Chardonnay wine: Characteristics of Chardonnay and white Burgundy wines
Chardonnay, a typicality of aromas and unparalleled elegance
Originating in Burgundy , Chardonnay is produced and enjoyed around the world in different styles. These vary widely depending on where it is grown (climates, soils) and how it is processed by winemakers (vinification with oak, stainless steel). Its most famous products are generally grouped under the expression white Burgundy wines.
A Burgundian origin for worldwide popularity
Chardonnay is a variety of green-skinned grapes used to make white wines . It originates from the Burgundy wine region in eastern France. According to DNA analyses, it would be the result of a hybridization between Gouais blanc and Pinot Noir . Very appreciated for its elegance, the diversity and the typicality of its aromas, it will very quickly spread to other wine-growing regions of France and around the world.
Indeed, soon after the popularity of Chardonnay in the Burgundy region , Champagne winemakers also began to cultivate it, going so far as to use it as the dominant ingredient for their sparkling wines . In fact, this variety of grapes had taken on very different characteristics in Champagne compared to what they had in Burgundy. The winegrowers therefore began to realize its typicality, because it truly expressed the terroirs. This discovery helped the grape variety to spread rapidly throughout the world (United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America, Spain, Bulgaria).
Its ability to adapt to a wide variety of climates, soils and viticultural contexts has enabled it to become the most cultivated grape variety in the world among all the “ white grape varieties ”.
Thus, planted in a warm climate, it produces rich wines, with aromas of ripe fruit and full of tropical flavors. In a cooler climate, it offers lively and mineral wines, and expresses “fruity aromas” of apple, lemon, pear and grapefruit, as well as earthy tastes. On the other hand, in temperate climates, it makes it possible to obtain fleshy and more supple wines. The aromas it expresses are mainly those of white fruits such as citrus or peach.
Physical and physiological characteristics
Physically, Chardonnay has young green leaves with bronze spots, herbaceous shoots with red internodes. Prostrate hairs of low to medium density are found at the tips of young twigs. An orbicular shape , entire or with 5 weakly marked lobes for the adult leaves. A slightly open petiole sinus with a limited bottom, lobe teeth somewhat shorter in relation to their width, and straight sides. A blade with weak bubbles and a few erect hairs.
Small to medium, cylindrical and compact bunches. Relatively small, spherical berries. Fairly thin skin, and a color that tends towards amber yellow in the sun.
Moreover, it is somewhat precocious, which exposes it to spring frosts. It has medium to low vigour, which does not however prevent it from being cut short. It is moderately sensitive to downy mildew, and little affected by powdery mildew and especially by gray rot . Finally, it excels in soils with a high content of chalk, clay, limestone and good water retention capacity.
Chardonnay and the famous white wines of Burgundy
Finding a bottle with the mention “ Chardonnay ” is very difficult. The wines of this variety rather bear the name of the terroir or the vineyard of origin on the labeling. Its best productions are known under the expression " white wines of Burgundy " and are produced without any mixture with another grape variety. These are mainly white wines from the following vineyards:
The Côte de Beaune
This vineyard produces the greatest white wines of Burgundy . They come mainly from the Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet and Corton-Charlemagne appellations. Unlike other Burgundian whites, wines from this vineyard are fermented, aged in oak barrels , and fuller-bodied. They have fruity flavors like those of other regions.
The use of oak in the winemaking process is what really sets Côte de Beaune wines apart. Oak introduces more oxygen into the winemaking process, which gives wines smoky flavors and adds some aromatic compounds to them. Also, they often go through an additional process (malolactic fermentation), which increases the richness of their texture (oily and buttery).
Here, the cold climate and northern latitude barely allow the grapes to ripen, resulting in a leaner style of wine with higher acidity. Its wines are rather light, while presenting more fruity bouquets and a floral note . They are more varied, due to the fact that they do not depend on the additional flavors of oak, but on those of stainless steel.
They are made in an environment with less oxygen, in order to preserve their freshness and acidity, and do not lend themselves to aging in oak.
The Mâconnais is known for its very balanced whites, with their aromas of ripe fruit. The Pouilly-Fuissé and Mâcon-Villages appellations are the best known.
Chardonnay and sparkling wines
“Chardonnay grape varieties” are also widely used in the production of sparkling wines, and even champagnes. When they are used alone, they make it possible to obtain so-called Blancs de Blancs champagnes. On the other hand, associated with other grape varieties (as is the case in Champagne), they offer very elegant wines.
Discover our other articles on grape varieties such as Beaujolais .