The History of Chardonnay

As connoisseurs of fine wine, we’re never surprised when asked, is Chardonnay white wine? Called the “red wine of whites” among some winemakers with a particular love for expensive Chardonnay, it’s clear that this popular wine stands out from the rest. White wine is made differently than red, mainly in how winemakers use white or green grapes. But, unlike the usual process with darker-colored grapes, winemakers don’t include grape skin in the fermentation process. Keeping the skin creates the darker colors of red wines, and leaving it out allows white wines, like Chardonnay, to have their light coloring.

What Type of Wine Is Chardonnay?

Chardonnay is made from the Chardonnay grape of the same name with a dry style. This means that after the grapes are pressed, the sugar from the grape–after being affected by the yeast–becomes alcohol. This works until all the sugar is converted, creating a dry wine. Sometimes, you can find little residual sugar in the bottle left behind by the winemaker.

Sometimes this is done on purpose to lend a hint of sweetness and richness to the wine; or because the yeast hasn’t completed the fermentation process.

The Origin of Chardonnay

The history of Chardonnay is a long and interesting one, thanks to the Chardonnay grape, which originally hails from Burgundy, France. In fact, some of the most sought-after and expensive Chardonnays in the world still come from this region. Chardonnay is also among the three grapes used to produce Champagne, and is the only grape used in Blanc de Blancs Champagne. 

Throughout time, the Chardonnay grape has traveled a long way and found its way to California. Consequently, the whole of America embraced Chardonnay with open arms as it produced a wine that was delicious and appealing to a wide audience. 

While they share the name, the name ‘Chardonnay’ does not actually come from the grape. The wine and the grape it’s made from both get their name from the commune in the Mâconnais region in Burgundy. Even to this day, the town of Macon is still dominated by vineyards making expensive Chardonnay.

This origin dates back to 1330, when Cistercian monks erected stonewalls around their vineyard to plant Chardonnay grapes. Around the same time, the Romans too mastered the art of vine cultivation and wine-making. But strangely, they diluted their wine with water before consuming it. Many historians say that this was because the Romans believed that only the Gods deserved to drink pure wine. 

Also, “Chardonnay” is said to be derived from the Latin-based word, “Cardonnacum,” which literally means “where the thistle grows.” Thistle actually does grow in Burgundy – or at least it did when the monks started planting the Chardonnay grape.

The Rise of Chardonnay

The Cistercian monks noticed how difficult it was to grow certain grapes to make many favorite wines of the time. This meant that they could only grow so many grapes and have only so much wine. When Chardonnay was created and they realized how much easier it was to grow, they had the best equivalent of a sales pitch one could come up with for a grape.

Cistercian monks continued to crossbreed Chardonnay to make it as farmer-friendly as possible. As they did so, they ended up crossbreeding it with Pinot Noir and creating the also popular Champagne!

Chardonnay in America

The history of modern Chardonnay starts in the 1800s. In fact, the first documented planting of the Chardonnay grape in California was in 1882 by Charles Wetmore, founder of California’s Cresta Blanca winery. This brought a lot of attention to California and its potential for producing Chardonnay, but Prohibition forced them (and other wine-makers) to close shop.  

In 1912, Ernest Wente, another noted wine-maker, start adding cuttings from Montpellier, France, to his winery in the Livermore Valley. This came to be considered the start of a whole new chapter for wine-making in California. 

Chardonnay’s popularity has only risen over time. Today, it is among the most favorite wines of people all over the world. 

So Then, Is Chardonnay White Wine?

If you’re wondering, “Is Chardonnay white wine,” the simple answer is, yes!

The grape used to make Chardonnay is a crossbreed between pinot noir and gouais blanc, two white grapes, one from the same place as Chardonnay and the other from Central Europe. The pinot noir grape has been notoriously hard to grow, but many winemakers cross-pollinated it with their other grapes to make various kinds of wines. Chardonnay wasn’t even the first or last new grape made from crossbreeding pinot noir and gouais blanc.

When winemakers first created Chardonnay, they had finally made a grape that had the juiciness of pinot noir without the difficulty of growing it. It immediately became a favorite, but it wasn’t until the 14th century when Cistercian monks popularized using it to make wine.

The Wine Today

Recently, gouais blanc, one of the grapes that made the original Chardonnay, was nearly wiped out by a virus. Chardonnay narrowly survived by being taken overseas, where it became the popular dry white wine it is today.

Immigrants who set up wineries in Australia and the Americas found Chardonnay’s ability to be mass-produced perfect for the high consumption rates of people in those regions. In a few years, it became one of the most common wines you could find and remains so even to this day.

What Does Chardonnay Taste Like?

Chardonnay is known as a winemaker's grape because of its ability to grow in different climates. It’s also easy to work with in the cellar – winemakers can alter its composition to make it either light or full-bodied. 

Depending on where it’s been grown and how it’s been made, Chardonnay can taste quite different from bottle to bottle. Usually, it is dry medium-to-full-bodied wine with reasonable acidity and alcohol content. It can carry a range of flavors, like apple, pineapple, lemon, and papaya. When aged with oak, it can develop hints of vanilla. 

What Foods Pair Best with Chardonnay?

Chardonnay is known for its versatility with food pairings. Pure, unoaked Chardonnay pairs extremely well with fresh cheeses, shellfish, oysters, and delicate fish. 

Medium-bodied wine goes well with firmer fish, white meats, and aged cheeses. It’s rich and oaky with higher alcohol content. It can also be served with food made in heavy cream sauces, grilled meats with high-fat content, and even game birds. 

As a rule of thumb, match the weight of the wine with the weight of the food you’re serving. Or simply head to our Chardonnay serving restaurant to experience the best wine and food combinations. 

Visit Fire and Ice for Exquisite Chardonnay Wine and Dinner

If you’re looking to try Chardonnay with a worthy dinner, make a reservation at Fire and Ice. Whether you’re having a girls’ night out or attending a sit-down dinner, we’re ready to host you with our best offerings.

And if you’re interested in more than just Chardonnay, we have many more wines on our list. There are bubbling wines, red wines, and other white wines if you’re looking to try something new with your meal.

No matter what you choose from our menu, we have the perfect wine to go with it. Make your reservation today!