To understand the taste of chardonnay you need to first understand the term ‘terroir’. Terroir is the set of environmental conditions – things like soil and climate – that can change the taste of the crop that is grown in them. Some grapes are more terroir-expressive than others, and like the new kid at the playground, chardonnay is perhaps the most suggestible of all. This being the case, the taste of chardonnay will depend largely on where and how it’s grown. These tastes can range from light and fresh, like citrus and green apple, to sweet and almost creamy, like peach, guava and mango. Chardonnay is often aged in a barrel, giving it a real oak flavour, as well as hints of biscuit, butter and coconut.
Chardonnay is known as one of the driest whites, although it can offer some sweetness if the grapes are picked particularly late. It should be noted, however, that dry wines can still be perfectly fruity, as the dry-sweet scale, which focuses on levels of residual sugar, is entirely different to the earthy-fruity scale, which focuses on flavour. In this way chardonnay can still be a fantastic choice for sweet tooths, as a wealth of fruit flavours are often present – particularly in unaged wines.
As Australia’s most widely planted white grape – accounting for over half of all our white vines – chardonnay is produced in almost all of the country’s major wine regions. While the complex and deeply aged chardonnays of the Clare Valley are notable, the grape is more naturally suited to cooler climates, so drops from Margaret River, the Adelaide Hills, the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula are amongst the best, particularly if you’re hunting for something light and refreshing. The offerings from the other side of the ditch aren’t too bad either, although don’t tell the Kiwis we said that
The best food pairing will depend on the depth, body and flavour profile of the chardonnay. Young and fresh wines will go perfectly with fresh seafood and creamy pastas, while oaky, full-bodied chardonnays will work well alongside things like roast chicken, eggs benedict and pumpkin-heavy dishes.
Once again, the ideal serving temperature of chardonnay will depend on the type of wine you’ve purchased. Unoaked chardonnay, with its higher levels of acidity, is best served at around 9C. Oaked chardonnay, with its more complex character, can be served at up to 14C, almost the temperature at which you’d serve light- to medium-bodied reds. As a rule, the ideal serving temperature goes up with the wine’s age and quality.