The Versatile Chardonnay Grape . Three Diverse Styles
Chardonnay is an extremely versatile grape and it grows in most wine growing regions extremely well. With diversity of climate and different wine-making methods, we can split Chardonnay into three main styles that different people may like for different reasons as they feel so different on the palate.
The Chablis Style
The lightest style of Chardonnay is the Chablis style. Produced in a fresh way by cold vat fermentation and immediate bottling. This is also called unoaked Chardonnay in some parts of the world and the wine shows its basic, fresh and unadulterated characters of green apple and crisp, malic acid that fits very well with light seafood dishes for example oysters, sushi and / or sashimi.
The Warm Climate Style
The second style of Chardonnay, which is interesting to discuss is the fuller more warm climate style that is produced in southern parts of Europe and the northern winegrowing regions of the southern hemisphere. Where there is more sun there is obviously more ripeness and Chardonnay then picks up characters of ripe peach, melon and fuller more tropical fruit characters. Some writers call this the Dolly Parton style, full-bodied and rich in character. These wines are generally produced unoaked as the fruit richness is powerful and the style of Chardonnay goes well with fuller styles of food like heavier fish dishes, chicken or veal and other light meat dishes.
The Montrachet Style
The third and most complex style of Chardonnay offers depth in colour and much richer characters on the palate - this is the French Montrachet style. These styles are produced by taking the first-fermented wine and moving that wine into French oak barriques. A bacteria is then added causing malolactic fermentation and this second fermentation turns the tart and citrusy malic acids into soft, creamy and buttery acids that are soft and round on the palate. These Chardonnays that go through a second fermentation in a barrel (burgundy does this a lot and a great example is Montrachet) become richer and more textured. These wines also pick up the characters from the barrel which are often toasted and this gives the wine some vanilla pod and nutty (almond / walnut) characters. In fact, you can often detect caramel and vanilla ice cream in the aromas.
It is quite interesting to understand these three styles of Chardonnay before picking through a wine list. If you like fresh and crisp wines you would probably prefer the first style. If you like something more fruity and rich and fuller on the palate you might like the second style. The third style is of course the most expensive and the most powerful and the best for ageing mainly because the wine has been through oak contact and the tiny particles in the wine are protected by the essences from the sap in the barrels.
I would suggest trying them all out and making up your own mind! The image I have posted with these blog shows the Barking Owl Chardonnay from Western Australia. Fresh and crisp, with malolactic ferment, so offers richness and texture. Enjoy!