Chardonnay is one of the grapes that can be heavily crafted and as a consumer this means it can be a confusing and challenging to find ones you like. I was chatting with a colleague about this the other day and thought I would write a post on the subject. Hopefully you find it helpful. Let’s start off with some tid bits:
Champagne comes mostly from Chardonnay. If you see the term Brut, traditional method etc it means Chard.
Chablis from France is 100% Chardonnay.
Some chards can age well. (note the word some)
Chardonnay’s can be VERY sensitive to the temperature it is served at. Serve it too cold and sometimes (not always) you can totally miss the complexities of the wine. If your finding a particular chard thin and bland, leave it out for a bit and try it much warmer. It may help. Or, it just not be a good chard 🙂 This can be problematic at wine tastings and wine shows because more often than not they are served WAY too cold!
Now onto chard wine making processes. One of the most commonly used process is simple barrel ageing. There are lots of unoaked Chards out there and what this does is allow the chard fruit to come through more prominently. Unoaked will more often be more minerally, sometimes more tart.
Oaking often adds that caramel, and vanilla flavor. The type of barrel, size of barrel, length of time in the barrel and age of the barrel all determine how much flavor this adds to the wine. Barrels are also rated as to how “toasty” they are. This refers to charring from heat during the barrel making process. The more toasty the barrel is the more it can impart additional flavors.
Fermentation is the process whereby sugar is converted to alcohol. In some/most cases yeast is added to trigger this process. Sometimes natural yeast that is present is enough. The yeast basically “dies” as a part of this process. One of the processes used in Chards is called Sur lie, which is where they leave the wine in contact with this dead yeast called lees. This can impart that creamy flavor and texture a chard can have.
Lastly another of the common processes is called Malolactic fermentation (also called secondary fermentation). This process can lead to a buttery flavor.
With this knowledge you can glean from the wine makers notes and anticipate what a chard ought to taste like!
My personal preference is for oaked chards with vanilla, and some buttery/creamyness to them. Most of the ones I like are from California, but there are a few from Niagara that are good as well.
I hope you’ve found this helpful!