Why Chardonnay Is Not the Boring White Wine You Think It Is

Chardonnay has often been described as the "queen" of white wine grapes.
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Chardonnay doesn’t have the best standing among even the most casual wine drinkers. (Perhaps only Merlot has a worse reputation, and that’s been in rehabilitation since 2004 thanks to Paul Giamatti.) Chardonnay often calls to mind cheap, bad white wines. Maybe you consider Chardonnay to be “basic.”

Paradoxically, Chardonnay is both one of the most popular and most controversial wines in the world. It’s widely available and is usually one of the white wine options anywhere that serves wine, even dive bars. (Word to the wise: don’t Chardonnay at a bar unless it is a wine bar with a curated list. A bad red wine almost always safer than a bad white wine.)

But Chardonnay is the top-selling varietal in the United States—for both white and red wines—accounting for 18.6% of the market share in 2018, according to the Wine Institute, with sales increasing annually. And it’s the most-planted grape in California, with 93,452 acres reported in 2017.

So clearly Chardonnay is worth getting to know better. Looking forward to 2020, everyone deserves a fresh start. Maybe Chardonnay does, too.

Chardonnay also has many faces. While it can be produced anywhere, from Napa to New Zealand, and it is one of the core components of Champagne, Chardonnay is also the grape used for the white wines from Burgundy, one of France’s most prestigious wine regions. White Burgundies, in particular, showcase the unique terroir of Burgundy. And while they are strong enough to stand on their own and don’t require food pairings, you can definitely have a glass alongside dishes that involve mushrooms and/or creamier sauces.

Here’s a selection of Chardonnays (especially white Burgundies) worth your time and might make you rethink any preconceived notions about the green-skinned grape:

The 2016 Smoke Tree Chardonnay
Smoke Tree

Smoke Tree: Sourced from cool climate vineyards across Sonoma County, the clean and fresh 2016 Chardonnay leans on notes of honeysuckle and white fruits (notably pears and white nectarines), pairing well with holiday dinners, especially opening dishes like salads and even mashed potatoes. SRP: $19.99.

The 2016 Diamond Collection Pavilion Chardonnay
Francis Ford Coppola Winery

Francis Ford Coppola Winery: The 2016 Diamond Collection Pavilion is a bold Chardonnay with a sophisticated old world crispness melting into a new world-style rich and vanilla-forward finish. The creamy palate is balanced by a hint of tropical fruit and acidity, and it pairs well with holiday desserts and hors d’oeuvres—especially caramel popcorn. SRP: $20.

Domaine Faiveley Bourgogne Blanc
Domaine Faiveley

Domaine Faiveley: Domaine Faiveley holds over 331 acres in Burgundy, with 30 acres designated as grand crus and 67 acres as premier crus (the most selective vineyards, as deemed by French government regulations). The Bourgogne Blanc (the literal translation for white Burgundy) is a bold wine with expressive white floral scents, crafted from a time-honored practice of winemaking within Domaine Faiveley’s 19th century cellars. SRP: $26.

J.J. Vincent Pouilly-Fuissé “Marie-Antoinette”
J.J. Vincent

J.J. Vincent Pouilly-Fuissé: Named the “Marie Antoinette,” this white Burgundy is source from Pouilly-Fuissé, the appellation (or “AOC”) for white wines of southern Burgundy’s Maconnais district. Chardonnay is the only grape variety grown in this subregion. This fresh, pale yellow-hued wine offers notes of melon, kiwi, peaches, and apricot, with bright minerality and a long finish. SRP: $29.

Chateau Fuisse Pouilly-Fuissé “Tête de Cuvee”
Chateau Fuisse

Chateau Fuisse: The estate dates back to 1604 and has been in the family for five generations. Also of Pouilly-Fuissé, the “Tête de Cuvee” is a blend of over 20 vineyard sites. This wine is rich and robust, with lean acidity and freshness. SRP: $42.

Olivier Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet
Olivier Leflaive

Olivier Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet: The Leflaive family has had roots in Burgundy since 1717 and produces one of the finest examples of Puligny-Montrachet. (Puligny-Montrachet is a commune in the Côte-d’Or department in eastern France.) This is a full Burgundy wine with aromas of white flower, peach, almond, and lemon peel. SRP: $98.

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