Pairing Wine with Food: Chardonnay
Chardonnay is one of the most popular and versatile wine varietals in the world. Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape that originated in the Burgundy region of France and is still the most popular white varietal grown in that region.
Most white Burgundies are therefore chardonnays, but open a white Burgundy next to a chadonnay from California, Washington State, Australia or New Zealand, and you’ll find each bring vastly different flavor profiles, depending upon which region of the world they’re from.
Chardonnay is also a very important component of many sparkling wines around the world, including champagne. The sparkling wine “blanc de blanc” (white from white) denotes a sparkling wine made entirely from Chardonnay.
Chardonnay’s Superpowers: Survivability and Malleability
The grape is known to be highly “malleable”, in that it not only thrives in many climates, but it takes on the characteristics of the local “terroir” (micro-climate, land and region) more readily than some other varietals. In this way, it is more of a blank canvas than, say, a cabernet sauvignon or even a sauvignon blanc.
One implication: if you’ve only tried a few different brands or regions of Chardonnay, you’re missing out on a wide variety of options and flavors. Be sure to try a white Burgundy, a California Chardonnay, an Italian Chardonnay, an Australian and a New Zealand one over time.
Common Tasting Notes You’ll Read About Chardonnay
By far, the word “butter” stands out when reading the many tasting notes on Chardonnay. To many of us, the mouth-feel and flavor of a very good chardonnay is reminiscent of butter: rich, delicious, and savory. You’ll see how this dominant note of chardonnay plays into our “ideal pairings” list, below.
What foods pair well with chardonnay?
Chardonnay wines are generally medium to full-bodied white wines that are rich and complex. They can be big and buttery in mouth-feel, or crisp, somewhat tart and young. In the United States, California chardonnays are extremely popular and widely available, though some experts consider the most popular brands to be too sweet and/or overly “oaky”. Italian chardonnays are also quite popular and are great choices to serve with pasta dishes with cream sauce, or risotto dishes.
One rule of thumb we have for you is that in general, foods that you might put butter on often pair well with a medium to full-bodied chardonnay. (That is, if instead your dish would be complemented by putting lime or lemon on it, let it signal to you a more tart wine, like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.)
For instance, great pairings to consider with Chardonnay are:
- Seafood with butter and brown-butter sauces
- Sage-butter chicken
- Chicken, especially baked chicken, fried chicken, grilled chicken, or chicken with a cream sauce
- Grilled and roasted salmon
- Grilled seafood of most kinds
- Shellfish that you might put butter on, like crab, lobster or shrimp
- Turkey (with an unoaked chardonnay)
- Cream soups
- Pasta and pasta salads, especially with creamy sauces
Great Flavor Pairings
- Mustard, especially Dijon
- Camembert cheese
- Oyster and hoisin-sauce dishes (for full-bodied chardonnays)
- Risotto (with Italian Chardonnays)
When a wine is called “oaky”, it’s because it’s been infused with a flavor from its aging and storage. Many chardonnays are aged in oak barrels, and depending upon how old they are, whether they are seasoned, smoked or not, the wine will take on an oaky characteristic on the palate.
On this subject, Chef Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux has said “Wine is an art, and oak is a frame, and if you have too large a frame, it detracts from the painting.” Oaky chardonnays are often best paired with salads, cheeses, and lighter dishes.
Chardonnay goes well with any buttery or nutty flavor. It remains one of the most-widely planted grape varieties, planted in more wine regions than any other grape. Enjoy a glass today -- chilled to below room temperature but above most fridge temperatures -- best-enjoyed around 50 degrees Fareinheit.