Chardonnay spans the wine-tasting palate, from bright and fresh to buttery, rich, and oaky. From bottle to bottle you might find flavors and aromas including restrained apples, lemons, and riotous tropicals, such as mango and banana.
Although there’s a level of complexity to the creation of chardonnay that gives winemakers lots of options, those same choices can be confusing for the consumer in the wine aisle. Fortunately, learning a little bit about the creation of chardonnay—and clues on individual bottles—will help you pick a white wine that you love, every time.
1. Climate and Location
All by itself, chardonnay doesn’t have an overwhelming distinctive singular flavor, although it has a rather pleasant complex aroma,” says Dr. Andrew Waterhouse, professor of enology at the University of California, Davis. Instead, it’s the environment—where it was grown—that makes an impact on the finished wine.
Publix recommends Frei Brothers Chardonnay
This cool-climate chardonnay has a crisp and complex flavor.
2. Malolactic Fermentation
The creamy, softer side of chardonnay comes from a step in the winemaking process called malolactic fermentation, but only some winemakers use this. So if you enjoy a chardonnay that’s smoother and richer, look for the word “malolactic” on the back of the bottle or in the tasting notes. No MLF generally means crisper, more understated wines.
Publix recommends Woodbridge Chardonnay
This chardonnay is cold fermented, which makes only a portion of the wine undergo MLF, allowing the delectable pairing of cinnamon and apples to take center stage.
Aging wine in oak barrels or adding oak chips to stainless steel aging tanks does more than just give a wine oakiness. When combined with the creaminess of the malolactic fermentation, oak imparts butter, caramel, and vanilla flavors to chardonnay. Unoaked chardonnays, on the other hand, tend to reveal more of their fruit flavors.
Publix recommends Barefoot Chardonnay
This oaked chardonnay features peach and apple notes that make the wine a perfect pairing for a light seafood dish.