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Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape variety that originated in Burgundy, the eastern wine-region of France, but has a wide-ranging reputation on its ability to grow in many different terrains and conditions. You can also find Chardonnays from Australia, California, Italy, New York, and every other wine region in the world. The different climates will make the wine have different acidity levels and bring out different fruit flavors.

History of Chardonnay in the FLX:

Like many of our other wines, we have Dr. Konstantin Frank to thank for Finger Lakes Chardonnay. Dr Frank, a European immigrant who worked at Cornell University’s Experiment Station, believed that lack of proper rootstock, not the cold climate, was why many vinifera vines, Chardonnay included, weren’t surviving in the Finger lakes. His experimentation alongside Frenchman Charles Fournier led to the first harvesting of commercial quantities in the late 1950’s. Thankfully, New York has a similar climate to Burgundy, which makes Chardonnay well-suited for our cooler weather. Not only can it endure our cold winters, but it also buds late, so a spring frost isn’t damaging to the crop.

When Dr. Frank first started dabbling in Chardonnay, he was hoping to grow a grape that could be used for sparkling wines and it’s still known as one of the primary producers for our sparkling wines. It plays well with other wines and makes the perfect blending companion for many of the Bruts and other bubbly’s you’ll find in the Finger Lakes.

Creating Chardonnay:

When most of us hear “Chardonnay” we think of 2 things: creamy butter and toasty oak.

The butter part is a result of malolactic fermentation, which is a process in winemaking when a tart-tasting acid, which is naturally present in most grapes, is converted to a softer-tasting lactic acid. The conversion is initiated to prevent undesirable bacterial strains from producing “off” flavors.

The oak is where the “toastiness” comes from. Different oak barrels give different flavors. Common barrels used are French, American, and Hungarian. The amount of charring that the oak is treated with also affects the flavors and is commonly mistaken as a characteristic of the grape itself, rather than the flavor from the charring. Some of the flavors you might taste from that are caramel, cream, smoke, spice, coconut, cloves, vanilla, and cinnamon.

How has Chardonnay changed over the years?

In the 1980s, Chardonnay was “all the rage.” Wine regions had to significantly increase the plantings to keep up with the worldwide trends. The Chardonnay of the 80s was “the oakier the better” and “more butter please,” but that only lasted for about 15 years before an ABC movement was created by Frank Prial- “Anything But Chardonnay.” Lighter styles of whites, such as Pinot Grigio, took over, which is more Riesling-esque, without the oak or malolactic fermentation.

The Chardonnays of today are much lighter than the 80s Chards, and they’re now served in multiple styles:

  • There’s still what you’d call the ‘traditional Chardonnay’ with the toasty butter, but it’s generally scaled back. For example, it could be fermented in a stainless-steel tank, but have oak chips added during the last few months to still give it the toasted flavor, but to hold back the bite of it.
  • There’s also totally stainless-steel aged Chardonnay that is growing in popularity; many wineries will even offer both options. This Chardonnay is crisp where the other is smooth and is lighter where the other has the heavier oak flavors. There are even some unoaked Chardonnays that are fermented in concrete eggs, which changes the flavor profile yet again.
  • There IS still 100% oak aged Chardonnay’s in the Finger Lakes, don’t get me wrong, but those are becoming less prevalent, so ask your server how it’s made, or give it a try anyway and see if you can detect how it’s made!

Despite its fluctuation of popularity over the years, it remains the 6th most widely grown grape variety in the world, covering over 440,000 acres. Its ability to adapt to any climate and be receptive to various styles of winemaking make it a popular option amongst vineyardists and winemakers, as well as a go-to wine for many drinkers.

Why do some Chardonnays say “reserve” or “barrel select”?

This goes for any variety of wine. Reserve or barrel select wine is a wine of a higher quality than usual, whether it be from the best vineyard, handpicked when the rest is machine harvested, or even from the best barrel; whatever makes it more special than its traditional “unreserved” partner. Oftentimes, winemakers will reserve some of the best wine, rather than sell it immediately, thus coining the term.

What does Chardonnay pair well with?

Both the oaked and unoaked Chardonnays pair well with lighter fare such as veal, grilled fish, sharp cheeses, seafood, and pasta dishes with rich and creamy white sauces.

Some specific dishes are Chicken Fettuccine, Chicken Cordon Bleu, Oysters on the Half Shell, Seafood Chowder, Lemon Pepper Shrimp, Zucchini Noodles with Lemon and Garlic Alfredo Sauce, Shrimp or Tofu Kabobs

Cooking with Chardonnay

As a rule, white wines that do not contain any sweetness are the best to cook lighter dishes with, such as chicken, pork, veal, soup, seafood, shellfish, and vegetables. Since Chardonnay is the most widely available, this makes it a perfect candidate to cook with.

Check out these deals along the trail* for the entire month of October

Montezuma Winery

  • 2 pack of Chardonnay for $34.99, available in-store and online

Swedish Hill Winery

Knapp Winery

  • Complimentary “Welcome Wine” in addition to a standard tasting of 6
  • $1 off a bottle of 2018 Finger Lakes Chardonnay or 2017 Barrel Reserve Chardonnay, in-store only
  • Free shipping on any full case of Chardonnay, mix-matched, or single style. Discount automatically applies at checkout if at least 12 bottles of either Chardonnay are in your cart.

Goose Watch– They don’t carry a Chardonnay, but they have a good Chardonnay alternative, Pinot Grigio, which is similar to an unoaked Chardonnay – 2 bottles for $25 (save $8.98), available in-store and online

Buttonwood Grove Winery

Toro Run Winery

  • 15% off 3 or more bottles of 2015 Chardonnay Reserve, in-store only
  • BOGO- buy one full case (12 bottles) of 2015 Chardonnay Reserve and get another case free, in-store only
  • (Cannot be combined, no other discounts apply, must buy all 12 bottles of Chardonnay to qualify)

Thirsty Owl Wine Co.– Chardonnay currently out of stock. 2020 vintage to be bottled in March 2021. Visit their website or tasting room to sample other awesome wines!

Hosmer Winery

Americana Vineyards

  • Complimentary tasting of Chardonnay added to your flight if you mention this promotion.
  • 10$ off 2 bottles of Chardonnay, in-store only

Six Mile Creek Vineyard

*at participating wineries