Five little known facts about Chardonnay


For Oregon Wine Month this May, we are celebrating Chardonnay, one of the most popular varieties in the world! In the tasting room, we love to chat with guests about this wine, whose spectrum of styles and flavor profiles offers something for all wine enthusiasts. Here are five facts to help you enjoy your next glass of Chardonnay:

1. Chardonnay is the most widely distributed white wine grape in the world. While overall acreage of Chardonnay falls short of Spain’s Airen grape and Ugni Blanc (aka Trebbiano), Chardonnay is planted in virtually every wine region in the world. This is due in part to Chardonnay’s adaptability to a wide range of climates and soils as well as its popularity.

2. Chardonnay is related to Pinot noir.  In fact, Chardonnay is Pinot noir’s “daughter”. A chance crossing of Pinot noir and an obscure grape variety called Gouais Blanc produced the most popular wine grape in the world. Gouais Blanc, which is virtually nonexistent in France today, is thought to have been brought to Burgundy by the Romans between the 5th and 10th centuries. Pinot noir and Gouais Blanc are also the proud parents of Gamay, Melon de Bourgogne, Blaufränkisch and Auxerrois!

3. Chardonnay takes its name from the village of Chardonnay in the Mâcon region of Burgundy. It’s difficult to say exactly when the Chardonnay grape first appeared in the vineyards of Burgundy, but over the centuries it has been spelled Chardenai, Chardenay, Chardenet, Chardennet, Chardonai, Chardonnet, Chatenait, Chardonet, Chaudenay, and Chaudenet before the modern spelling of Chardonnay became it’s standardized name in the 1890s. Virtually all other synonyms for Chardonnay have been abandoned except for the synonym “Morillon” still used by some winemakers in the Styrian region of Austria.

4. Chardonnay has a wide range of flavors depending on where the grapes are grown. Chardonnay wines have a reputation for being made in the cellar rather than the vineyard, meaning the influence of the winemaker plays a large part in the character and flavor of the resulting wine. With that said, location does matter.  Chardonnay grown in very warm wine regions like Napa Valley or Australia tend to exhibit tropical fruit flavors of Pineapple, Mango, or Papaya with soft acidity whereas Chardonnay grown in cool wine growing regions like the Willamette Valley tend to exhibit bright Apple, Pear, Peach and Citrus flavors with bright acidity. The oak and buttery qualities of some Chardonnay wines are the results of style choices made by the winemaker, not characteristics of the grape itself.

5. More Chardonnay is produced in Burgundy than Pinot noir. We tend to think of red Pinot noir wines when we think of Burgundy, after all Burgundy is the name we use for a shade of red, but actually, Chardonnay reigns as the production champion. Chardonnay accounts for almost 60% of Burgundy’s wine production compared to only 30% for Pinot noir.  The remaining 10% is split among Aligoté, Cremant de Borgogne, and Rosé.


Bonus Item!

David Adelsheim played a crucial role in the re-emergence of Chardonnay in the Willamette Valley.  In the early years of the Willamette Valley, the pioneering wine growers had difficulty producing high quality Chardonnay. This was attributed to a number of reasons including using Chardonnay vines that were adapted to the much warmer Napa Valley. In 1976, David Adelsheim was interning at Lyceé Viticole in Burgundy and observed that some Chardonnay vineyards ripened at the same time as Pinot noir. It took ten years to import the vines from France, and another five years to clear them from agricultural quarantine. Today, these new “Dijon” Chardonnay clones, championed by David Adelsheim, are the cornerstones of today’s exciting, world class, Willamette Valley Chardonnay wines.

Somm Tip:  Chardonnay shows it’s best served between 55ºF and 58ºF in a glass with a wide bowl and a narrow opening — use a Pinot noir glass in a pinch. Willamette Valley’s cool climate produces Chardonnays that have bright acidity and fresh fruit flavors of Apple, Pear, Lemon, and spicy ginger that is great by itself or paired with seafood, asian cuisine, (fried) chicken, pork tenderloin, soft cheeses, and our favorite — potato chips!

Kristen Flemington