According to wine author Jancis Robinson “Chardonnay is, without question, the single most sought after varietal in the world today.” First, Chardonnay is delightfully easy to grow. “The most forgiving variety of all” is how it is described by Australia’s famous wine guru, Brian Croser, who trained in California and worked in France.”
Chardonnay appears to be very ancient, unrelated to any other major vine variety, though for long it was thought to be a white mutation of the Pinot Noir (like Pinot Gris/Grigio).
The Lebanese and Syrians claim original responsibility for nurturing the variety and likely diffused it throughout what is now known as Europe. Chardonnay is still an important white variety in Lebanon today where it is known as Meroue’ or Obaideh. In France, Chardonnay is the fourth most widely planted white after Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano of Italy), Semillon and Grenache Blanc. Most people agree that Chardonnay finds its perfect home in Burgundy, France.
Chardonnay offers broad appeal to grape growers, winemakers and wine drinkers throughout the world. The grape does extraordinarily well in a wide range of climates. It can thrive in climates as diverse as those of the cool Chablis to California’s hot Central Valley. Chardonnay also responds to a far wider range of winemaking techniques than most white varieties. The juice may be produced using the typical Mosel or Vouvray method of long, cool fermentation or it can be aged in small oak barrels, some of the highest quality fruit being able to stand up to new oak. Chardonnay is also a crucial ingredient in the world’s best sparkling wines. The grape has also been known to produce some delicious sweet wines notably in the Maconnais (France), Romania and New Zealand.
Chardonnay also manages to retain a remarkable amount of its own character even when blended with other less fashionable varieties. Chardonnay from young or overproduced vines can taste almost watery. Basic Chardonnay may be vaguely fruity (apples and melons) but at its best Chardonnay, like Pinot Noir, is a vehicle for the character of the vineyard site. When the vineyard site is right, yields are not too high, acid not too low and winemaking skilled. Chardonnay can produce wines that will continue to improve in the bottle for one, two, or exceptionally, more decades.
Various South American countries have been flirting with Chardonnay and are seeking out cooler spots to imbue it with real concentration. Chile, in particular, has had great success.