Chardonnay is a popular variety of white wine. It has some staple characteristics, like being generally medium to full bodied with moderate acidity.
Whilst chardonnay is often dry, the question of whether chardonnay is sweet or dry is not so straightforward to answer. It depends greatly on the type of chardonnay you are drinking, where it was made, and how it has been aged.
What Is Chardonnay?
Chardonnay is a green grape variety that originates in the Burgundy region of France. It is now grown in many different countries including New Zealand, Australia and even the United Kingdom.
Chardonnay grapes are used for various types of wine, including sparkling wines like champagne and franciacorta.
Chardonnay wine is very popular and it can be crisp and clean or rich and okay depending on many factors. The flavour notes of chardonnay can include fruits like apple, citrus, papaya, and pineapple.
If it has been aged with oak then you will also pick up a hint of vanilla and some bitterness from the tannins.
What Does ‘Dry’ And ‘Sweet’ Mean?
When describing wine, the dryness refers to the level of residual sugar left after fermentation. The sweetness in wine comes from the naturally occurring sugar in grapes. During fermentation, the sugar in the grape juice is turned into alcohol.
If there is less than 1% residual sugar left in the wine then it is considered dry. The more residual sugar left in the wine, the sweeter it will be.
Some cheaper brands of chardonnay will also add sugar to the wine, but this heavily compromises the flavour.
The length of time that the grapes were on the vine before harvest can also affect the sweetness of the wine. Late harvested grapes tend to have a more intense and sweet flavour.
Oaked And Unoaked Chardonnay
How the wine is aged has a big impact on the flavour. Ageing a wine in oak barrels will take on different notes such as vanilla, and sometimes a more earthy tone. They will also have more tannins, which are released from natural materials like plants, leaves and wood.
The tannins give the wine a more bitter taste. Generally, oak aged chardonnay will be richer, full bodied and may have a spicy element to it. You may hear oaked chardonnay being described as creamy or buttery.
Whilst chardonnay tends to be dry, the oak ageing process can cause the buttery, fruity flavours to come off sweeter on the palate. The richer, oaked chardonnays can handle being served alongside heavy, cream based sauces and even grilled meats, fatty meats and game birds.
Chardonnay that has been fermented or aged in stainless steel will retain a crisper and brighter flavour. It will be more zingy, and you will be able to pick up the tartness of the pineapple and lemon fruity notes of the wine.
Unoaked chardonnay is generally cheaper to make, and has that distinctive dry taste that chardonnay is generally known for. Unoaked chardonnay tends to be produced in cooler climates.
The crispness of unoaked chardonnay pairs very well with delicate fish, shellfish, and goats cheese salads.
A medium bodied chardonnay, whether oaked or unoaked, will pair well with aged cheeses like gouda and gruyere. It also goes well with firmer fish, like swordfish, and white meats like chicken and pork.
How To Serve Chardonnay
Chardonnay should be served chilled, but not too cold or the flavours will be muted. Aim for 50 to 55 degrees fahrenheit, which you should be able to achieve by putting your wine in the refrigerator for around 2 hours.
Alternatively, you can sit it in an ice water bath for about 40 minutes.
As you can see, chardonnay is generally a dry wine. If you prefer a richer, sweeter white wine then oaked chardonnay is probably more up your street.
If you are drinking a chardonnay that is very sweet, it is probably cheap and poor quality, with added sugars. Try and avoid chardonnay like this if you want to experience the true flavour of the grape.
Now that you know more about chardonnay, you can serve it with confidence at your next dinner party and impress your family and friends.