What is Chardonnay?
Chardonnay is a white wine that comes from a green-skinned variety of grape hat originated in eastern France (Burgundy). It’s now found in nearly EVERY wine-growing region around the world and is one of the most planted grape varieties. It is planted in more wine regions than even Cabernet Sauvignon.
The reason Chardonnay is so widely planted is due to its ease of cultivation and adaptability. The grape is “malleable”, meaning it can adapt to different conditions and climates with ease. The grape can also take on the impression of both its winemaker and its terroir.
Organic Chardonnay wine grapes are early-budding, meaning they are susceptible to springtime frosts, which is a particular problem in cool regions such as Champagne and Chablis. Growers will often prune back the vine prior to budburst, delaying the budburst in order to prevent late frosts from damaging the grapes. The grapes lose acidity upon ripening, so it’s vital that the harvesting is done as soon as the grapes are ripe to preserve the acidity for which Chardonnay is famous.
Chardonnay wine grapes grow on some of the most vigorous vines of any wine-making grape. Vineyard managers have to prune back the vines in order to prevent overgrowth, which could cause a drop in grape quality.
The grape can thrive even in wine regions with short growing seasons and can adapt to the soil of nearly any vineyard. The different soil types will be reflected in the flavours and aromas of Organic Chardonnay. This makes it one of the most varied types of wine on the planet.
What is a good organic Chardonnay wine?
Talk to wine drinkers, and they may tell you Chardonnay’s flavour is either citrussy or buttery. Seems like two ends of the flavour spectrum, doesn’t it?
There’s a simple answer: Chardonnay can be either oaked or unoaked.
What is the difference between unoaked and oaked Chardonnay?
The main difference between the two is that oaked chardonnay is aged in new oak barrels. Unoaked chardonnay is not. If chardonnay is stored in oak barrels, the oak imparts flavour into the wine, that is sweeter, for a taste of caramel, butter and vanilla. This is opposed to the chardonnay being stored in steel or plastic tanks.
An aged organic Chardonnay that spent time in oak can often have lost the ‘showy’ flavours and its more subtle spicy qualities will be so beautifully melded into the fruit that its presence is nothing short of perfect.
The ageing process gives the wine a buttery flavour that is smooth and delicious. Oaked Chardonnay has been called “butter in a glass” thanks to the richness provided by the oaking process.
Unoaked Chardonnay, on the other hand, tends to have fruit-forward flavours. A very ripe Chardonnay, such as those from warmer regions like California, will have sweeter, deeper flavours like mango, guava, and pineapple. A barely ripe Chardonnay, from a cool area such as Chablis in northern Burgundy, will taste more of lime, lemon zest, lemon, and green apple.
’Butter’ may sound like a strange flavour to be in wine, but there is some truth behind it. All wines go through an ‘alcoholic fermentation’ – this is what turns grape juice into wine – but the winemaker can also choose whether the wine undergoes ‘malolactic fermentation’. This converts the tart, appley, ‘malic’ acidity into creamy, buttery ‘lactic’ acid, giving the wine a much richer, smoother taste.
When Chardonnay wines are aged in oak barrels, they gain more richness, and often a vanilla or coconut note. While ‘oaked’ can be a useful indication of style, there can be a wide range of styles within the category of oaked Chardonnay, depending on the type and age of oak, as well as all the other factors affecting the wine discussed above.
How many calories in a 125ml glass of Chardonnay wine?
There are around 90 calories in a 125ml glass of Chardonnay Wine. You can read more about this in our detailed guide: How Many Calories are there in a Bottle of Wine?
Organic Chardonnay wine characteristics
One of the qualities winemakers most love about organic Chardonnay is that it’s something of a blank canvas – it is a variety that will sing the tune of the winemaker’s choosing. The taste of chardonnay can be vibrant, linear, citrusy and mineral, but can also be buttery, voluptuous and tropical.
What we are saying is that characterising Chardonnay is a tricky business!
What temperature should you serve Chardonnay?
Chardonnay is meant to be served slightly chilled. An Oaked Chardonnay is meant to be served closer to room temperature, at 12 C (54 F), while an unoaked Chardonnay should be served at around 9 C (48 F). If you’re unsure, it’s always best to serve the wine slightly colder as it will warm up with time.
The taste of Organic Chardonnay wine
A young Chardonnay can offer Granny Smith apples, lemon and lime peel and a host of other citrus fruit. These are qualities most commonly associated with cooler climates (think coastal, high altitude and regions like Burgundy). Where the grapes are exposed to long, sunny days the sugars in the grape increase and the fruit flavours become altogether more rich – juicy peach, papaya and the like. Wine-folk refers to these qualities as primary aromas because they come from the grapes themselves and are generally evident in the early stages of the wine’s evolution.
Depending on how the wine is made, it may show secondary aromas. The most familiar of the winemaker’s ‘kit’ is oak and when it and Chardonnay are united you find notes of toasted nuts, vanilla and sweet baking spices. Of course, how much oak and of what age and for what length of time all play a part too.
Malolactic fermentation is another technique that plays a huge part in the wine’s final flavour profile. The process sees malic acid turned to lactic acid; the latter much creamier and softer and for many of us, with notes of butter.
Some organic Chardonnay wines are made with ageing in mind. These are amongst the most complex wines of all. The flavours become increasingly nuanced over time. It’s hard to pinpoint precise flavours but rest assured if you have the opportunity to taste one, you’re a lucky person indeed! Sit back, take your time and savour the experience!
Fun facts about Chardonnay
- Legend has it that the wife of Emperor Charlemagne ordered white grapes to be planted in the now-famous Chardonnay heartland of Burgundy. it is claimed it was because she was weary of the red wine staining her husband’s beard!
- Following the use of Chardonnay as a girl’s name in the television series, “Footballer’s Wives”, the name went from appearing on almost no birth certificates to over sixty in one year!
- Chardonnay came about when the red variety, Pinot Noir was crossed with the nowadays unheard of, Gouais Blanc many hundreds of years ago.
- Chardonnay growers have access to some 80 (!) clones to choose from. The style of wine they wish to make, and their unique terroir will help steer their choice.
- Chablis is indeed made from Chardonnay, so never be the one to say … “love Chablis but not so keen on Chardonnay”!
What regions are known for growing Chardonnay?
Notable organic Chardonnay wines come from all over but here are some of our top regions for thrilling examples:
The French production of Chardonnay is the most important in the world. As mentioned above, Chardonnay grapes are used to produce the various Burgundy wines that sell at incredibly high prices around the world. France’s various Chardonnay-growing regions are “the originals”.
These include famous names such as Chablis (north Burgundy), Montrachet and Meursault (Côte de Beaune) and Pouilly-Fuissé and St-Veran (Maconnais, south Burgundy).
California has become the world’s #2 producer of Chardonnay wine, but the U.S. offers thousands of styles of the wine every year—both oaked and unoaked. The grapes are grown everywhere in the U.S., from Washington State to Southern California to New York State to Arizona to Massachusetts.
California Chardonnays tend to be richer and heartier, while the cooler regions (like Oregon and Washington) produce Chardonnays that are lighter and have a higher acidity.
South Africa only began growing Chardonnay in the 1980s and 90s, but they’ve fully embraced the white grape. It has become one of the most popular and best-known South African wine exports.
The distinctive flavours of South African Organic Chardonnay set it apart from Old World and Northern Hemisphere whites. The wine is perfect for pairing with a wide variety of meals—everything from fish (lighter whites) to rich and creamy dishes (oaked Chardonnays).
While NZ may now be famous for its Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay was the country’s #1 product from 1990 to 2002. It’s still grown in large quantities on the island, second only to Sauvignon Blanc.
The North Island is famous for its Chardonnays, specifically Wairarapa and Hawke’s Bay. The lean flavours and noticeable acidity of the Chardonnay is the result of the temperate maritime climate. New Zealand’s Chardonnays have fruit-forward flavours, with tastes of tropical and citrus fruits.
Australian Chardonnay is a microcosm of fashions in the wider wine world over the last couple of decades. They burst onto the scene with ripe, oaky Chardonnays, and over the years the intensity, oak, and often the alcohol, went up and up. Recently, however, there has been a move towards less interventionist winemaking and earlier picking of grapes to give a leaner, lighter style of Organic Chardonnay.
This reflects the wider trend for lower alcohol levels, less oak and more ‘natural’ styles in many wines across the world.
Many Australian Chardonnays are still oaked, but this oak may now be larger, older barrels that give less overt oak flavours, but still provide additional complexity and texture. We’ve found a lot of well-priced options coming from Australia, making them great for those interested in quality wine at a reasonable cost.
The USA, Australia and France are by far the most important organic Chardonnay growers with countries like Italy, South African, Chile and Argentina also significant. You might be more surprised to learn that Chardonnay is in Canada, Morocco, Switzerland and good old Blighty too! The latest figures suggest that there are over 200,000 hectares of Chardonnay vineyards in the world – a greater landmass than the country of Slovenia. It’s in the top five wine grape varieties planted globally and plantings are continuing to increase.
Organic Chardonnay is, in many ways, like a very good pair of hiking boots… comfortable in many terrains, not too worried about water (compared to some varieties) and come to mould to their owner in time!
Great organic Chardonnay is made all over the world. Below are a couple that of Chardonnays from less well-known Chardonnay-growing countries.
The Argentine Domaine Bousquet Chardonnay has French winemaking flair with Argentine panache. It’s a scintillating Chardonnay that Vintage Roots regulars adore.
The supremely elegant South African Longridge Wine Estate Chardonnay has benchmark white orchard fruit, with refreshing minerality and delicate toasty notes.
Distinct notes of minerality, combined beautifully with citrus and lime aromas on the nose are complemented by shortbread and dessert peaches on the palate, ending in a refreshing, lingering and perfectly balanced finish.
The difference between cool and warm climate Chardonnay
Each country, each region and winemakers will tell you, each microsite within their vineyard is different.
Lots of factors contribute to whether a vineyard is considered to be cool or warm climate:
- Proximity to water
- Local winds
- Soil types
- Mediterranean or Continental climates
The important thing to remember is that even ‘hot’ countries like Australia have areas that are very definitely cool in winemaking terms.
Southern Italy and Spain are Old World countries but with decidedly warm climate wine-making regions. Famously, the Mornington Peninsula in Australia and the Pacific coastal regions of Chile (think Casablanca) are very much cool!
Although sweeping generalisations should always be viewed with some caution, you can expect warm-climate Chardonnay wines to be full-bodied with a degree of opulence and some lovely tropical fruit flavours from papaya to pineapple.
Cooler-climate wines tend to have higher acidity and have a bit more verve. Though white orchard fruits like peach and apricot are readily found, they’re likely to have notes reminiscent of lemon, lime and green apple.
Some might say that minerality is more commonly associated with cooler-climate wines, but we think this isn’t entirely fair and find an element of so-called minerality in quality Chardonnay wines from all over the world.
Organic Chardonnay & food pairing recommendations
Organic Chardonnay delivers some of the most versatile food wines on the planet. The fact that you can find both oaked and unoaked examples means you can pair it with a wider variety of dishes than many red and white wines. Here are a handful of recommendations of delicious dishes you can pair with the organic chardonnay of your choice:
- Fish Pie – Fish Pie is a classic British meal, and it’s the perfect way to turn bland white fish or smaller off-cuts into something delicious and flavourful. If you’re looking for a wine to pair with your pie, try with a fruity, unoaked or lightly oaked Chardonnay from a cool climate, such as Chablis. The brightness and acidity of the wine will cut through the creamy filling.
- Steak Béarnaise – What could be a better lunch or dinner than delicious Steak Béarnaise? The creamy, herby sauce served with a massive steak is the perfect way to end the day in style. Red wine such as Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon might be the obvious choice, but lightly cooked steak is a fantastic pairing with a full-bodied and oaked Chardonnay. The buttery richness of the wine makes it a gorgeous pairing with the tarragon, lime, and parsley flavours of the Béarnaise sauce.
- Roasted Guinea Fowl – Roasted guinea fowl is the perfect way to dine country-style, with the richness of your wild fowl contrasting with delicious stuffing, chestnuts, sage, and lemon flavours. Pair your roast fowl with a mature, barrel-fermented Chardonnay (3-8 years old). The flavours of the wine will bring out the subtler tastes of the roasted fowl.
- Organic English Brief! One can only hope that there are other folk out there who occasionally can’t be bothered to cook and have the odd night in with a chunk of cheese and a glass of wine… If so, and you’re Chardonnay-minded, then pick up a lovely ripe Brie and voilà a gastro-delight that requires only the most minimal of washing up effort. If you want to keep things closer to home and splash out a little, why don’t you go for an English sparkling such as the Albury Estate Blanc de Blancs and an organic English Brie (we love this one from Simon Weaver).
- Sweet Potato and Chickpea curry is a vegan-friendly recipe that wows with a full-bodied, warmer climate Chardonnay. The natural sweetness of sweet potatoes, with the addition of coconut and coriander are just crying out for a ripe, South American or Australian Chardonnay. Yum!
How best to serve Organic Chardonnay wine
Organic Chardonnay is meant to be served slightly chilled. An Oaked Chardonnay is meant to be served closer to room temperature, at 12 C (54 F), while an unoaked Chardonnay should be served at around 9 C (48 F). If you’re unsure, it’s always best to serve the wine slightly colder as it will warm up with time.
Organic Chardonnay wines, in common with many wines, are often served far too cold. It’s natural, most of us pop them in the fridge overnight and uncork them the following evening, after a hard day’s work in the evening.
If you serve wine too cold, it means the flavours and nuances of the wines run the risk of being muted and lost. The younger and lighter-bodied the wine the happier it will be to come out refreshingly chilled. The temperature will accentuate the wine’s verve, acidity and freshness.
A Chardonnay wine that has some bottle age or is youthful but with a more complex, broader-flavour profile will generally show its best served cool rather than cold. A touch warmer and the fruit flavours will sing more generously, and you’ll pick up more nuance and the thrills of more developed aromas and characteristics.
You’ll find temperature charts all over the internet, but in simple terms, a couple of hours in the fridge is generally more than enough and if it’s on the chilly side, just leave it in your glass for five or ten minutes and you’ll be good to go.
Vintage Roots Organic Chardonnay wine recommendations
A French classic… Domaine de al Verpaille Mâcon-Villages Vielles Vignes shows that Burgundy does have some cracking-value gems to offer!
A Chilean favourite … Adobe Chardonnay has a warm climate tropicality with impressive freshness and vitality. A bargain at the price!
For those who want No-Added Sulphur… Cuvée Secrete is cracking southern French Chardonnay that is rich in fruit but without any added sulphur. Win-win!
If you love organic Chardonnay, it’s got to be Chablis … Domaine Goulley have impressed us for decades and we love the Chablis.
Adored by us and our Antipodean Friends the Walnut Block Chardonnay had us licking our lips from our first taste… Salty, flavoursome and beautifully balanced!
Organic Chardonnay: The King of Whites
Actress, Kate Winslet is quoted as saying, “everyone can commit to 20 minutes, especially if there’s a glass of Chardonnay afterwards.” The context of the quote has proven hard to track down but it’s safe to surmise that a glass of Chardonnay wine is a treat, a reward, a thank you and a delicious part of anyone’s day.
Given that Chardonnay is planted from England to Tasmania, Patagonia to South Africa, this is a grape that delivers a dazzling array of wines. Whatever your style preference, there’s almost certainly a Chardonnay out there for you somewhere! That’s why, for many, Chardonnay is the King – or should it be Queen – of White wines.
Chardonnay white wine history
Once, Chardonnay was believed to be a relative of Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc grapes, but modern science has proven that it is a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc. It is believed the ancient Romans brought the Gouais grape from Croatia, but it quickly became one of the most cultivated grapes in early France.
The grape interbred with the Pinot grape thanks to the proximity of the vineyards run by the aristocracy of France.
Chardonnay is most famous in the Burgundy region of France, where it is generically known as “white Burgundy”. Other regions of France, such as Champagne, also grow Chardonnay, and its versatility has made it one of the most popular of the grapes brought to New World wine-growing regions. The adaptability of the grape makes it highly compatible with each new region, and every country around the world has their own unique take on Chardonnay thanks to its malleability.