Chardonnay can take on many different profiles depending on where it is grown and how it wants to be interpreted by the winemaker. A few examples that come to mind are green apple, lemon, pear, melon, vanilla, butter and butterscotch. Generally there are three different styles and they will be discussed below. Chardonnay is grown in several different areas around the globe, but probably the two best know areas (and incidentally the most expensive) are Burgundy in France and Napa and Sonoma in California. Some less expensive areas where the varietal is grown includes Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Although most white wines are not known to age gracefully in the bottle, Chardonnay is not one of them. Many Chardonnays will age in the bottle and change their taste profile over time.
There is a saying that goes ABC (anything but chardonnay), meaning that chardonnay is boring and uninspiring and they would prefer another white instead. To me that is like saying that basic foods are boring as well, like a boring chicken dish for example. True many chicken dishes are boring but there are some that I can still remember enjoying because I loved it so much especially paired with a memorable chardonnay. The absolute same thing can be said about chardonnay or any other wine for that matter. Let’s take a look at a couple of pairings depending on the style of chardonnay you are drinking.
Young and Unoaked Chardonnay
Many winemakers regardless of where the grape is grown will choose to make their chardonnay without any time in oak barrels which produces a cleaner and crisper wine. This style of chardonnay is perfect for pairing with lighter and more delicate meals that use lighter sauces. Some pairings can include cooked shellfish like crab and shrimp, steamed and grilled fish like halibut and tilapia, chicken and pasta with lighter-style vegetables. Some of these chardonnays will even pair with sushi and oysters where the wine can highlight the mineral-driven components of the oyster.
Fruitier and Lightly Oaked Chardonnays
Many Chardonnays from slightly warmer climates, which include many of the more inexpensive growing areas, are made in this style. Besides tasting fruit like pear and lemon, there is also a hint of butter on the finish. Since the wine may be a little heavier in style than the unoaked version, generally richer dishes with slightly heavier sauces will pair with this wine. Richer styles of fish like salmon in a light buttery sauce, chicken with lemon and oregano, pork and even pasta that are served in a light cream sauce can make an exceptional pairing. Salads can sometimes be difficult to match wines with. This style of chardonnay can accentuate a cheese-based salad like a Caesar and chicken salads that include mango or peach.
Full Bodied and Oak Aged Chardonnay
These Chardonnays are the ones that can typically age well in the bottle. The winemaker uses oak barrels to add butter and oak characteristics to the wine. Many of these wines found in this style come out of California. Being that this is the “richest” and heaviest style of chardonnay means that it can stand up to even heavier dishes. Denser styles of fish like swordfish and sea bass as well as veal and pork served with mushrooms can be ideal as the wine complements the earthy components of the mushrooms. Richer styles of seafood like crab legs with butter sauce and seared scallops wrapped in bacon also can work. Vegetables like red peppers, corn and butternut squash work well too. Don’t ever forget about pairing cheese with this style and the other styles of chardonnay listed above. Some of the best cheeses to pair with Chardonnay include gruyere, provolone and brie.