Chardonnay Wine Guide: Something For Everyone

May 16, 2013 Blog » Learn About Wine » Chardonnay Wine Guide: Something For Everyone

Two Primary Chardonnay Tastes

If you like the idea of butter in your glass, you’ll love the classic style of oak-aged Chardonnay wine. On the other hand, if words like “Pinot Grigio” make you feel woozy with love, then your perfect Chardonnay is the unoaked kind. How can a single grape offer such a variety of flavors? Well, in addition to the difference in winemaking (oak vs. no oak), ripeness has a lot to do with flavor.

Flavors in Chardonnay by ripeness

A Note About Ripeness and Chardonnay Wine

A very ripe Chardonnay will have flavors more towards tropical fruits like pineapple, guava and mango. A barely ripe Chardonnay will have green apple and lemon flavors.

Why Love Chardonnay?

You don’t have to be a Chanel-clad clubhouse member to love Chardonnay. Why? Because Chardonnay is the most diverse –and most planted– white wine grape in the world. It’s used for everything from rich Sonoma Chardonnay to the light-and-zesty ‘Blanc de Blancs’ Champagne. Get to know the wide variety of styles of Chardonnay and pinpoint the one that’s perfect for you.

Did you know? In 2011, Burgundy produced more Chardonnay than Pinot Noir. Read More


Chardonnay wine in a Glass and a bunch of Chardonnay grapes

Chardonnay Wine Taste Profile

FRUIT FLAVORS (berries, fruit, citrus)
Lemon, Apple, Pear, Pineapple, Jackfruit, Passionfruit, Peach, Fig
OTHER (herb, spice, flower, mineral, earth, other)
Apple Blossom, Lemon Zest, Citrus Peel, Celery leaf, Beeswax, Lemon balm, Honeysuckle, Wet flint rocks, Saline Solution, Vanilla Bean, Almond, Jasmine
OAK FLAVORS (flavors added with oak aging)
Vanilla, Baked Tart, Butter, Pie Crust, Caramelized Sugar, Creme Brulee, Dill, Coconut, Praline
Unoaked: 48 ºF (9 ºC)
Oaked: 54 ºF (12 ºC)
Medium Low (oaked warm climate) – Medium High (unoaked cool climate)
Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, Semillon, Fiano (Italy), Antão Vaz (Portugal)


Why do some Chardonnays taste creamy?

The smell of vanilla, butter, coconut and dill are all attributes of oak-aging. However, the texture that some Chardonnays have that can be described as Oily, Creamy, Smooth or Waxy are from a special kind of fermentation.

What is Malolactic Fermentation?

After the wine is fermented, an additional fermentation called Malolactic Fermentation (MLF) will give wine an oily texture. MLF turns tart malic acid (the acid in apples) to smooth lactic acid (the acid in milk). A malolactic fermentation involves a different kind of yeast that gobbles up malic acid and poops out lactic acid. If you want a rounder, more creamy-feeling wine, look for wines that have gone through MLF.

Chardonnay Food Pairing

Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese

Soft Cheeses

Try semi-soft mild goat and cow’s milk cheeses such as Humboldt Fog .

Herb Crusted Halibut

Fish with Herbs

Herb Crusted Halibut with Minted Sweet Pea Purée. Find the full recipe at

Chicken Icon

Meat Pairings

Chicken Breast, Turkey Breast, Pork Loin, Halibut, Trout, Cod, Sturgeon, Oily Flaky Fish, Atlantic Salmon, Lobster, Crab, Scallops, Shrimp, Clams, Oysters (unoaked)

Herbs Icon

Spices and Herbs

Tarragon, Parsley, Thyme, Lemon Zest, Marjoram, White Pepper, Shallots, Poultry Seasoning

Soft Cheese Icon

Cheese Pairings

Soft – Semi Soft Cow’s Milk Cheese and Goat Cheese.

Mushroom Icon

Vegetables & Vegetarian Fare

Yellow Squash, Peas, Zucchini, Asparagus, Sun Chokes, Seitan, White Mushrooms, Truffles, Chanterelles, Almonds

Unoaked Chardonnay in a Glass

Unoaked Chardonnay

Unoaked Chardonnay is far closer to the zesty style of Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc. Chardonnay wine tends to have less ‘green flavors’ than Sauvignon Blanc. Depending on how ripe the grapes were when picked, the flavor ranges from lemon and green apple (less ripe) to pineapple and figs (very ripe).

Unoaked Chardonnay Brands
  • The Best of the Best Brocard, Albert Bichot, Dauvissat, Raveneau, Joseph Drouhin
  • Middle of the Road Evening Land
  • Great Values Four Vines ‘Naked’, INOX, Domaine de Bernier (Loire), Wishing Tree(Western Australia)
What Regions Make Unoaked Chardonnay

Most unoaked Chardonnay is from cooler climate wine regions.

  • Sonoma Coast, California
  • Western Australia
  • Loire and Chablis, France
  • Colchagua and Casablanca Valley, Chile
  • Oregon

Oaked Buttery Chardonnay in a Glass

Buttery Chardonnay

Oaked Chardonnays are rich, full-bodied and have additional flavors of vanilla, butter and even caramel from the oak. A cool climate, buttery Chardonnay will have more citrus flavors versus a warm climate Chardonnay, which will have more tropical fruit flavors.

Buttery Chardonnay Brands
  • The Best of the Best Marcassin, Meursault(Charmes, Perrieres, Genevrieres), Montrachet, Far Niente, Cakebread, Ramey, Paul Hobbs, Domaine Serene, Frank Family,
  • Middle of the Road Mâconnais, Gregory Graham, Neyers, Talbott, Au Bon Climat, Flora Springs
  • Great Values KJ, Concha y Toro “Casillero del Diablo”, Errazuriz, Montevina, Alamos, Deloach, Tormaresca, Hob Nob
What Regions Make Oaked Chardonnay

Many oaked Chardonnays come from warmer climate wine regions.

  • Southern & Eastern Australia
  • Napa Valley, Paso Robles and Lake County in California
  • Mendoza Argentina
  • Burgundy, France (Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault and Mâconnais)
  • Puglia, Italy

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By Madeline Puckette
I'm a certified sommelier and creator of the NYT Bestseller, Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine. Find me out there in the wine world @WineFolly