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What can you learn from this wine lesson?

This tasting will show the differences in taste of wines made from Chardonnay. The wines included are white Burgundy, Chablis and wines from the New World, with examples from Australia and USA.

This lesson will let you know where Chardonnay is grown and will also give you a deeper insight into the most important wine regions of this grape. It continues with a description of the French wine regions Burgundy and Chablis and how the terroir affects the wine in different parts of the world. The Chardonnay wines from the New World are described, in particular wines from Australia and the USA.

The French designations Grand Cru and Premier Cru are explained and the wine regulations in the countries of interest are described.

Finally recipes of matching food and cheese are presented.

Chardonnay is grown througout the wine world

The only thing you can be sure of when it comes to Chardonnay is, that it produces a white wine. The styles vary from those not oak aged, green and lean, via weak oak character with tones of nuts and oatmeal, to heavy oak aged, where flavours of butter, tropical fruit and toffee dominate. Chardonnay is actually a fairly neutral grape and despite the different conditions Chardonnay gives good wines wherever it is grown. And it is cultivated worldwide.

Chardonnay reaches it peak in the original district, Burgundy, to which also Chablis belongs. It is a key ingredient in Champagne - all relatively northern and cool districts. When Chardonnay is grown in a warm climate, with modern technology and with a dose of oak, you get a completely different Chardonnay than in cool climates.

Chardonnay from Australia became very popular in Sweden when they were introduced in the 1980s. These wines, grown in a warm climate with a heavy oak character, were easy to like. Similar wines were produced in other parts of the New World like the USA, Chile, South Africa and Argentina, all very easy to drink and crowd-pleasing. The best Chardonnay wines from Napa Valley and Sonoma in California can compete with the originals of Europe. Brilliant Chardonnay is also produced in southern France, Italy, Spain and quite decent in Hungary and Bulgaria.

The many styles of Chardonnay

Wines made from the grape Chardonnay can taste very different. If you want to taste the pure grape, start with Chablis. Most Chablis wines are made without oak character. Another example of pure Chardonnay can be found for example in northern Italy, where they also have refrained from oak aging.

The original district and birthplace of Chardonnay is Burgundy and from here the very best Chardonnay wines come. In France the grape variety is not mentioned on the label, you are supposed to know that white Burgundy and Chablis are both made of 100% Chardonnay. In the New World the grape name is clearly stated on the label. You simply buy Chardonnay and will expect an attractive, good wine which could be drunk alone or with food.

Top quality Chardonnay wines from Burgundy

The Burgundy wine region is located in north-eastern France and covers the vineyards of Chablis in the north to Beaujolais in the south.

The Chablis district is set as an island between Dijon and Paris and separated from the rest of Burgundy. Because of its location north of the real Burgundy, Chablis has a little cooler climate with long, cold winters and relatively wet springs with risk of frost. Summer can however be hot and sunny. Most of Chablis is covered by calcareous clay, known as Kimmeridge clay, which gives Chablis its special mineral character.

In the heart of Burgundy the Côte d´Or (the golden slope) is situated, covering a surprisingly small area between Dijon and Chagny. On the slope down to the river Saône are all the famous vineyards found in a long line. The best wines come from the middle of the slope where the soil consists mainly of limestone. Côte d´Or is divided into two areas Côte de Nuits in the north and Côte de Beaune in the south. The majority of wines from the Côte de Nuits area are red, while Côte de Beaune  is famous for its white wines.

The climate is a typical continental climate with hot summers and cold winters. To some extent it is influenced by the milder Mediterranean climate that brings moist winds and rain. As in Chablis hailstorms may occur, which may destroy the harvest.

Grand Cru and Premier Cru stand for the highest quality

Choosing a good Burgundy wine is a bit more difficult than choosing a Bordeaux wine. In Bordeaux the name of the vineyard and the winemaker are identical and interchangeable. In Burgundy, however, it is necessary to know the name of both the vineyard and the producer. Why? It is because every little patch of land has several growers and these growers do not produce the wine themselves, but sell it to a merchant, a so called negociant. So it is really the merchant´s or company´s name that is the most important to know. Both red and white Burgundy are wines for professionals and not something you just go and buy. In Burgundy, more than anywhere else, it pays to ask knowledgeable people for advice. What generally can be said is, that if the wine is classified as a Grand Cru it comes from one of the very best vineyards. The classification below Grand Cru is Premier Cru. The name of the vineyards is stated on the label and a name of a vineyard is always a good sign. Most of the villages of the Côte d´Or have their own appellations* (village appellations). A Côte d´Or appellation does not exist but Côte d´Or is divided into Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune. Bourgogne Blanc are wines of simpler quality.

In the municipalities of Aloxe-Corton (= Corton-Charlemagne), Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet the Chardonnay grape appears at its best.

* Appellation is the name of the place of origin of the wine, for example, if the appellation is Chablis the region is Burgundy and the grape Chardonnay.

Chablis tastes like licking an iron pipe

If you want to approach the pure Chardonnay grape, Chablis is a good starting point. With the exception of the most expensive wines of the region, Chablis Grand Cru, most of the wines are traditionally made without oak - the grape itself is accentuated. You will find notes of mild citrus fruits, apples and with age nuts and an appealing butteriness. The mineral tone is quite noticeable and the acid in the wine becomes sharper in this northern district than if the grape had grown in a warmer climate. Some say that Chablis tastes like licking an iron pipe and that does not sound very pleasant. But maybe that is because Chablis has freshness, purity and mineral tone as main characteristics.

There are four quality classes: Petit Chablis is the simplest, followed by Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru. There are seven Chablis Grand Cru, e.g. Les Clos and Vaudésir. As in the other regions in Burgundy, it is the producer that is primarily of importance for the quality. Some talented producers are Brocard, Domaine Laroche, Droin and Louis Michel.

White Burgundy - wines with elegance and mature beauty

In the Côte d´Or Chardonnay gives wines with more body and more complexity than in Chablis. The flavours are ranging from oatmeal and nuts in the simpler wines to butter and cream in the very best. In this region fermentation and aging are done in new oak barrels but in smaller doses than in the United States and Australia. The French grand wines also take their time to mature to their full beauty, sometimes 10 to 15 years - while the New World with modern rush gets there faster, not least due to the intense use of oak.

Great white Burgundy wines include Montrachet, Corton-Charlemagne, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet. Chardonnay gives here the very best wines with citrus and other fruit tones supplemented with honey, nuts and butter and often elegantly wrapped in discreet toasted oak.  Some good producers to look out for are: Bonneau du Martray, Drouhin, Jadot, Domaine Leflaive, Étienne Sauzet and Tollot-Beaut.

Suggested wines from Burgundy

Many of the suggested wines on this web site may be bought in your country. Refer to Wine Searcher to find retailers. The number below links to Systembolaget´s information in Swedish.


Chablis Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre, France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru, nr 5587. Producer: J M Brocard. This wine can be ordered on line from the producer. Price about 20 euros.


This is a crisp and fresh wine, medium bodied with high perceived acidity. Flavour: nuanced, very fresh and fruity with hints of green apples, mineral, herbs and lemon. Aroma: nuanced, fruity with hints of yellow apples, mineral, pears, herbs and lemon peel.

Alcohol content: 12.5%. Sugar content: Less than 3.0 g/litre. Grape variety: 100% Chardonnay.

White Burgundy

Bourgogne Les Sétilles, France, Burgundy, nr 5657. Producer: Olivier Leflaive. Price about 15 euros.

This is a full-flavoured and rich, full-bodied white wine with high perceived acidity. Flavour: very fresh, nuanced with medium oak character and hints of yellow apples, mineral, nuts, butter and lemon. Aroma: nuanced with medium oak character, hints of tropical fruit, mineral, nuts, citrus and butter.

Alcohol content: 13.0%. Sugar content: Less than 3.0 g/litre. Grape variety 100% Chardonnay.

Chardonnay from the New World

Chardonnay from the New World is very much about oak treatment. Chardonnay which is fermented in new oak barrels give softness and butteriness to the wine. The fruit and oak rich wines are pleasant and easy drunk but lack the elegance of a good Burgundy wine. However, prices are attractive in comparison with the great Burgundy wines. The grape variety is stated on the label, you know what you get in the glass and there is no need to learn a lot of complicated vineyard names. Further, these modern wines are ready to drink och need not be stored for years to mature to its full beauty.

Flavours of pineapple, vanilla and nuts

When speaking of Chardonnay most people think of the very generous aromas of peach, apricot and tropical fruits, fortified with flavours of vanilla, toasted bread and toffee from new oak barrels that are so typical of a modern wine, grown in a warm climate and provided with a good dose of oak. And this is how Chardonnay wines taste from both Australia, USA and other countries in the New World. Like most wines from the New World they are high in alcohol, the grapes have ripened in the sun and are very rich in sugar.

Australian wines conquered Sweden

The breakthrough of Chardonnay in Sweden came in the 1980s when the Australian Chardonnay wines made their entrance. They became extremely popular both because of their intense aroma and flavour palette and their value for money. All wine producing states in Australia produce almost all kinds of wine styles. If you want a cool climate you go to the mountains and further south and if you want a warm climate you go north and stay closer to the plain. This way you can control if the wine should taste mature, very mature or very strongly mature. There is an increasing trend towards cool climate and subtlety but the Australian wines never lose their special maturity which is the single most important characteristic of the national style. The wines can come from a single vineyard or be mixtures from different states in the country. In South Australia large quantities of wine are produced, more than in any other Australian state.

Known producers are among others Jacob´s Creek, Lindemans, Penfolds, De Bortoli and Rosemount. The label on the bottles must according to the rules state production region, vintage and grape variety.

In the United States the customer decides

In the US wine is grown across the continent where the climate allows, but the best wines come from California. In the US wine is business, wines are made to be soft and kind with a little likeable sweetness and made of the grape that currently is the most popular. Several price ranges exist such as regular Chardonnay, Reserve Chardonnay, area designated Chardonnay and vineyard designated Chardonnay. The idea is that you should keep to the brand but trade up to more expensive wines if you liked the content. In contrast to Europe, the label does not state Château plus something strange but Chardonnay and a brand. It might not be the best way to make complex wines full of character but a commercial success. If you climb up the price ladder (about 12 euros and above) you can find really interesting Californian wines, generous and grape typical in a modern and personal style.These wines usually come from the cooler parts of California like Napa Valley, Sonoma County and Mendocino. The climate in these areas is ideal, generous sun, fairly high altitude and cool breezes from the Pacific Ocean. The only thing that could be a problem is the drought, but unlike France for example, irrigation is permitted.

Which producers are thus worth looking for? Gallo, the world´s largest wine company produces both top class wines and simple sugary sparkling wines. Fetzer, Kendall-Jackson, Beringer, Marimar Torres, Ravenswood and Robert Mondavi are other wellknown producers of Californian wines. Really expensive wines are produced by Ridge, Heitz, Beaulieu, Stag´s Leap, Kistler and others.

The label of American wines should, according to the rules, specify the origin and the grape varieties.The best guidance concerning wine style and quality is however, the name of the producer.

Suggested wines from the New World

Many of the suggested wines on this web site may be bought in your country. Refer to Wine Searcher to find retailers. The number below links to Systembolaget´s information in Swedish.


Penfolds Thomas Hyland Chardonnay, Australia, South Australia, Adelaide, nr 6023. Producer: Penfolds. Price about 10 euros.

This is a full-flavoured and rich, full-bodied white wine with high perceived acidity. Flavour: very fruity with distinct toasted oak character, hint of apples, browned butter, tropical fruit, vanilla and nuts. Aroma: very fruity with distinct toasted oak character, hint of tropical fruit, hazelnuts, red apples, butter and vanilla.

Alcohol content: 13.0%. Sugar content: Less than 3 g/litre. Grape variety: 100% Chardonnay.


Bonterra Chardonnay, USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino County, nr 16632. Producer: Bonterra Vineyards. Price about 14 euros.

This is a full-flavoured and rich, full-bodied white wine with medium perceived acidity. Flavour: very fruity with medium oak character, hints of butter, tropical fruit, apricot, nuts and vanilla. Aroma: very fruity with medium oak character, hints of butter, tropical fruit, nuts and vanilla.

Alcohol content: 13.5%. Sugar content: 3 g/litre. Grape variety: 100% Chardonnay.

Food to Chardonnay

Poultry, fish, seafood, cheese and creamy sauces

Food to match all types of Chardonnay wine styles is difficult to suggest. In case of oak aged, flavourful Chardonnay dishes of fried or grilled chicken or fish go very well. Sauces and side dishes also have an effect on the choice of wine. Fish and seafood in sauce made with white wine and cream will match most types of Chardonnay wine. If you like oysters Chablis is the obvious choice.

Cheese and white wine is an excellent way to finish a meal. Mild cheeses, not too flavourful go best with Chardonnay. Oak aged Chardonnay and aged Grevé is a taste experience to remember.

Food suggestions

Fish au gratin

4 persons

600-700 g fish fillets, fresh or frozen

4 servings of mashed potatoes

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

2 decilitres fish stock from cube

2 decilitres crème fraiche or double cream

2 pinches of salt

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons chopped chives

Start by making mashed potatoes. Add one egg yolk to the mashed potatoes.

Cook the fillets in the oven, 200 degrees. Grease an ovenproof dish with butter or oil. Add the fish fillets folded into small parcels or whole fish block, add salt and cover with foil. Take out the fish when the temperature is 52 degrees. Pour off the broth and save it.

Melt the butter for the sauce in a saucepan. Add flour and stir well. Add the fish broth, a little at a time and whisk all the time to avoid lumps. Add the crème fraiche or cream and let the sauce simmer for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper and season with Dijon mustard and chopped chives.

Pipe the mashed potatoes around the edges of the fish fillets. Pour the sauce over the fish and put the dish in the oven about 200 degrees until nicely browned and hot, about 15 minutes.

Cheese platter

Mild cheeses with a nutty flavour e.g.:

Le Fougeru or similar cheese type Brie

St André

Chavroux, fresh goat cheese


Aged Grevé

Celery and pear slices go well with cheese. See also Cheese Types for more information about cheeses and wine.

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All materials on this site are protected by international copyright

All materials on this site are protected by international copyright