Chardonnay is one of the great chameleons of the wine world, able to take on many elements across the spectrum of flavours.
Here are the styles you must try to get the full picture of what’s possible with this extraordinary variety.
Chardonnay is, in and of itself, quite a neutral grape, so much so that there is no one ‘universal’ style.
Let’s explore some of the most popular types of Chardonnay that have wowed wine lovers here in Australia and around the world.
1. SPARKLING BLANC DE BLANCS
Chardonnay is hugely popular in the production of French-style Sparkling wines, much-desired for its citrussy, minerally characters.
Blanc de Blancs (literally, “white of whites”) refers to the fact that only white grapes have been used in the making of Sparkling Blanc de Blancs, and Chardonnay is far and away the most widely used grape for this purpose.
Without question, Tasmania is the critical darling when it comes to such Sparkling wines.
2. LIGHT TO MEDIUM-WEIGHT, LIGHTLY OAKED CHARDONNAY
Lightly oaked Chardonnay is relished for its lighter, somewhat fruity profile, crisper texture and floral, citrus-tinged aromatics.
This style of Chardonnay became much more popular here in Australia following the backlash against the big, buttery styles of the 1980s and ’90s, and some of the best examples typically emerge from celebrated cool-climate regions like the Adelaide Hills, Yarra Valley, Tasmania and Tumbarumba.
3. MEDIUM TO FULLER-WEIGHT, MORE HEAVILY OAKED
Closer to the ‘classic’ style, these ‘bigger’ Chardonnays use oak to elicit notes of confectionery and vanilla in the wine, and help deliver a mouth-filling, buttery-like texture.
Today’s best examples are defined by their exceptional balance of flavour and texture, with the Hunter Valley and Margaret River recognised as among the best regions for this distinctive style of Chardonnay.
WANT TO KNOW MORE? OAKY-DOKEY!
So, what leads to such diversity in Chardonnay style? It all comes down to the winemaker.
The two most significant decisions made in the winery that shape the final wine in the bottle is the presence (or absence) of oak, and the approach to fermentation taken by the winemaker, malolactic fermentation in particular.
Ageing by oak is where many wines get those delicious notes of baked apple or pie crust – common in using oak barrels – or the light vanilla and struck match notes that arise from using toasted new oak or oak chips in the fermenting process.
In malolactic fermentation, the malic acid that is naturally present in grape ‘must’ – the freshly crushed juice of the fruit – is converted to softer-tasting lactic acid through a process of inoculation with a desirable bacterium.
One of the by-products of chemical reactions produced by this process is diacetyl, which contributes to the buttery flavour associated with oaked styles of Chardonnay.
Now that’s winemaking magic!