Out of all the white grape varietals in the world, none are more widely planted than chardonnay. And if you think about it, it makes sense, right? I feel like the shelves of wine shops all over the world runneth over with chardonnay. Open the fridge of any suburban family and you’re likely to find a bottle of it. Every liquor store in town is going to carry it from at least five producers, and chardonnay always seems to be a wine that people find early in their wine drinking lives.

Often chardonnay gets a bad rap. I think this is because there is just so much of it produced. Unfortunately, with almost 500,000 acres of chardonnay planted around the world, there are more than a few bad bottles floating around.

So what makes chardonnay so awesome?

Well, let me step up on my soapbox…

Climate Matters

As with all grape varieties, place matters, but this is especially evident with chardonnay. The smell and taste of golden apples are present in almost all chardonnays, but the additional notes vary wildly based on local climate. Chardonnay from warmer climates, like Napa Valley in California or Australia can be almost tropical, with notes than can include papaya, mango, and even pineapple.

On the other hand, cooler climate chardonnays skew more towards Granny Smith apples, lemon, lime, and chalk. You’ll find those flavors in chardonnays from Oregon, Washington, and some cooler parts of both California and France. Just like flavor, the acidity of the wine also depends on climate. A higher growing temperature will result in a lower acidity wine, while cooler climates result in higher acidity.The same can be said for alcohol content, as well.

Creamy vs. Crisp

Just as there is a duality in the chardonnays that grow in warm versus cold climates, chardonnays can also be roughly divided by their texture. As we talked about in our post on tasting wine like a sommelier (click here if you missed it!), texture is the way a wine feels in your mouth, and chardonnays are generally either quite light and crisp or rather heavy and creamy. The reason for this in addition to climate is the introduction of oak to the wine. Oak imparts a totally new set of flavors into the wine. We talked a lot more about oak aging in a blog post here, but the tell-tell signs of oak are flavors of butter, toast, dill, and coconut.Primary Shades

It isn’t the oak aging itself that can make the wine feel thick or creamy. This texture is caused by a process called malolactic fermentation, and it can happen in any storage container, from oak barrel to steel tanks. Malolactic fermentation is the process of yeast cells transforming malic acid (the sharp acid in apples and lemons) into the softer and rounder lactic acid (the same kind of acid as in milk). In a side-by-side comparison, the transformation is striking and adds another layer of complexity to many wines. A good “rule of thumb” is that unoaked chardonnays will be lighter in color, more like straw or pale yellow, while oaked chardonnay will take on a deeper yellow, almost golden hue.

You can find excellent examples of these creamy, well-oaked chardonnays from all over the world, but some of the come from places like Napa Valley, Australia, northern Italy, the Burgundy region of France. Unoaked, crisp wines can also come from anywhere, with many notable producers in the French region of Chablis in Burgundy, Oregon, France’s Loire Valley, and New Zealand.

The Other Faces of Chardonnay

As I said before, chardonnay is incredibly versatile, it can be transformed into almost endless expressions through different winemaking techniques and practices. Two of the most common are as a sparkling wine and as a blending grape.

Chardonnay is the workhorse of the three grapes that make Champagne: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. A Champagne made only of chardonnay is referred to as a Blanc de Blanc, or essentially “white of whites.”  A Blanc de Blanc can be made anywhere in the world, and the grapes for these wines are often the first to be harvested so that they don’t get too ripe and lose their natural acidity.These wines are ridiculously good and get even better (think more creamy and nutty) with age.

As a blending grape, chardonnay can take on an entire rainbow of additional flavors. You’ll commonly see it blending with grapes such as sauvignon blanc in France’s Loire Valley, or with viognier in warmer climates. In cooler climates, it often blended with riesling for additional aromatic notes. In California, some winemakers are even experimenting by blending it with semillon or even moscato.

Pairing Chardonnay

If you’re now worried about finding the right food to pair with all of these different styles, don’t be! As with all wine, the key here is to find a food and a wine that you really like and enjoy them together. It shouldn’t be a stressful process, so here are a few ideas to guide you:

  • For cheese, the softer the better, both goat and cow’s milk will be fine.
  • White meat, like chicken and fish are your friends.
  • The more golden the wine, the heavier the food. For a well-oaked California chardonnay, try something heavier like a corn chowder or pasta in an alfredo sauce. For a light chardonnay like those from Chablis, stick to a class pairing like oysters, scallops, or fish.
  • Bubbles help cut through salt, so pair your Blanc de Blanc with french fries, fried chicken, or other guilty pleasures.

If you’re like me, you don’t always finish every bottle of wine that you open- you end up recorking it and sticking it the fridge. More often than not, these bottles end up as ingredients in the next night’s dinner. Adding wine to a dish can add a host of new flavors. Adding wine is the perfect way to turn a simple weeknight meal into something special.

The key when cooking with wine is to only use a bottle of quality wine. This doesn’t mean that you should go out and spend your whole paycheck on bottle of wine just to pour it into your spaghetti sauce, but it does mean that you should get a wine that you’d be happy drinking on its own. Remember, whatever wine you use will end up dramatically affecting the dish, so it’s best to choose something you enjoy. If I don’t have any partial bottles to use, I’ll serve whatever is left over from cooking to pair with the dish.

Wine can be added to many dishes, but knowing when to add the wine can be a little tricky. You should treat wine much like you would any other spice or herb, in that too much of it won’t be noticeable, but too much could ruin a dish. You’ll want to add the wine before or during the actual cooking time. Adding it too late in the process doesn’t allow the alcohol to cook off and can your entire dish a harsh taste. For most recipes, you’ll only want about  ¼ of a cup.

When it comes to choosing which wine to add to a specific dish, the combinations are almost endless. As a rule of thumb, I generally pair red wines with red meat and tomato based dishes, while using white wines for vegetables and seafood. It’s also a safe bet to use wines in dishes that are from the same region. For example, an Italian sangiovese would be excellent in a hearty pasta dish.

Poached Salmon

1 lb of salmon

1 large white onion

2 lemons


1 bottle of aromatic white wine

Slice the onion and place it on the bottom of a large pan. Rub the salmon with salt and pepper, then place on the onion skin side down, then sprinkle with dill. Slice one of the lemons into wheels and lay over the salmon. Cut the second lemon into halves, and drizzle the juice of one half over the salmon. Fill the pan with 1 bottle of white wine, if the salmon is not covered, top off with water. Turn on the heat until boiling, and then remove from heat. Cover the pan and let rest for 15 minutes. Drizzle the juice of the second lemon half over the fish once it’s plated.

For this recipe, I’ve used a number of white wines. I’ve found that an Italian falanghina, such as the Vesevo Beneventano falanghina tastes best to me, but I think an unoaked chardonnay gives the fish an added zest that I really enjoy. St. Supéry’s unoaked chardonnay is one I use all the time.

Braised fennel and white beans

4-5 fennel bulbs

2 tablespoons of olive oil

Salt to taste

2 tablespoons of honey

1 lemon, cut into wedges

¼ cup dry white wine

2 cups cooked white beans (cannellini, navy, etc)


Cut the fennel bulbs into wedges and let them cook in the olive oil over medium heat for 2-3 minutes until they begin to caramelize. Stir and let them cook through for another 2-3 minutes. Then add the lemon wedges, salt, honey, and wine*, stirring to combine. Let the wine reduce for 1-2 minutes before adding in the beans. Stir again and let cook for 5 minutes before serving. Add dill and olive oil for garnish.

I think sauvignon blanc works best here. A good French Sancerre will add a racy, tangy element to the honey and fennel, but it might be overpowering for some palates. When I choose to use a Sancerre, I always use one from Daniel Chotard. I’ve found that a well-oaked sauvignon blanc from California, such as Ferrari Carano’s fumé blanc seems to work for my guests. The oak cuts down the wine’s natural acidity and adds a tiny hint of vanilla to the dish’s natural flavor.

Pasta sauce with meatballs

Meatballs (store bought or your own recipe is fine)

Tomato based pasta sauce (store bought or your own recipe is fine)

¼ to 1 cup red wine of choice

This is my favorite way to punch up a pasta dish, especially on a busy weeknight when I haven’t had the time (or energy) to make my own sauce. You can even purchase store-bought meatballs for this so long as they aren’t already cooked. Take your uncooked meatballs and place them into a saucepan and fill it with wine so that the meatballs a quarter to half submerged. The amount of wine needed will vary. Simmer in the wine for about 10 minutes and then add your sauce to the pan to continue simmering until ready, usually about 25-30 minutes.

You can literally use any wine you want for this recipe. I’ve used cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese, and syrah and it’s come out different and delicious each time. I seem to always have a bottle of merlot on hand, especially Markham merlot, so it gets used most often. My personal favorite combination is a chorizo meatball simmered in Wisdom & Water Extra Amontillado sherry along with my own personal sauce recipe, but this recipe is so easy that you can do literally anything to it and come out with an excellent dinner.

It’s likely that you have a very clear concept of what a California chardonnay tastes like: full bodied, fruity, round, buttery. California leaves a distinct mark on its wine. There is, however, another side to chardonnay. Just as distinct but in the opposite manner, French chardonnays from the northern region of Chablis have their own unique qualities: Crisp, refined, elegant, light, subtle, and tart. To give you a chance to explore this unique region we are offering six selections at a discount. Buy them one at a time for 15% off or try any six at once and save 20%. If you find one that you absolutely love purchase a full case and receive 25% off.

Jean-Claude Courtault

Jean Claude Courtault began working in Chablis in 1974 as a vineyard manager for other estates. He began acquiring small parcels of land in 1984, starting with just 3.7 acres, and began making his own wine. Today the estate has 43 acres and is continuing to grow with the help of Jean Claude’s daughter Stéphanie and her husband Vincent Michelet. The wines of the Estate Jean-Claude Courtault are known for their strong fruit character.

2011 Chablis $24.99

The wine is an excellent introduction to Chablis. It is bright and mineral driven with hints of crisp apple and lemon. 

Domaine Testut

Founded in 1967, Domaine Testut is fortunate to have most of its vineyards planted over half a century ago. These old vines produce smaller more concentrated grapes which give the wine more intense flavor than that of wines from younger grapes. 

2013 Chablis 1er Cru Montee de Tonnerre $51.99

The Montee de Tonnerre vineyard is one of the best premier crus with ideal south-east facing exposure allowing the grapes to ripen longer. To ensure that the grapes are in perfect condition the vineyard is picked entirely by hand which ensures that the grapes don’t oxidize before reaching the winery.

Chartron et Trebuchet

The Chartron family has been growing grapes since 1859 but it was not until the 1980s that they, along with Louis Trébuchet, began making their own wines. They own some of the very best chardonnay vineyards in the whole world stretching from Chablis in the north to the Côte de Beaune further south.

2012 Chablis Premier Cru Beauroy $44.99

Their Beauroy is on the more powerfull-bodied end of the spectrum and is complimented by a portion of new oak barrels as well as extended aging, 12-16 months in barrel and  4-6 months in bottle before it is released.

Domaine Corinne Perchaud

Corinne Perchaud and her husband Jean-Pierre Grossot began working in the Domaine in 1980, they are the third generation to run the family estate which was founded in 1920. They are now joined by their daughter Eve making her the fourth generation to work at the estate.

2013 Chablis Premier Cru Vaucoupin $42.99

Their plantings in the Vaucoupin vineyard are only 3.5 acres. This site is one of the few south facing slopes in the region giving the vines longer sun exposure allowing them to ripen more. Another advantage of the site is the Kimmeridgian limestone soil that gives the wines their unique characteristics. The wine is aged on its lees in barrel for sixteen months before release which tames the tart acidity and gives it a rounder mouth feel.

2013 Chablis Premier Cru Fourneaux $42.99

Fourneaux means oven in French and is so named because the steep slopes acts to trap precious heat and the soil is rocky which reflects heat back to the plants helping them ripen the grapes to maturity. Only 25% of the wine is aged in barrel which helps to preserve freshness.

Garnier & Fils

Brothers Xavier and Jérôme Garnier share a passion for wine and the Chablis region, where their family has owned a 57-acre estate for many decades. While their father sold the grapes, the brothers began making their own wine in 1996, selling it to restaurants in and around Paris. Garnier & Fils uses traditional, environmentally friendly, organic practices; they harvest later than most, ferment with natural yeast and age the wines in very large barrels.

2013 Chablis 1er Cru Montmains $42.99

Montmains is another south facing vineyard allowing for more ripeness. The vines are all over 35 years old giving the final wine more concentration. The wine is aged in large 600L barrels as well as some stainless steel making the final wine more crisp.

Chablis Grand Cru Vauldesir $99.99

Vauldesir is one of the seven Grand Crus of Chablis. They are all located on a single hillside above the village of Chablis. The Grand Crus benefit from perfect sun exposure and the warmest spot in the area allowing the for the most intense and powerful wines. The grand Crus are are aged for nearly two years in small oak barrels before bottling adding even more body and complexity.

We’ve all heard the term “oak” used to describe wine, and at some point in all of our wine-drinking lives, we’ve internally asked ourselves what that actually means. We’ve also all been at a party in which someone mentions oak in wine and everyone will nod along like they completely understand the concept. But how many of us actually know what oak means for winemaking and can recognize the taste of it wine?



When we say a wine is oaky we are referring to the flavors from the barrels it was aged in. New barrels impart flavors of vanilla, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, dill, and smoke resulting from the toasting process that allows the barrels to be shaped. As barrels are used over and over again they lose these flavors and become more neutral. The age of the tree the barrel is made from can be very important because as the tree ages, its grains become more tightly packed. The younger tree with more loosely packed grains will impart more flavor into a wine.

You can think of oak in a similarly to salt – a chef will use more or less salt depending upon the flavors he desires in his dishes. The same is true with a winemaker and their desired flavors for their wine.

This French Chablis is completely unoaked

This French Chablis is completely unoaked

This California chardonnay spent 9 months in oak barrles

This California chardonnay spent 9 months in oak barrels

Most people are familiar with oak through drinking chardonnay. Below, we have two examples of chardonnays, both at the opposite ends of the “oak” spectrum.


The first of these is the Christian Moreau Chablis, a chardonnay that is completely unoaked and was made using stainless steel tanks. Because it was never exposed to oak, you’ll get the full, natural flavors of chardonnay: apple, lemon, and a flint-like minerality. It’s color can range from light yellow to hay.

Our second wine, a chardonnay from Rombauer Vineyards, spend nine months in oak barrels and is known for its rich aroma of lemon curd, butterscotch, and vanilla.




As you can, oak plays an important part our industry. Hopefully, next time you’re shopping for wine or tasting with friends, you’ll have a little more insight into what it is you’re drinking.