Chardonnay is with a doubt a fashionable white grape variety and is grown in all the major wine regions. It fully expresses itself however in its native region of North-East France where the name has even given rise to a verb, ‘chardonner’. In the Côte des Blancs, where it is vibrant and light, it is used to make Champagne, either blended or as a single variety – in the latter case, it is known as Blanc de Blancs.
Farther South, in Burgundy, it is sometimes the only permitted white grape variety. In Chablis, it is harder and more robust and needs a few years’ cellaring. From the Côte de Nuits to the Mâcon area, it is made like a red wine and boasts incredible ageing potential. It is perhaps one of the only white grape varieties that can withstand malolactic fermentation and oak ageing, but it is perhaps a pity that often the aim is to produce heavy, over-oaked styles that are too milky and alcoholic, particularly in the New World countries.
In the ‘mountains’ of the Napa Valley in California, where it is the most widespread grape variety, some Chardonnays can be likened to their Burgundy counterparts. There are also some very fine examples in Oregon. Margaret River and the Adelaide Hills produce some wonderful quality ‘chardys’ as do some parts of Mendoza, in Argentina, provided the soils are high and cool enough. Historically, the variety has always been widespread in Chile which markets significant volumes of cheap Chardonnay. However, the Casablanca region has been producing Chardonnays with very good potential for a decade or so. Stellenbosch in South Africa also produces some noteworthy examples as does New Zealand which grows very pure wines often devoid of oak. The most representative region for this style of wine is probably Martinborough on South Island.