Chardonnay felt like the perfect grape to start our series of “deep dives”, as wine professionals tend to get quite frustrated with people who say they don’t like Chardonnay. It is truly the most chameleon of grapes, able to take on a variety of flavour profiles reflecting where and how it is made, allowing the winemaker to fully express themselves, and we’ve chosen three to explore.
There are particular aspects to look out for when tasting Chardonnay that are indicators of where it is from and how it is made. Cool climate Chardonnay will taste more delicate, potentially chalky and with crisp apple or citrus flavours. As you verge into warmer climates a more tropical feel comes to its flavour with melon, fig and mango.
Then you have the techniques that a winemaker has at their disposal that can really change the style beyond that point. “Malolactic fermentation”, commonly used in cool climate styles, will turn tart malic into creamy lactic acid.
Using barrel fermentation can encourage a toasty or smoky note in the wine. Maturing in oak barrels adds more flavour such as vanilla, ginger, clove and cinnamon. And if they decide to use none of those techniques you get an unoaked Chardonnay that has a pure fruit driven style.
I would encourage you to look out for these clues to try to work out what the winemaker has done to the Chardonnay you are trying with us. To follow are our notes on each wine we tasted, each intended to showcase the potentially different styles and climatic influences on this grape.
Chardonnay Taste Test
We began with a simple test for Andy. Five Post-It notes were written, but only three matched the wines. His task was to match the descriptions to the wines. This is something you can try at home – even if you only have one bottle of wine, just write at least three notes and test somebody.
Andy says: “It was quite easy to pick out the wine on the right due to its colour, but that’s cheating. My notes were ‘honey, tropical’ and it was the only real match. Separating the other two was a little trickier, but I just managed to pick up on the smoke in number 1.”
On to the wines…