Who’s Your Daddy?: Chardonnay

The subject of today’s “Who’s Your Daddy” post is one of the most widely recognized and most popular wines in the world:  Chardonnay!

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Chardonnay is relatively easy to grow and can readily adapt to different environments, and therefore can be found at vineyards in every corner of the globe (where they are able to grow European varietals, anyway!).  It is very sensitive to the terroir of the region, as well as the winemaking process, therefore there are many different styles of Chardonnay on the market today. 

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Chardonnay is produced all over the world, from France, to the United States, to Australia, and everywhere in between (with differences even within each region).  Chardonnay is often used as a 100% varietal wine, but is frequently used in blending as well.  As a result of the chardonnay grape sensitivity, even a small amount of another grape will alter the flavor profile of the wine immensely, giving it completely different character and mouthfeel than if it were Chardonnay alone.  Chardonnay is also frequently the primary grape (if not at least 50%) in sparkling wines, including French Champagne.  Harvested earlier in the season, more acidic undertones are present in this style of wine.

In the Chablis region of France, where Chardonnay is the only permissible grape that can be grown, the wines are very crisp and flinty.  Conversely, in the Meursault region, it takes on a more luscious or even “buttery” tone.  Flavors of Chardonnay can change dramatically depending upon the type of barrel used in fermentation and aging, as well as specific terroir differences. 

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In stainless steel barrels, Chardonnays will take on a crisp and clean character, often with apple, melon, and other tropical fruit flavors dominating the wine.  When fermented and aged in oak barrels, the Chardonnay wine will have a more full-bodied and smooth mouthfeel, which introducing sometimes candied fruit flavors as well as a buttery finish.  There are even strong differences between the use of American oak versus French oak barrels, in that American oak Chardonnays tend to retain even more “oaky” character, giving stronger vanilla tones and stronger tannin.  With French oak barrels, the tannins are more delicate, and at times more spice character is present in the wine.

Not only is terroir and the winemaking process key in determining what style of Chardonnay a winery at a particular location will produce, but the actual clone itself will make a big difference in the style of the wine.  Chardonnay has a relatively high frequency of mutation, therefore there are at least 400 different clones (or genetic “cousins”) of the Chardonnay grape vine.  Each one of these clones exhibits different characteristics and require different conditions in order for it to ripen to their full potential.  After ripening, the flavor profiles of each genetic clone are slightly different from one another, thus changing the overall flavor and structure of the wine.  Vineyard managers must decide which clone best suits the terroir in that region, and what the overall end product goal will be, in order to choose the right genetic strain and have a successful Chardonnay wine.

So enough background already, who’s your daddy, Chardonnay??

Enter our friends from the University of California at Davis again (Dr. Carole Meredith and colleagues), who have used DNA fingerprinting to discover the origins for many grape varieties (which you may have remembered from previous “Who’s Your Daddy” posts!).  After extensive research into the DNA profiles of hundreds of grape varieties, it can be said with much confidence that the Chardonnay grape was the result of a cross between:

                              

 

 




                 Gouais Blanc….

                                                                             and….

 

Pinot (either Noir or Blanc, but likely, Noir)

Well, there you have it!  Researchers are certain that one “parent” is in the Pinot family, with a strong possibility of it being Pinot Noir, yet research has not been able to confirm this with 100% accuracy yet.  The other “parent”, Gouais Blanc, is near extinct, though is planted in a few places, including Geisenheim, Germany.

If there is a grape variety that you’d like to know the origins of, please feel free to comment below!  I’d love to hear from you!
I am not a health professional, nor do I pretend to be. Please consult your doctor before altering your alcohol consumption habits. Do not consume alcohol if you are under the age of 21. Do not drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly!

4 comments for “Who’s Your Daddy?: Chardonnay

  1. July 2, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    I know that Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, but where does Cab Franc come from?

    Also, I'm really curious to try some Gouais Blanc now; I'd never heard of it before!

  2. July 2, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Jason! You're spot on about Cab Sauv (I had it as my first "Who's Your Daddy" post, actually!). I'm thinking Cab Franc must be an early varietal of grape that wasn't necessarily a cross of any varietal that we know of today. It appeared in the early 18th century, and was planted first in the Libournais region of southwest France. I'd have to dig deeper to see if any further DNA research was done on it, though! Perhaps a future "Who's Your Daddy" post will feature Cab Franc!

    As far as Gouais Blanc goes, I'm not sure if anyone even makes it anymore. I saw some comments on a random article saying that they are known to pop up in Australia in places. The picture I posted in this post was from Germany, so there may be some found there as well. It was found often in the Middle Ages, but was banned since it was considered "rustic and inferior" and for peasants.

    I'm curious as to what it would be like also! I'm confident it's not distributed into the US, so it may be a long hunt for this one :) Let me know if you find any!

  3. Robert
    September 10, 2012 at 12:10 am

    Cool!

  4. September 11, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Glad you enjoyed it, Robert! :)

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