Chardonnay is the best-known and most widely planted white wine variety in the world, offering a wide range of styles from bone dry to incredibly rich and complex. This article explores the key characteristics that define Chardonnay, from its grape profile to pairing suggestions, as well as tasting notes for some of the top examples from around the world.
The variety's versatility, more than any other grape, makes it suitable for the production of great white wines and sparkling table wines in all major wine regions, including Burgundy, the Napa Valley, Margaret River, and New Zealand.
Chardonnay is a versatile grape variety that grows well in cool, moderate, and warm climates, producing white wines of varying flavours, body, and acidity depending on the region’s terroir, vineyard, and climate conditions. The grape ripens faster than other varietals making it vulnerable to frost and botrytis in cooler climates like Chablis, Champagne, and Burgundy.
From green fruit and citrus, to white peach and melon, right up to tropical stone fruit, the flavour profile of Chardonnay is different depending on the climate in which it is grown, the ripeness of the fruit at harvest, and the methods of aging. The subtle aromas and flavours of Chardonnay makes it a perfect blank canvas for a host of different winemaking techniques.
Medium to High
Light to Medium
Medium to Full
Aroma and Taste Profile
Apple, Pear, Lemon, Lime, Wet Stones
Lemon, Peach, Melon
Peach, Pineapple, Banana
Old world French Chardonnays are typically aged unoaked to keep the green and citrus fruit flavours fresh and the minerality present in the wine intact.
New world Chardonnays such as those from California and Australia are fermented in oak barrels, adding body and secondary flavours of smoke, vanilla, and coconut. The rich buttery flavours of such bottles come from Malolactic conversion while bread and biscuit notes come from lees contact during maturation.
The best quality Chardonnays can develop for years in a well maintained cellar. These bottles can develop tertiary notes of hazelnut and mushroom over time.
Chardonnay can stand alone as a single varietal wine or blended with other varietals to produce more complex white wines. Some of these well loved blends include White Bourgogne (Chardonnay and Aligote), Soave (Garganega, Trebbiano, Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc), and Cava (Macabeo, Parellada, Xarello, and Chardonnay). In the world of sparkling wines, the marriage of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir make some of the best Champagnes. Bottles made from 100% Chardonnay are labeled Blanc de Blancs, meaning “White of Whites”.
Meursault AOC and Puligny-Montrachet AOC in Cote d’Or producers what is considered by many as the pinnacle of Chardonnay quality. Ripe-fruit flavours like peach and melon are born off the moderate climate in the region. Fermented in oak and aged in contact with lees, these complex Chardonnays can age for decades. Chablis AOC on the other hand is cooler in climate making it the ideal home of dry, high in acid Chardonnays with citrus fruit notes and outstanding minerality.
The sunny region of Napa Valley produces some of the best warm-climate Chardonnays with tropical flavours of pineapple and banana layered with oak notes of vanilla and spice. Santa Barbara County, Carneros, and Sonoma are blessed with moderating influences of cooling sea breezes which helps the grapes develop more complex fruit flavorurs. The great majority of California is not so lucky, with mountains cutting off any sea influences. Chardonnay is planted and produced in high-volume in this region. Labelled with no GI, these bottles are made for mass production. They deliver stone and tropical fruit flavours, medium acidity, medium body, and oak notes from oak chips or staves.
The land down under is blessed with plenty of sun. You can expect Chardonnay from this part of the globe to exhibit aromas of stone fruit (peach) or tropical fruits (pineapple, banna). South East Australia is the big bulk producer but if you’re looking for quality alternatives, look further west to the Margaret River region. Cooled by sea breezes and aged in oak barrels, these wines are rich, full in body and ripe in fruit.
There are two key regions to watch out for - Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay. The terroir of Marlborough enjoys a good amount of rainfall and ocean influences, producing cool to moderate climate Chardonnays with ripe citrus and stone fruit flavours balanced with high acidity and subtle oak. If you’re looking for full-bodied wines, go for Hawke’s Bay.
Mario Giribaldi Langhe Chardonnay DOC
Italian Chardonnay from the vineyard "Campo del Pero". The agricultural farm sits 460 metres above sea level. The hill area is blessed with Marl-Calcareous soil, rich in calcium carbonate.
The wine is straw yellow in colour with green reflexes. The aromatic perfume of flowers opens the nose complemented by tropical notes of pineapple, sage, and hints of vanilla from oak. The palate is fresh, lively, and leaves a slight exotic (passion flower) aftertaste.
McHenry Hohnen Burnside Chardonnay
The benchmark Chardonnay of Margaret River. Awarded 96 points by Mike Bennie of WBM Magazine, the wine is a reflection of the terroir and climate of this Australian region. Ripe in fruit aromas of pink grapefruit, melon, and nectarine - born of the sunny state with cooling influences of the river. This Chardy boasts cashew, roasted almonds, light brioche dough notes, creamy acidity, and oyster shell-like minerality.
McHenry Hohnen Rocky Road Chardonnay
An excellent everyday drinking wine. Rock Road Chardonnay is an elegant wine, showing delicate citrus fruit and a touch of toasty oak.
Fermentation and aging for 8 months on fine lees in a combination of French oak barriques and large format casks provide depth and palate length to this flavourful wine.
This Bickley Valley Chardonnay from Perth Hills is a textural wine but one that remains fruit-focused, showing its complexity and elegance.
The resulting wine shows lifted elegant aromatics of nectarine, white peach, and sweet oak, a palate of rounded texture with crisp grapefruit, passionfruit, and citrus flavours but with a crisp focused dry finish.
Brie, Ricotta, or Fontina
Butternut Squash Soup
Smoked Tuna or Salmon
Roast Chicken with Gravy