Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape variety used to make white wine. It is believed to have originated in the Burgundy wine region of eastern France but is now grown wherever wine is produced, from England to New Zealand. For new and developing wine regions, growing Chardonnay is seen as a "rite of passage" and an easy segue into the international wine market.
The Chardonnay grape itself is very neutral, with many of the flavors commonly associated with the grape being derived from such influences as terroir and oak. It is vinified in many different styles, from the elegant, "flinty" wines of Chablis to rich, buttery Meursaults and New World wines with tropical fruit flavors.
Chardonnay is an important component of many sparkling wines around the world, including Champagne. A peak in popularity in the late 1980s gave way to a backlash among those wine drinkers who saw the grape as a leading negative component of the globalization of wine. Nonetheless, it remains one of the most widely-planted grape varieties, with over 400,000 acres (175,000 hectares) worldwide, second only to Airén among white wine grapes and planted in more wine regions than any other grape – including Cabernet Sauvignon
For much of its history, a connection was assumed between Chardonnay and Pinot noir or Pinot blanc. In addition to being found in the same region of France for centuries, ampelographers noted that the leaves of each plant have near-identical shape and structure. Pierre Galet disagreed with this assessment, believing that Chardonnay was not related to any other major grape variety. Viticulturalists Maynard Amerine & Harold Olmo proposed a descendency from a wild Vitis vinifera vine that was a step removed from white Muscat. Chardonnay's true origins were further obscured by vineyard owners in Lebanon and Syria, who claimed that the grape's ancestry could be traced to the Middle East, from where it was introduced to Europe by returning Crusaders, though there is little external evidence to support that theory. Another theory stated that it originated from an ancient indigenous vine found in Cyprus.
Modern DNA fingerprinting research at University of California, Davis, now suggests that Chardonnay is the result of a cross between the Pinot and Gouais Blanc (Heunisch) grape varieties. It is believed that the Romans brought Gouais Blanc from the Balkans, and it was widely cultivated by peasants in Eastern France. The Pinot of the French aristocracy grew in close proximity to the Gouais Blanc, giving both grapes ample opportunity to interbreed. Since the two parents were genetically distant, many of the crosses showed hybrid vigour and were selected for further propagation. These "successful" crosses included Chardonnay and siblings such as Aligoté, Aubin Vert, Auxerrois, Bachet noir, Beaunoir, Franc Noir de la-Haute-Saône, Gamay Blanc Gloriod, Gamay noir, Melon, Knipperlé, Peurion, Roublot, Sacy and Dameron.
Clones, crossing and mutations
As of 2006, 34 clonal varieties of Chardonnay could be found in vineyards throughout France, most of which were developed at the University of Burgundy in Dijon. The so-called "Dijon clones" are bred for their adaptive attributes, with vineyard owners planting the clonal variety best suited to their terroir and which will produce the type of characteristics that they are seeking in the wine. Examples include the lower-yielding clones Dijon-76, 95 & 96 that produce more flavor-concentrated clusters. Dijon-77 & 809 produce more aromatic wines with a "grapey" perfume, while Dijon-75, 78, 121, 124, 125 & 277 are more vigorous and higher yielding clones. New World varieties include the Mendoza clone, which produced some of the early Californian Chardonnays. The Mendoza clone is prone to developed millerandage, also known as "hens and chicks", where the berries develop unevenly. In places such as Oregon, the use of newer Dijon clones has had some success in those regions of the Willamette Valley with climates similar to that of Burgundy.
Chardonnay has served as parent to several French-American hybrid grapes, as well as crossings with other Vitis vinifera varieties. Examples include the hybrid Chardonel which was a Chardonnay and Seyval blanc cross produced in 1953 at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. Mutations of the Chardonnay grape include the rare pink-berried "Chardonnay Rose"; also "Chardonnay Blanc Musqué", which produces an intensely aromatic wine. Chardonnay Blanc Musqué is most mostly found around the Mâconnais village of Clessé and sometimes confused with the Dijon-166 clone planted in South Africa, which yields Muscat-like aromas.
Chardonnay has a long history in Italy but for a large part of it, the grape was commonly confused with Pinot blanc—often with both varieties inter planted in the same vineyard and blended together. This happened despite the fact that Chardonnay grapes get more golden yellow in color close to harvest time and can be visually distinguished from Pinot blanc. In the Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol region this confusion appeared in the synonyms for each grape with Pinot blanc being known as "Weissburgunder" (White Burgundy) and Chardonnay was known as "Gelber Weissburgunder" (Golden White Burgundy). By the late 20th century, more concentrated efforts were put into identifying Chardonnay and making pure varietal versions of the wine. In 1984, it was granted its first Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) in the Alto Adige region. By 2000, it was Italy's fourth most widely planted white wine grape.
Though many varietal form of Chardonnay are produced, and the numbers are increasing, for most of its history in Italian winemaking Chardonnay was a blending grape. Besides Pinot bianco, Chardonnay can be found in blends with Albana, Catarratto, Cortese, Erbaluce, Favorita, Garganega, Grecanico, Incrocio Manzoni, Nuragus, Procanico, Ribolla Gialla, Verdeca, Vermentino and Viognier. It even blended into a dry White Zinfandel-style Nebbiolo wine that is made from the white juice of the red Nebbiolo grape prior to being dyed with skin contact. Most Chardonnay plantings are located in the northern wine regions, though plantings can be found throughout Italy as far south as Sicily and Apulia. In Piedmont and Tuscany, the grape is being planted in sites that are less favorable to Dolcetto and Sangiovese respectively. In Lombardy, the grape is often used for spumante and in the Veneto it is often blended with Garganega to give more weight and structure to the wine. Chardonnay is also found in the Valle d'Aosta DOC and Friuli-Venezia Giulia wine region
Viticulture and winemaking
Chardonnay has a wide-ranging reputation for relative ease of cultivation and ability to adapt to different conditions. The grape is very "malleable", in that it reflects and takes on the impression of its terroir and winemaker. It is a highly vigorous vine, with extensive leaf cover which can inhibit the energy and nutrient uptake of its grape clusters. Vineyard managers counteract this with aggressive pruning and canopy management. When Chardonnay vines are planted densely, they are forced to compete for resources and funnel energy into their grape clusters. In certain conditions the vines can be very high-yielding, but the wine produced from such vines will suffer a drop in quality if yields go much beyond 4.5 tons per acre (80 hl/ha). Producers of premium Chardonnay limit yields to less than half this amount. Sparkling wine producers tend not to focus as much on limiting yields, since concentrated flavors are not as important as the wine's finesse.
Harvesting time is crucial to winemaking, with the grape rapidly losing acidity as soon as it ripens. Some viticultural hazards include the risk of damage from springtime frost, as Chardonnay is an early-budding vine – usually a week after Pinot noir. To combat the threat of frost, a method developed in Burgundy involves aggressive pruning just prior to flowering. This "shocks" the vine and delays flowering for up to two weeks, which is often long enough for warmer weather to arrive. Millerandage and coulure can also pose problems, along with powdery mildew attacking the thin skin of the grapes. Because of Chardonnay's early ripening, it can thrive in wine regions with a short growing season and, in regions like Burgundy, will be harvested before autumn rain sets in and brings the threat of rot.
While Chardonnay can adapt to almost all vineyard soils, the three it seems to like most are chalk, clay and limestone, all very prevalent throughout Chardonnay's traditional "homeland". The Grand crus of Chablis are planted on hillsides composed of Kimmeridgian marl, limestone and chalk. The outlying regions, falling under the more basic "Petit Chablis" appellation, are planted on portlandian limestone which produces wines with less finesse. Chalk beds are found throughout the Champagne region, and the Côte-d'Or has many areas composed of limestone and clay. In Burgundy, the amount of limestone to which the Chardonnay are vines exposed also seems to have some effect on the resulting wine. In the Meursault region, the premier cru vineyards planted at Meursault-Charmes have topsoil almost 78 inches (2.0 m) above limestone and the resulting wines are very rich and rounded. In the nearby Les Perrieres vineyard, the topsoil is only around 12 inches (30 centimeters) above the limestone and the wine from that region is much more powerful, minerally and tight, needing longer in the bottle to develop fully. In other areas, soil type can compensate for lack of ideal climate conditions. In South Africa for example, regions with stonier, shaley soils and high clay levels tend to produce lower-yielding and more Burgundian-style wine, despite having a discernibly warmer climate than France. In contrast, South African Chardonnay produced from more sandstone-based vineyards tend to be richer and more weighty.
Confusion with Pinot blanc
Closeup of a Chardonnay leaf (from the image of Chardonnay grapes in Champagne above). The yellow box highlights the naked veins around the petiolar sinus of the grape vine leaf.Due to some ampelographical similarities, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay were often mistaken for each other and even today share many of the same synonyms. The grape vines, leaves and clusters look identical at first glance but there are some subtle differences. The most visible of these can be observed as the grapes are ripening, with Chardonnay grapes taking on a more golden-green color than Pinot Blanc grapes. On closer inspection, the grapevine will show slight differences in the texture and length of the hairs on the vine's shoot, and the veins of a Chardonnay leaf are "naked" near the petiolar sinus – the open area where the leaf connects to the stem is delineated by veins at the edge. Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the few other Vitis vinifera grape vines to share this characteristic. This confusion between Pinot blanc and Chardonnay was very pervasive throughout northern Italy, where the two vines grew interspersed in the vineyard and were blended in winemaking. Not until 1978 did the Italian government dispatch researchers to try to distinguish the two vines. A similar situation occurred in France, with the two vines being commonly confused until the mid 19th century, when ampelographers began combing through the vineyards of Chablis and Burgundy, identifying the true Chardonnay and weeding out the Pinot Blanc
Due to the worldwide recognition of the name of "Chardonnay", many of these synonyms have fallen out of favor as winemakers use the more marketable Chardonnay:
Arboisier, Arnaison Blanc, Arnoison, Aubain, Aubaine, Auvergnat Blanc, Auvernas, Auvernas Blanc, Auvernat Blanc, Auxeras, Auxerras Blanc, Auxerrois Blanc, Auxois, Auxois Blanc, Bargeois Blanc, Beaunois, Biela Klevanjika, Blanc de Champagne, Blanc de Cramant, Breisgauer Suessling, Breisgauer Sussling, Burgundi Feher, Chablis, Chardenai, Chardenay, Chardenet, Chardennet, Chardonay, Chardonnet, Chatenait, Chatey Petit, Chatte, Chaudenay, Chaudenet, Chaudent, Clävner, Clevner Weiss, Cravner, Epinette, Epinette Blanc, Epinette Blanche, Epinette de Champagne, Ericey Blanc, Feher Chardonnay, Feherburgundi, Feinburgunder, Gamay Blanc, Gelber Weissburgunder, Gentil Blanc, Grosse Bourgogne, Klawner, Klevanjka Biela, Klevner, Lisant, Luisant, Luizannais, Luizant, Luzannois, Maconnais, Maurillon Blanc, Melon Blanc, Melon D'Arbois, Meroué, Moreau Blanc, Morillon Blanc, Moulon, Noirien Blanc, Obaideh, Petit Chatey, Petit Sainte-Marie, Petite Sainte Marie, Pineau Blanc, Pino Sardone, Pino Shardone, Pinot Blanc à Cramant, Pinot Blanc Chardonnay, Pinot Chardonnay, Pinot de Bourgogne, Pinot Giallo, Pinot Planc, Plant de Tonnerre, Romere, Romeret, Rouci Bile, Rousseau, Roussot, Ruländer Weiß, Sainte Marie Petite, Sardone, Shardone, Shardonne, Später Weiß Burgunder, Weiß Burgunder (normally refers to Pinot Blanc), Weiß Clevner, Weiß Edler, Weiß Elder, Weiß Klewner, Weiß Silber, Weißedler, Weißer Clevner, Weißer Rulander