Today, a big wine event is being celebrated by wine lovers and enthusiasts globally, through social media: Chardonnay Day (May 26). Chardonnay, a green-skinned wine grape variety is a favorite among white and sparkling wine producers all over the world. It is one of the most highly celebrated and widely-planted grape varieties in wine history.
This 24-hour event is made possible through different social media sites where people enjoy the celebration wherever they happen to be and interact with others who are like themselves, wine connoisseurs, fans and lovers. It enables wine people to connect, exchange opinions and converse online, as if they are having up close and personal conversations over a glass of wine. But in some places, where wine tasting events happen, virtual conversations could actually turn into meet-ups and thus, creating a whole new world for wine enthusiasts all over the world. This is something that even ordinary people look forward to, learning about the different kinds of wines and meeting new faces and friends, getting to know the various wine cultures across the globe.
History. For those who don’t know anything about Chardonnay, wine grapes or anything related to this celebration, Chardonnay is a grape variety, commonly grown by wineries and are used to produce white and sparkling wines, including Champagne.
According to the grapevines, there are also controversies regarding the grape’s origin. It was once said that because of its commonalities with other grape varieties, it originated from the Middle East cities like Lebanon and Syria and that passing crusaders may have transported this vine to Europe. But now, there is no doubt that Burgundy in France is home to this famous wine grape. It is very popular among winemakers because it has a high yield and easy to grow. It adapts well to different climates in different regions. This results in a great variety in the style of wines.
Growth and Production. If there is something that winemakers should take note of, it is the compatibility of the grape varieties to the region’s climate. Most often, wine grapes are known to be well-suited to regions, although some vineyards are located in tropical regions.
A typical example is Australia, where the country’s climate varies. This makes a big difference in producing Chardonnay wines. Oak chips and acids are added during fermentation process to enhance the grape’s richness to compensate for the very warm climate where the Chardonnay grapes are grown (I am not a fan of oak chips – it’s a way to cheapen out on the process…the best Australian wineries are more ethical and do age their wines in barrels). Australia’s wine style is distinguished by having big fruity flavors and easy accessibility. The cooler climates of Tasmania and Victoria results to wines that are less- oaked flavored.
South Africa also has its share of Chardonnay-made wines that are not only famous in their region but has also captured the hearts of people globally. South African Chardonnays were ranked in the world’s top ten best Chardonnays of the world along with France, Austria, Spain, Greece, Canada, and Germany. In Western Cape in South Africa, winemakers have been constantly experimenting with the mix of Chardonnay with Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc to create more classy flavors and world class wines.
In Italian wine making history, even with the wide production of Chardonnays in different varieties, most Chardonnays were used as a blending grape for other varieties. Most Chardonnays are found in the northern wine regions, but is widely spread out, even reaching the southern part of Italy such as Sicily and Apulia. They are often used for producing sparkling wines and sometimes blended with Garganega for weight and wine structure purposes.
North American Chardonnays are famous for being creamy and fruity. Famous Chardonnay producers are California and New York. The region’s coastal climate seems to favor the production of high quality Chardonnays. It showed that the coastal fogs can actually delay the ripening process of the grape, thus, giving it more time to develop its natural flavors. While in New York, Chardonnays was the first European grape variety to be introduced and grown in the east of Rocky Mountains. As Chardonnay favors cooler climate, this seem to suit well New York’s cool climate. The weather helps the grape variety to develop greater complex flavor and character.
France is known to many as a wine capital city. With an array of grape varieties to choose from, it certainly is the world’s leading wine producing country. Burgundy Chardonnay is one of the world’s most common white grape varieties. Unlike in other countries where Chardonnays are used to blend with other varieties, some white wines are produced from 100% Chardonnay grape. In other parts of France like Champagne, Chardonnay is included in the top three most used varieties of grapes planted in the region. They are nearly focusing on the ripening of the grapes in this region because of its mean climate, thus, giving the impression of un- Chardonnay like wine products from this region. But what they are really trying to achieve is to develop Chardonnay’s elements of finesse and balanced acidity that creates a perfect blend for creating premier, world-class white wines. Something that makes this region’s Chardonnays wines possesses a distinctive character from other kinds.
To Oak or not to Oak. Food and wine have this similarity at the time of processing. Food when cooked in stainless steel pots, retains its flavor, unlike when it’s cooked in aluminum. Wine assumes the same technique in fermentation.
Premier white wines differ from the way they are fermented and aged to perfection. The perfect technique is something that all wine lovers disagree on.
Traditionally, vineyards use old school methods like aging their wines oak barrels. Oak can either be used before and after the fermentation process. This is referred to as barrel aging. Oak aging has a deep effect on the wines. The amount of charring treatment (tannin) that the oak has undergone, determines the level of complexity of the flavors of the resulting wines. It results to flavors like creamy, caramel, coconut, cinnamon, vanilla, smoky and spicy flavors. This “oaky” result sometimes leaves the impression that the flavor was from the grape itself.
However, with the technological advances and evolving drinking and tastes preferences of modern civilizations, a new school method of aging is now used by most modernist winemakers. Because the oak process somehow overpowers the natural flavor of the wine grape, steel lined tanks are used to age the wines, thus resulting to a more sweet and tarty taste, to the delight of the modern crop of wine connoisseurs and enthusiasts. It lets the wine age to perfection without losing its natural flavors, texture and aroma. Un-oaked wines are a new fave of wine enthusiasts all over the world.
There is one key point to remember, however. The aging process, both oaked and un-oaked, has nothing to do with the buttery taste in Chardonnays. It results from the malolactic fermentation (MLF), a fermentation process where the hard malic acid softens and leaves a buttery taste to wines. This process is commonly used in Californian wineries which is a popularity factor of their wines. Evidently, there are certain preferences for using such fermentation process. The wineries that do not use the MLF produce more green apple-tasting wines.
Indeed, Chardonnay is a classic staple in white wine making. Due to its highly adaptive and profound flavorful characteristic, no wonder this grape variety is consistently a global phenomenon.
Chardonnays I like right now:
Santa Carolina Reserva De Familia Chardonnay 2008 $14
Joseph Drouhin Clos des Mouches 2007 $89