History of Chardonnay

Long established as a key ingredient of a variety of prestigious vintages, the chardonnay grape has a history that’s as captivating as the wines it is used to create. Something which isn’t widely known about the chardonnay grape is that it is not a “purebred” species. Like many other premium grape species, the chardonnay grape was originally propagated in Burgundy, a prestigious wine-growing area in France. With reports of the chardonnay grape going back to medieval times, recent DNA studies have revealed that the grape actually came about many centuries ago, due to a fusion of two older grape species, the gouais and pinot grapes. It is suspected that it was medieval monks who crossed the two varieties, leading to the creation of the distinctive pinot-gouais blend that we know today as the chardonnay grape. Although technically the chardonnay grape is a cross-breed, it is still classified as a single grape species, mainly on account of the longevity with which the DNA has remained unchanged, following the initial cross-breeding so many years ago.

Interestingly, the gouais grape was widely disdained by the French, who felt that it created inferior wine. Such was their contempt for the gouais grape, that in times past several parts of the country tried to ban it!

Chardonnay

What Food Does Chardonnay Suit?

Because of the wide variation in chardonnay tastes, it’s important to consider the terroir and degree of oaking before deciding on a suitable bottle to complement your meal. For example, the lighter chardonnays (such as a Tasmanian chardonnay), are well-suited to lighter, more delicate dishes: crustaceans; fish; vegetable dishes; and risotto can all work well with a lighter chardonnay. If you are serving a fuller, more oaked chardonnay, the dishes need to have a corresponding amount of depth: veal; more substantial vegetable dishes; richer fish (such as turbot); or roast chicken are all perfectly complemented by a deeper, fruitier chardonnay.

The wide variety of chardonnays mean that there is usually a suitable one for most dishes involving white meat, fish or vegetables. Generally, a chardonnay isn’t served with red meat or tomato-based dishes, but this isn’t an absolute rule! Ultimately, if you find a chardonnay that pairs well with a favourite dish, there’s no reason not to serve the two together.

What Does Chardonnay Taste Like?

The taste of chardonnay depends on several different variables. Chief among them is the terroir (the climate in which the grapes are grown) and the use of oak or acid during the fermentation process to change the flavour of the wine. The chardonnay grape is generally thought of as a “neutral” grape. This means it doesn’t have an acidic or alkali tang. Obviously, the conditions under which it is grown can affect the final flavour. Depending on the soil, amount of rain, vineyard aspect and temperature, chardonnay grapes can have anything from a delicate flavour through to a full-bodied, rich, fruity taste. This means that the taste of the chardonnay grape varies depending on where it is grown. For example, grapes grown in the Hunter Valley have a richer, more smoky flavour; in comparison, the same species grown in Tasmania, where it is cooler, has a crisp, fresh note.

Tasmanian chardonnay and grapes grown in New South Wales, tend to not have as many oak chips added to shape the taste. This results in a lighter, sharper wine. Conversely, the Riverland region (around the Lower Murray river) grapes are more heavily oaked to give a more full-bodied wine.

Chardonnay in Australia

Sources suggest that the chardonnay grape was first grown in Australia way back in the 1830s. Brought over to the country by James Busby, it enjoyed little popularity for the first 150 years of its existence here. Initially, it is thought that the chardonnay grape was mainly grown alongside other species of Vitis vinifera (grapes) in locations such as the Yarra Valley and Hunter Valley. It wasn’t considered a particularly desirable species, with many growers and wine connoisseurs preferring grapes such as Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Chardonnay became more popular in the 1950s when consumers began to demand a drier, fresher flavoured wine. Given Chardonnay’s beautifully crisp notes, it was an ideal grape for vintners to use to create popular pinot-chardonnay wines.

Chardonnay grapes tend to be grown near the coast, where there is sufficient rain for them to thrive. They are a relatively tough species that can thrive in the inhospitable Australian climate. Disease resistant and hardy, today figures show that chardonnay grapes are far and away the most commonly grown white grape in Australia, with somewhere in the region of 210770 tonnes grown annually for wine production.

Where is Chardonnay Grown?

Because the Chardonnay grape is such a versatile variety to grow, it’s found across Australia and internationally. A staple crop in the Lower Murray River area, chardonnay crops can also be found in Victoria, NSW, Tasmania and the Adelaide Hills and the Yarra Valley. As indicated earlier, the chardonnay grape is by far the most commonly grown white grape in the country, hence its wide-spread provenance.

Beyond Australia, the chardonnay grape is grown extensively in South Africa, Europe and the Americas. Each country produces several different chardonnay wines, depending on the area where the grape is grown. In North America, for example, Californian chardonnay (which is said to acquire its unique flavour due to the rolling sea fogs which come in from the pacific), is particularly well-regarded. Wine made from chardonnay grapes grown in Piedmont and Tuscany is also recommended. Although the Burgundy chardonnays are widely considered to be the finest (perhaps because Burgundy was the birthplace of the chardonnay grape), Californian, Australian and Italian chardonnays also rank highly in expert taste comparisons. Chardonnay is characterised by difference: the enormous diversity of flavours this grape can develop mean that there is a chardonnay suitable for almost every palette. Possibly the most versatile of grapes, the chardonnay creates some of the finest wines you’ll enjoy on any table.