Chardonnay is the world’s most popular and versatile wine from where it is grown, how it is made, and its range of flavors – rich and buttery to crisp and light.
The Chardonnay grape originated in Eastern France in the Burgundy region but is now grown throughout the world. It is very susceptible to the climate where it is grown. In cool climates the grape takes on more fruit flavor and in warm climates it has soft sweet flavors of honey and butter.
Throughout history it is traditional to ferment Chardonnay in oak barrels – especially Chardonnay wines from California. However, more wineries are starting to age and ferment the wine in concrete or stainless steel tanks.
Unoaked or stainless chardonnays are not aged in oak barrels, so they do not have that buttery, creamy flavor you expect from a chardonnay. Instead, they are crisp, light and have prominent citrus flavors.
Chardonnay with a buttery or creamy flavor is aged in oak and also goes through a secondary fermentation called malolactic fermentation. During this process, some or all of the tart malic acid is transformed into softer lactic acid. This turns the wine from crisp to fat and brings to play the buttery flavor.
Wine of the Month: Stag’s Leap Chardonnay
With well-integrated vanilla oak notes, subtle almond undertones, and a flinty minerality on the finish, this wine is full, rich and bright, but maintains freshness due to its acidity, which creates a Chardonnay of lovely complexity and depth.
The grapes for this Napa Valley Chardonnay were sourced from the cooler southern appellations within Napa Valley, where fog from the San Pablo Bay helps to cool the vineyards throughout the growing season, allowing for ideal preservation of freshness and acidity. The majority of the fruit comes from the Carneros AVA which provides citrus, mineral, and crisp apple notes, with a smaller percentage coming from the Oak Knoll AVA, which contributes more tropical and stone fruit characteristics. These vineyards consistently produce Chardonnay ideal for our style of winemaking with fresh fruit flavors and bright acidity and vibrancy.
The inviting bouquet expresses aromas of creamy lemon meringue, tropical pineapple, delicate elderflower and hints of raw almond nuttiness. On the palate, you’ll find a classic refreshing Chardonnay with a vibrancy of tropical fruit notes that transition into lemon curd and meringue while also maintaining a roundness in balanced texture.
The grapes are gently whole-cluster pressed in order to preserve the fresh, floral aromatics naturally occurring in the fruit. Twenty-five percent of the wine is fermented in stainless steel and remains in tank until the final blend is assembled. The winemaking hand remains light, with twenty-five percent of the wine fermented and aged in new French oak barrels and the remaining fifty percent in seasoned French oak. This specific barrel treatment helps preserve the essential purity of the fruit while adding subtle notes of oak complexity. It does not undergo malolactic fermentation, which helps to further maintain the fruit’s natural acidity and aromatic freshness. The wine was bottled after just six months of maturation.
When pairing chardonnay with food it is best to know how the chardonnay was made. Unoaked or stainless chardonnay pairs well with seafood and foods with light flavors. Chardonnay aged in oak pairs best with food that has a buttery or creamy sauce and mild cheeses. Chardonnay that has been through both oak aging and malolactic fermentation pair best with meats such as chicken, lean pork and veal.
Recipe of the Month:
Pound Cake with Honeyed Peaches
1 loaf of FRESH bakery pound cake
4 peaches, sliced
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons honey, divided
2 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla, divided
2 cups whipped cream
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Slice the pound cake into three layers and set aside. In a sauté pan combine the water, 2 tablespoons honey, sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Add peach slices and simmer for two minutes or until tender. Set aside to cool. In a bowl add the whipped cream. Fold in the remaining tablespoon of honey and a teaspoon of vanilla. To assemble the cake, place the bottom layer of cake on a plate, spread with a thin layer of cream, top with peaches, repeat with the next layer. Reserve some cream and a few peaches for the top layer. Drizzle with more honey for garnish.