Versatile and popular among drinkers, there’s a reason Chardonnay is the most planted white-wine grape in the world. You can find it in many wine-producing countries, with Burgundy, Napa and Sonoma being among the most sought after.
But they’re not the only ones in the Chardonnay game. Here, we take a look at some of the regions that are building up their Chardonnay production to impressive results.
Early winemakers in this Oregon region selected it for similarities to Burgundy, and in fact, Chardonnay has been planted here for about 30 years. While the region’s Pinot Noir star was rising, producers were quietly working on clone and site selection to create the best Chardonnays they could.
And it worked.
Today’s Willamette Valley Chardonnays lie somewhere between a racy, mineral-driven Chablis and an unctuous, buttery Cali Chard. The best of these bottlings show structure and minerality like you might expect from Burgundy, with the bright and vivid fruit of an American wine. Prices generally range from $30 to up over $100, with many bottles showing impressive ageability.
Known more for red wines made from indigenous grapes, Puglia’s Chardonnay history dates back to the 1990s. According to Cantele wines, it was Augusto Cantele who rightly thought the grape might do well in the region’s limestone soils. Wine Enthusiast’s reviewer for Puglia, Alexander Peartree, also notes warm temperatures and cooling sea breezes ensure ripeness and bright acidity.
These wines are affordably priced, generally under $20, and carry bright, fresh, often tropical fruit notes. Though they may boast a creamy texture, brisk acidity makes them lively and fun to drink.
In this New Zealand region famous for its Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay makes up a small percentage of vineyard acres. While Chardonnay’s history in New Zealand dates to the mid-20th century, it was grown primarily on the North Island, with the South Island believed too cold.
But producers in Marlborough, at the northern tip of the South Island, have made it work quite beautifully. These cool-climate Chards possess great acidity and run the stylistic gamut from lean, racy and citrus driven, to aromatic with melon and white fruits, to fully undergoing malolactic fermentation for a round, buttery sensation.
People have been making wine in this southern Bulgarian valley for 4,000 years, long before there was any debate about whether Chardonnay was best oaked or unoaked.
During the Soviet era, wine production was state run, for domestic consumption only. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the industry collapsed. It’s only in the past 20 years or so that quality winemaking has resumed here, with a primary focus on red grapes.
Chardonnay here is largely unoaked, with aromatic floral qualities and bright lemon notes. It offers an astounding value, with bottles $15 and under scoring 90 points in W.E.’s ratings. Some oaked versions are suitable for aging, still at a fantastic value.
This article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!
Last Updated: September 28, 2022