A Chardy For Every Party
Welcome to Part I of our new Wine 101 Series, where we'll be diving into the deep end of our favorite wine topics (and wine bottles). First up is Chardonnay! Join us, May 20th as we make a splash with wine influencer and Club Evoke member @namastaygrapeful. Register here.
We all know those people who have a “hard pass” rule when it comes to Chardonnay. If we had a dollar for every person we ever heard say “oh, I just don’t like Chardonnay,” we’d have enough dollars to write this blog just for fun. But the truth is, this granddaddy white Burgundy gets a bad wrap, and unfairly too.
The trouble seems to have started in the 1980s (doesn’t it always) when palates demanded flabby, buttery, oaky white wines, and they wanted as much of it for as cheap as possible. I don’t know who started this trend, but what we ended up with was an over-the-top and overplayed version of Chardonnay that seemed to only come in 1.5L Woodbridge bottles. So yeaa, hard pass, we get it.
Unfortunately, this stereotype has persisted through the preceding decades and we thought it high time to bust this can-o-worms wide open and shine a light on Chardonnay for a new generation of wine drinkers.
The thing we like most about Chardonnay is that no matter what kind of wine you typically drink, there really is a ‘chardy’ for every party. Let’s dive into the diversity, subtlety, and, dare we say, beauty of this versatile varietal.
New Oak and Caramel: Chardonnay for Red Wine Drinkers
Okay, so we ragged on this style a little bit before, but hear us out. Some people really do like the “old school” take on Chardonnay, particularly red wine drinkers – and it makes sense. The process is essentially that of making a red wine but with Chardonnay grapes, and produces a fuller-bodied white wine. In red wines like Cab Sauv, a malolactic fermentation (ML for short) is almost always used to soften out the tart-tasting malic acid that’s naturally present in the grape juice.
This is done by adding a very particular bacteria that converts malic acid into softer-tasting lactic acid. A byproduct of this process is a compound called diacetyl (die-ass-sea-teal) which is responsible for the caramel-esqe, buttery flavors you smell and taste in some Chardonnays.
Also, new oak barrels, which are popular in high-end red wines, are regularly used in high-quality Chardonnay production as well. These babies cost a pretty penny ($2K+), but the vanilla aromas and structural tannin that allow for aging are well worth the expense. So love it or hate it, this classic style is Here to Stay. (See what we did there)
Stainless Steel and High Acid: Chardonnay for White Wine Drinkers
If your go-to wine is a Pinot Gris and bone-dry frosty whites are your jam, then you might actually fall in love when you meet the right Chardonnay.
Traditionally known as a “White Burgundy,” French-styled Chardonnay (aka Chablis) is like the lighter, chiller cousin to Pinot Noir. Which explains why most Oregon producers of the grape tend to treat it as such, forgoing the ML fermentation (no butter), skipping the oak treatment altogether, and opting instead to age their wines in stainless steel tanks before bottling. What you get is the kind of light, crisp, perfectly balanced beverage that most white wine drinkers dream about.
This is the tragedy of the “hard pass” on Chardonnay, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. Because more often than not, PNW Chard is not at all what you might assume. In fact, you would probably love it just as much as a Sauv Blanc that typically catches your eye.
Bubbly: Chardonnay for Party People
Fun fact—only 3 varieties of grapes are allowed to be used in French champagne: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and (you guessed it) Chardonnay! Sparkling wines made with 100% Chardonnay are commonly referred to as blanc de blanc.
We love sparkling wine because you can drink it pretty much anytime (hello, breakfast mimosas!) and it’s literally one of the most food-friendly wines you can buy. Seriously, a dry sparkling wine tastes good with everything (try it). And since every day has something to celebrate, we always try to keep some bubbles in the fridge just in case. After all, those bottles aren’t gonna pop themselves!
Additional sparkling factoids:
- Sparkling wine was first “created” by French Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon, totally by accident.
- Sparkling wines outside of the Champagne region of France cannot be labeled as “Champagne”
- High-end sparkling wine and Champagne producers rarely release wines from a single vintage, so you’ll almost never see a date on the outside of the bottles. This is mostly because the weather in regions like Champagne (and even the Willamette Valley) varies so widely from year to year. In order to produce a consistent product, winemakers almost always combine multiple vintages of "still" (un-sparkled) wine together before they’re carbonated. These blends are sometimes referred to or labeled as a “cuvée.” If you ever do happen to run across a single vintage sparkling wine, it’s probably because that growing year was so extraordinary the winemaker thought it would be too good to blend and should shine all on its own. (So grab it!)
Want to dive in deeper? Join us for our first-ever Wine 101 Virtual Tasting with Evoke Club Member and wine influencer Kim of @namastaygrapeful on May 20! Register here and don't forget to purchase your Chardy Party bundle.