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The "C" Word
Chardonnay gets a bad rap. Whenever I suggest it as the grape of choice while in the company of either A) a man or B) a wine snob, the response is generally the same: a rolling of the eyes and followed by the declaration, "ABC!" (Anything But Chardonnay!)
Chardonnay carries the image of ladies who lunch and who prefer a bucket of buttery oak laden syrup with their chop salad. It evokes images of a gaggle of girls who like to shop and then hit the bar for a good gossip session over a Keg size glass of "chard."
Well, I'm tired of the misrepresentation. Chardonnay is one of the oldest and most versatile wines on the planet. It originates from the Burgundy and Champagne regions of France and is referred to as one of the "noble grapes" because it is one of the 6 varietals that create world class wines (the others are Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot). It is also referred to as Melon Blanc, and Chardonnay is one of the two grapes used in the production of Champagne and sparkling wine (the other is Pinot Noir).
Chardonnay grapes can grow in the cooler climates of France or in the warmer temperatures of California. Buying a Chardonnay from either of those places (in California, the edge of the Sonoma coast in particular) is a good first step. I'm not such a fan of the Chardonnays from Australia (too heavy and obvious) or Canada (too green-tasting and expensive for what you get). If you like Chardonnay you might also like Chablis (which uses Chardonnay grapes).
I'm told Chardonnay can be fermented three different ways, and that plays a big role in the final product. Stainless steel fermentation highlights the acidic, fruity aspects of the grape. These Chardonnays go well with fish, white meats and mild cheeses. Next is the oak barrel aging, which brings out the vanilla flavors in the grape and creates a more mellow wine. And then there's malolactic fermentation, during which lactic acid is added to create a full bodied, buttery flavor.
Both oak barrel and malolactic fermentation systems produce wines that pair well with rich, salty, creamy foods, red meats and full bodied cheeses. Yum! Always serve Chardonnay cold. It's too bold for serving at room temperature and will over power your food.