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Varietal Overview: Chardonnay
History and Cultivation
Often called “Queen of the Whites”, this varietal traces its nascence to the Burgundy region of eastern France, where it was first cultivated in the 12th century by Cistercian monks. Recent research by the University of California-Davis traces the genetic background of the Chardonnay grape to the revered Pinot Noir, which was thought to have been crossed with the white Gouais Blanc grape to achieve the classic, golden-tinted modern Chardonnay.
Nowadays, the popularity of this specific grape is evident in the geographic spread of cultivation. In fact, the Chardonnay grape is now grown in nearly every wine-growing region throughout the world. Within the continental United States, Chardonnay found its most populous home in the California wine country, where it remains the area’s most prominent varietal.
Tasting Profile and Pairings
A refined palate will find that Old World Chardonnay from the heart of France has a remarkably distinct taste from that from New World cultivation sites, such as Napa Valley, California. It is inevitable that this difference in flavor embodiment would come from the geographic and topographical differences between Chardonnay’s native Burgundy soil and that of other wine-growing regions of the world. Differences in pH, mineral content, sun and water cycles are amongst some of these noted environmental factors.
Old World Chardonnay is a light-bodied wine with a floral nose and a bright, fruity punch. These grapes are typically unoaked, and are instead aged in large steel barrels. As opposed to oak-aging, steel-aged Chardonnay will produce a lighter, crisper taste on the palate than that of the New World counterpart. Another aspect of this tasting profile stems from the climate of the originating region. The traditional Burgundy Chardonnay is cultivated in a cool-climate which contributes to the lighter flavors picked up by the grapes and established during the aging process. Notes of acidic fruit often range from red and green apple, papaya, pineapple, and lemon. This combines with a unique minerality and chalky dryness that allows this classic white to pair well with flaky white fish such as tilapia or cod, delicate shellfish, poultry, risotto, greens, and spring vegetables.
Pair this recipe with a classic, Old World French Chardonnay!
Baked Cod with Summer Vegetables
4 (6.0-ounce) cod fillets
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, divided
1 large tomato, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 yellow squash or zucchini, diced
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Brush cod with 1 tablespoon of the oil, sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and place in a 9x13-inch baking dish.
In a large bowl, combine tomato, bell pepper, squash, olives, garlic and black pepper.
Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt and toss to combine.
Spoon mixture over cod and bake until vegetables are tender and fish is just cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.
Serve the cod and vegetables with some of the juices in the pan spooned over the top
In comparison to the Burgundy-grown Chardonnay, New World production such as that in California’s Napa Valley, Australia, and New Zealand yields a distinctive, buttery, and medium to full-bodied flavor. As opposed to the steel-aged process in France, California and other New World Chardonnays are most often oak-aged, giving a fuller flavor with scents of smoke and vanilla on the nose. Another major difference between Old World and New World Chardonnay lies in the appearance of the wine itself. The oak-aged process of New World Chardonnay gives a much richer, deeper golden color that perfectly foreshadows the flavor profile of this wine. Due to the steel-aging process in the French-grown grapes, Old World Chardonnay will appear brighter and lighter; characteristic of its greener flavor profile.
New World Chardonnay sits heavier on the palette, and therefore can handle a richer food pairing but may also be paired with any of the dishes recommended for Old World Chardonnay. Some pairings may include eggs benedict, cream-based soups, steak béarnaise, richer fish such as swordfish, and late summer root vegetables such as squash, pumpkin and sweet potato.
Pair this recipe with an bold, buttery New World Chardonnay!
Easy Fall Pumpkin Soup
1 (about 1.5kg) butternut pumpkin, halved
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
8 thyme sprigs
2 large carrots
4 slices cured and smoked streaky bacon (optional)
½ tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp chili flakes, plus extra to serve
1 onion (unpeeled)
3 garlic cloves (unpeeled)
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
2 Tbs creme fraiche, plus extra to serve
Preheat oven to 220°C (200°C fan-forced). Line a large baking tray with baking paper. Drizzle the cut sides of the pumpkin with 1 tbs oil, then place, cut-side down, on prepared tray on top of thyme sprigs. Place the carrots and bacon, if using, in the middle of a large piece of foil. Sprinkle over the fennel seeds and chili flakes. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tbs oil. Add to the baking tray and roast for 30 minutes. Remove the vegetable mixture from the oven and add the onion to the tray. Enclose the garlic in foil and add to the baking tray. Roast for a further 30 minutes or until tender. To make the soup, strip the thyme leaves from stalk and add to a large saucepan. Scoop out the pumpkin seeds and discard. Scoop out the pumpkin flesh and place in the saucepan with the carrots and bacon, if using. Peel the onion and garlic, and add to the pan. Add any remaining pan juices. Use a stick blender to break down slightly, then add the stock and 1½ cups water. Blend until smooth. Stir in the creme fraiche. Season to taste and cook over medium heat until warmed through.