Considered the queen of the white grapes, Chardonnay produces wines with character and personality which are golden yellow, expressing aromas of fresh citrus fruit, green apple, pear and perhaps white peach together with white flowers and honey. Commonly, high-end Chardonnays are barrel-aged, a process which adds spice, butter and smoky aromas. On the palate, these wines often flow broadly and powerfully, delivering refreshing acidity together with good, fruity flavours. These grapes are also sensitive to terroir and winemaking methods, leading to quite a lot of tasty, decadent options from vintners the world over. Moreover, it’s widely accepted that the leading Chardonnay regions worldwide are for sure Burgundy and the Napa Valley, whose wines are each similar and yet distinctly different.
Generally, the French produce wines with complex, mineral characters which have an electrical freshness. In contrast, their American counterparts produce wines of a more voluptuous character during which the oaky texture is outstanding, contrasted with a bracing maritime freshness. The Chardonnay’s wealthy history dates back centuries, and though its exact origins are still a subject of debate amongst wine historians and experts, the name itself is derived from the village of Chardonnay in southern Burgundy. It’s here that many believed it originated following the invention of sixteenth century documents mentioning its presence in vineyards of the Côte d’Or region. While it was thought to have been initially cultivated solely in Burgundy, its popularity progressively spread to other wine-growing regions in France.
The beginning of the nineteenth century saw Chardonnay vines begin to make their way beyond the borders of France, and by the mid-1800s, French immigrants brought Chardonnay cuttings to the New World, particularly to California and Australia. These were areas that offered new opportunities for grape cultivation, with their favourable climates and diverse soils. In these early days of the Chardonnay grape’s international journey, the grape was often mistaken for Pinot Blanc or other varieties. It was not until the twentieth century, when advancements in ampelography and genetic research was conducted, that Chardonnay was confirmed as a definite grape variety. The grape, which gained popularity on account of its adaptability to numerous climates and soils, reached global prominence as its versatility and talent to provide a spread of styles, from crisp and unoaked to wealthy and buttery, contributed greatly to its widespread appeal.
While Chardonnay’s history is deeply rooted in France, its journey to South America, particularly Argentina, is an interesting chapter in its journey to global prominence. It made its approach to Argentina within the late nineteenth century, brought by French immigrants who sought to determine vineyards within the country, predominantly from regions reminiscent of Bordeaux and Burgundy. Along with grapevine cuttings, additionally they brought their winemaking traditions and recognised Argentina’s potential for grape cultivation, due to its diverse microclimates and fertile soils. Initially, Chardonnay vines in Argentina were primarily used for mixing purposes, as the main target was on producing robust red wines, particularly Malbec. Nevertheless, because the country’s wine industry developed and consumer tastes evolved, winemakers began to explore the potential of Chardonnay as a stand-alone varietal wine. Mendoza emerged as a number one area for Chardonnay production in Argentina as its high-altitude vineyards, ample sunlight, and funky nights provided favourable conditions for Chardonnay grapes to thrive, contributing to the event of complex flavours and vibrant acidity within the resulting wines.
Within the early Nineties, a major shift took place in the way in which Argentine vintners approached winemaking, as greater emphasis was placed on quality and expressing the unique characteristics of the grapes and terroir. This shift, coupled with advancements in viticultural and winemaking practices, allowed Chardonnay to actually develop successfully within the country. Argentinian Chardonnays showcase a definite style that sets them aside from their counterparts in other parts of the world, expressing ripe tropical fruit flavours reminiscent of pineapple and mango. In addition they exhibit a balanced, crisp acidity with a mineral undertone in wines that may range from unoaked styles, highlighting the grape’s natural fruitiness, to oak-aged versions that supply additional complexity and texture. The important thing factor contributing to Argentina’s success is the country’s old-vine resources where vines which are several a long time old end in lower yields but more concentrated flavours, greater depth in addition to a more distinct character of the wines with layers of complexity.
Beyond Mendoza, other regions in Argentina have also embraced Chardonnay cultivation including the cool-climate region of Rio Negro, Patagonia, known for elegant and vibrant Chardonnays with crisp acidity and a pronounced mineral backbone. The Salta region within the north, with its high-altitude vineyards, produces Chardonnays that exhibit a singular combination of tropical fruit notes and refreshing acidity. Actually, in accordance with the National Institute of Viticulture, the Chardonnay variety in Argentina is present in most wine provinces with just over 6,000 cultivated hectares representing 2.8 per cent of total vine within the country and 15 per cent of total white varieties. Lately, Argentine Chardonnays have gained international recognition and have received accolades in prestigious wine competitions and reviews, a growing popularity that continues to fuel each domestic and international demand for these wines. Today Thursday Food introduces 4 of the country’s top Chardonnays:
Felino Chardonnay 2022 by Bodega Vina Cobos is a 100 per cent varietal produced from vineyards positioned 4,000 feet above sea level in Mendoza. This wine is pale yellow in color expressing aromas of pear, green apple and grapefruit. It is vitally well-balanced on the palate with good, crispy acidity.
Vinculum Chardonnay 2021 is one other 100 per cent varietal by Bodega Vina Cobos constituted of grapes grown at its vineyards within the Uco Valley area of Mendoza. It has a shiny pale yellow color together with aromas of pear, green apple, apricots and notes of white chocolate. On the palate it presents balanced acidity, good minerality and great texture with a full-bodied, long finish.
Chacra Chardonnay is a 100 per cent varietal, constituted of 40-year-old vines within the Rio Negro region of Patagonia, by Bodega Chacra. It’s intense and energetic, with aromas of sliced dried apples, crushed stones, minerals, hints of biscuit, praline together with undertones of honeysuckle and lemongrass. It’s full-bodied, but very firm and vigorous with a fresh acidity running through the palate, providing energy and depth.
Mainqué Chardonnay, one other 100 per cent varietal by Bodega Chacra, is produced from vineyards within the Mainqué area of Rio Negro. Within the mouth, the wine has a fruity entry, a salinity shared with Chacra Chardonnay, and a tasty finish borrowed from the calcareous components of the alluvial soil. On the nose, it is rather mineral with some aromas of anise and sliced green apple.
The rise of boutique wineries and the commitment of winemakers to showcasing the distinctiveness of Argentina’s terroir have further elevated the standard and variety of Argentine Chardonnays, offering a compelling alternative to their French and New World counterparts. Today, it stays some of the widely planted and celebrated grape varieties globally, with May 25 celebrated annually as World Chardonnay Day. Salud!