape. Affordable Grand Cru
  • Côte de Beaune: The most age worthy and famed Chardonnay in the world.
    • Grand cru vineyards that straddle the towns of Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet: Le Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet, Bâtard-Montrachet, Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet, Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet
    • Corton-Charlemagne
  • Côte Chalonnaise
  • Mâconnais: Pouilly-Fuisse is good and improving

Champagne: Blanc de Blancs is pure Chardonnay


Other France:

  • Loire: Used in Crémant and the white blends of Saumur, Anjoy, Touraine
  • Jura (as we call it, Bizarro Burgundy)
  • Languedoc-Roussillon: most Chardonnay is bulk and is bottled under Vins de Pays d'Oc
    • Limoux: Does sparkling Crémant de Limoux, barrel-fermented still wine.


  • Often mixed in with Pinot Bianco in the northeast areas -- Alto Adige, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia
  • Franciacorta: Used in this fine sparkling wine of Lombardy
  • Piedmont: Excellent Chardonnay when it’s not too oaky


Other Old World Spots

  • Spain: Used in Cava as a small proportion of the blend, used in some other white blends
  • Austria and Switzerland
  • Eastern Europe: Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Croatia
  • Israel
  • England: Excellent in sparkling, more varietal wine being made


New World

United States

  • California: Most important variety
    • Napa: Carneros, Russian River
    • Sonoma: Sonoma Coast, Petaluma Gap, Russian River
    • Central Coast: Santa Barbara (my favorite region), Santa Lucia Highlands,
    • Mendocino: Anderson Valley
    • Central Valley: BULK
  • Washington State: Lots of fruit, maybe less MLF
  • Oregon: The one to watch in the U.S.
  • NY State: Finger Lakes and Long Island
  • Virginia: Linden, Pollak make especially good versions


Canada: Niagara, BC



  • New South Wales: Hunter Valley – tropical, fruity, buttery, opulent
  • Victoria: Yarra, Mornington Peninsula, Macedon Ranges – lighter, more acidic wine with good terroir expression
  • South Australia: Eden Valley, Adelaide Hills, nice, still oaky sometimes
  • Margaret River: Can be complex, fruity, good acidity
  • Tasmania: Delicate to complex, good acidity, used in sparkling


New Zealand: Ripeness with Acidity, nice herbal character often, excellent from Hawkes Bay where the styles are fatter, to Martinborough, and to Canterbury where the acidity is pronounced.



  • Casablanca Valley: Ripeness with acidity, not much oak or malolactic fermentation
  • Leyda, San Antonio: Similar to Casablanca
  • Other cool regions: Limarí, Bío Bío and Itata Valleys



  • Very much like California Chardonnay. Promising in cooler, higher vineyards - Tupungato. 


South Africa – hot, except in Walker Bay

  • Walker Bay, Elgin: Soft with mineral and nut notes
  • Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Paarl: Fuller, can have a lot of oak 



  • Top Chardonnays can age and need the age: 30 years is not unheard of from great producers of Grands Crus. With Premiers Crus – more like 20 years is appropriate. Village – within 8-10 yrs.
  • New World wines generally age for less time, but the length of aging depends on the producer and the area


Flavor: We discuss the difference between primary and secondary flavors and how knowing the difference can help point you to styles you prefer:

  • Primary flavors from the grape:
    • Cooler sites: lemon, chalk, minerals, flint, green apple, citrus, pears, grapefruit (higher acidities, lower alcohols, lighter bodied)
    • Warmer sites: baked apple, pineapple, guava, melon (also fuller bodied, lower acidity, higher alcohol)
  • Secondary flavors from winemaking:
    • Oak notes: Smoke, toast, spice, coconut, vanilla, cinnamon, butterscotch, caramel
    • Malolactic fermentation: buttered popcorn, clotted cream
    • Sur lie aging: toast, nuttiness, yeasty notes
  • Serving temperature effects the flavor. I prefer it a little cooler than is often recommended: 48˚-50˚/9˚-10˚C is what I prefer, although many recommend 55˚F/12.8˚C



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