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Calaveras Grape Varietal of the Month: CHARDONNAY

[June 9, 2023 - Mark Silverstone]

Chardonnay is a green skinned grape variety used to make both still white and sparkling wines. It is arguably one of the most popular wines in the world. It offers a wide range of flavors and styles, depending on where it is grown and how it is made. Chardonnay is considered to be a blank canvas, often called the “winemaker’s grape” for it is in the winery that many of its characteristics can be exaggerated or subdued. It produces wine with a light golden hue which is typically dry, with medium body and acidity, no tannins and ABV’s from 13.5–15.

The Chardonnay grape itself is neutral, with many of the flavors and aromas commonly associated with the wine being influenced by terroir and oak, expressing the land from which it was grown and showcasing the style of the winemaker. It is relatively easy to grow and thrives in both cool and warmer climates (like Calaveras County). Chardonnay was born in the Burgundy region of France back in the Middle Ages. It is thought to be a cross of the white grape Gouais and the red grape Pinot Noir. The source of almost 80% of American Chardonnay can be traced back to the Wente Clone, obtained by the Wente family from Burgundy in 1912.

Flavor profiles vary based on climate and winemaking styles. Chardonnay can be both lean, crisp and refreshing, especially when finished in stainless steel or concrete, or can be full of depth and character with velvety tropical notes and influences from oak barrel aging (vanilla, cinnamon, smoke and clove) and buttery mouth feel (exaggerated by malolactic fermentation; where malic acid is converted to the softer lactic acid which reduces overall acidity and gives a distinctive buttery personality to the finished wine). Chardonnay naturally has fruit notes of melons, apples and pears, and when grown in warmer climates, the wine produced takes on more tropical tasting notes of pineapple, mango, papaya and guava.

Chardonnay is a very food friendly wine. Lighter un-oaked offerings pair well with fresh cheese and delicate seafood such as oysters and sushi. Medium bodied wines work well with poultry, pork tenderloin and aged cheeses. Higher alcohol and full bodied Chardonnays pair best with entrees with rich cream sauce, such as lobster, crab or shrimp scampi, and bold cheeses such as cheddar and bleu. Chardonnay does not pair well with spicy, rich, acidic food.

So grab yourself a bottle of delicious local Chardonnay this summer and explore all of the diversity this world famous grape offers. Chardonnay is grown and produced by many Calaveras Winegrape Alliance members including:

Allegorie, Airola Road Vineyards, Aloria, Black Sheep, Brice Station, Broll Mountain, Gossamer, Hatcher, Hovey, Indian Rock, Ironstone, Milliaire, School Street, Stevenot, Ten x Ten, Val du Vino and Vina Moda.

Sources: Wine Folly, Wikipedia,,, Food & Wine Magazine


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