Chardonnay is the most divisive and misunderstood of all the grapes used to make wine. But as those who have been members of our French wine club for a while will know, there is a type of Chardonnay out there for everyone.
While in the US we’re very familiar with the big oaky styles of Chardonnay which are often produced in California, Chardonnay is actually something of a chameleon and adapts to its surroundings. When grown in warm conditions and fermented in oak barrels it tends to produce rich, creamy white wines with plenty of oak character. In cooler climates, though, the Chardonnay grapes hold on to their acidity and produce incredibly fresh, elegant and light white wines which taste totally different to their oaky cousins.
The best way to understand this sensational grape variety is to get tasting! Here are some favorite wines from our French wine club which are all made with the Chardonnay grape variety but taste completely different.
- White Burgundy
Some of the most sought-after and expensive wines in the world are white wines from the region of Burgundy in central-eastern France which is actually the original homeland of Chardonnay. Although white Burgundy wines are made with Chardonnay, there is huge variation in how they taste thanks to differences in climate, soil, and winemaking techniques across the region.
One of our French wine club favorites is the Les Classiques from Mâcon in southern Burgundy. The climate here tends to be slightly warmer, so white Burgundy wines from this area tend to be riper, richer and rounder. The Les Classiques is aged in stainless steel tanks rather than in oak barrels which makes it very different to the kind of heavily oaked Chardonnays we’re used to drinking in the US.
At the other extreme, wines from Chablis in the far north of Burgundy tend to be very clean, fresh and often have plenty of steely minerality due to the distinctive chalky soils and cooler climate. Winemakers in Chablis generally avoid ageing their wines in oak barrels and prefer to use stainless steel tanks. This helps to preserve and highlight the freshness and fruit flavours and aromas of the grape variety itself rather than overwhelming the personality of the Chardonnay with too much oak.
So although both Chablis and wines from Mâcon are made from Chardonnay, they taste completely different. If you’re still not sure whether you like Chardonnay or not, why not grab a bottle of each and taste test them against each other to see which type of Chardonnay drinker you are!
Down in south-western France we find a completely different style of Chardonnay to those mentioned above. Although traditionally the Languedoc region is a land of red wines, more and more producers are discovering the potential of growing Chardonnay here.
Our French wine club members loved the Domaine de Cazelles-Verdier Chardonnay which featured in a recent shipment and is still available to re-order if you haven’t tried it yet. The Verdier family have been making wine in this part of southern France since 1713 and have a deep connection with the land.
Jean-Paul is the current generation of the Verdier family to run the estate. Since taking over Jean-Paul has converted the domaine to organic agriculture out of respect for the environment and growing consumer demand. He also decided to plant small quantities of Chardonnay, realising that the chalky and minerally soils in his vineyards would provide ideal conditions for the noble grape.
The result is a seriously impressive Chardonnay that is miles away from the heavily oaked Californian Chardonnays we’re so used to in the US. Ripe tropical fruit and roasted nut flavours are carefully balanced by freshness and a smooth, round texture which pairs perfectly with chicken or meaty fish dishes.
The final stop on our tour is the wildchild cousin of the classic Chardonnays above. Jura is a picturesque part of eastern France full of valleys and stunning lakes and sits between Burgundy and the border with Switzerland. Here Chardonnay is the most-planted grape variety, but the wines being made here come in a huge variety of styles.
Some of the most interesting are the nutty Chardonnays which are made by slightly oxidising the wine. As is traditional in Jura, these wines are fermented and aged in cellars dug into the limestone. Here it can take up to a year for Chardonnays to fully ferment, a long process which develops rich nutty and earthy notes as tiny amounts of oxygen enter the wine.
The Jura region is also home to Chardonnays made in a more conventional style which can be similar to white Burgundy. These wines have plenty of freshness thanks to the cool nights and plenty of fruit flavours and aromas. Some winemakers age these wines in oak barrels to add extra complexity and a creamier texture, while others prefer to let the chalky, minerally character of the terroir take centre stage. These wines are often known as Melon d’Arbois and Gamay Blanc, two local names for the Chardonnay grape.
If you’re not a Chardonnay fan, then chances are you just haven’t found the right Chardonnay for you yet. French Chardonnay comes in a huge range of different flavour profiles from light and fresh with racy acidity to rich and oaky with a thick creamy texture. The key to finding your favorite is to taste as many different types as you can!
Has this whetted your appetite to learn more about French wine? We’re here to help! Why not check out our French wine club. Every three months we send direct to your door three or six bottles of boutique French wines which have been carefully selected by wine experts in France along with detailed information about each wine and food pairing ideas to help you really discover French wine. And as if that wasn’t enough, we also have a wine club gift option for that special wine lover in your life!