Chardonnay's popularity has grown immensely in the past fourty years, to where it is now the most popular white wine available. Winemakers love Chardonnay because of the high yield, and ease of growth. Wine drinkers love Chardonnay because of the huge variety of flavours it can take on. Chardonnay grapes are grown extensively in California, France, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Cool-climate Chardonnays require longer growing times, and end up with subtle overtones. Warm-climate Chardonnays, on the other hand, tend to be full flavored. Chardonnay grapes are very sensitive to their environment and derive many of their flavors from the soils and the method of cultivation and production. Chardonnay is also used to make sweet dessert style wines, and in the production of sparkling wines and is a major grape used in the production of Champagne.
For much of history the origins of Chardonnay were a mystery. With recent DNA at the University of California it is now suggested that Chardonnay originated as a result of the crossing of the Pinot and Gouais Blanc grape varieties. It is thought that Romans brought Gouais Blanc to France from the Balkans, where it was widely planted by the peasants in the East of France. The Gouais Blanc grew in close proximity to the French Pinot and the two interbreed. These “new” vines soon gained a reputation for ease of cultivation and an ability to adapt to different conditions and were selected for further propagation, and so Chardonnay was born.
Chardonnay got its name from the village Chardonnay, in the Burgundy Region of France. This is the first place in which it is first thought to have grown. The earliest known reference to Chardonnay was written by the Cistercian monks in 1330. These monks are thought to have been the first to plant extensive amounts of Chardonnay vines for the mass production of Chardonnay wine.
Over the centuries Chardonnay's ease of growth, high yields and ability to produce fine wines has seen its popularity soar both with growers and consumers. It is currently the second most widely planted grape variety with over 160,000 hectares (400,000 acres) grown world wide.
Chardonnay is the second most grown grape in the world, behind Airen. Chardonnay adapts to different soil and climate conditions very well. Early ripening, naturally vigorous and resistant to disease it can be found in almost all wine growing regions in the world with some of the major producers being France, North America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada.
Although it will grow well in almost all soil conditions and climates, Chardonnay seems to best respond in clay, chalk and limestone based soils. The grape grows well in both cool and warm climates. This seems to mainly effect the taste of the wine produced, and not the growing cycle. Cool climate grapes produce wines with subtle overtones, while warmer climates tend to produce fuller flavoured wines.
Asking what Chardonnay tastes like is a bit like asking how long is a piece of string. The grape tends to be quite neutral, and takes on many of its flavors from the climate, soil conditions and method of production used. For want of a better word “classic” Chardonnays tend to be dry, slightly acidic, oaky with slight smoky overtones, ripe fruit flavors, and can have a buttery sort of finish.
Chardonnay will pair well with poultry dishes, seafood, pork or recipes that have a heavy cream or butter base. Unoaked, unwooded Chardonnays will pair wel with guacamole, grilled shrimp, salads, and curry dishes.
Chardonnay is also used to make sweet dessert style wines, and in the production of sparkling wines and Champagne.