Many wine enthusiasts have a love-hate relationship with Chardonnay. There are certain styles from specific regions they love, and vice versa. They’ve experienced styles from around the world; dry and mineral driven examples of the wine to those bursting with ripe tropical fruit and oak. The challenge is that Chardonnay is so prolific. You can walk into just about any restaurant in the world that serves wine and order a glass of Chardonnay.
However, Chardonnay is a chameleon of a grape. If it is grown in a certain soil, you’ll smell & taste that soil. If it is grown in a warmer climate, you’ll smell & taste ripe orchard and tropical fruit. If it is made with oak, you’ll smell and taste the wood and spices more predominantly.
So how do you know that the Chardonnay they’re serving is one that you’ll like?
Here is a 3-step framework to help you figure out if you’ll enjoy the Chardonnay you’re considering.
What to think about when smelling and tasting your wine for the first time?
A great way to help you identify the flavors and aromas you’re smelling and tasting when you try your Chardonnay for the first time is to remember the acronym, F.E.W., or Fruit, Earth, Wood. An acronym and framework made popular by Master Sommelier, Richard Betts. Firstly, identify what fruit aromas you’re smelling, then the earthy, then the woody.
What fruit flavors and aromas make your mouth water?
Like color, fruit aromas are vast! Below is a brief breakdown of common fruit aromas you could find in a glass of Chardonnay.
What earthy flavors and aromas get you going?
While the idea of “eating dirt” doesn’t appeal to most, earthy aromas can tell you a lot about a wine.
- River Rocks
- Sea Salt
- The forest after a light rain
What woody flavors and aromas do you love?
Woody flavors aren’t reserved for just oak barrels. There are so many different woody notes you can find in a wine.
Woods & Nuts
- All Spice
Which fruit flavors and aromas do you personally enjoy best? Are you a fan of fresh cut lemons, or do you like lemon curd better? Do you love to put fresh sea salt on your tongue? How does the smell of a river flowing across the rock banks make you feel? Do you hate cinnamon, but love nutmeg? Asking yourself these questions and then sharing your insights with your sommelier or server will help them recommend a Chardonnay that has those notes and guide you toward a glass you’ll enjoy!
What to look for when evaluating a wine?
When we pour wine into the glass, the color that we see is more than just a beautiful display of nature. Color in wine tells us a lot about where the grapes were grown and how the wine was made.
The color of Chardonnay exists on a spectrum starting on the left as crystal clear to the right of light brown, with hues of yellow in between.
Color indicates many things including the following…
- How ripe the grapes were when harvested
- How oaky, or not the wine is
- How young or old the wine is
What to look for in a glass of Chardonnay?
When you have Chardonnay in your glass, ask yourself what the color indicates. Is the wine more clear and slightly yellow? Then that wine was surely made from grapes that were just ripe enough to harvest, is probably not oaky, and is most likely very young, or current vintage.
If the wine is a richer yellow with golden hues, that would indicate that the grapes were more ripe when harvested, there is most likely more oak influence on the wine, and the wine could be a couple to several years old.
Combining your knowledge of how to evaluate the color of a wine and now being armed with the flavor and aroma descriptors to tell someone what you enjoy, you can be confident in ordering the perfect glass or bottle of Chardonnay!