Until the 20th century and the ascent of varietal labeling of wine, the name chardonnay was known only to vine growers, despite its being the sole grape variety for all of Burgundy’s finest white wines. Thanks to advances in science, and through DNA profiling, the origins of chardonnay have been sourced to the pinot noir grape crossed with a very old and obscure, indeed nearly extinct, Croatian grape called gouais blanc. It is thought that the Romans brought gouais blanc to France. Whether chardonnay was an intentional cross-breeding or a lucky happenstance remains unknown.
Regardless, chardonnay is popular among winemakers for its reliability and malleability — the grape is particularly responsive to a wide range of winemaking techniques. For consumers, chardonnay offers a range of flavors and a wide variety of styles — light and refined to massive and oaky; bone dry to unctuously sweet; still or sparkling.
Chardonnay’s reputation for greatness was born in France, especially Burgundy and Champagne, with tremendous command performances around the globe, from California to Australia, and even Israel. Despite the eventual ubiquity of chardonnay in the 1980s, and the seemingly bottomless lake of cheap, sometimes ghastly, over-oaked chard through the mid-1990s, chardonnay’s popularity remains largely undiminished. Today, chardonnay is, and for some decades now has been, the world’s most popular, and most planted, white wine grape, and is produced across Europe, Australasia, North America, parts of South America, in South Africa and lately fledging efforts can be found even in Asia.
Here are some excellent kosher chardonnays to try:
Hagafen, Chardonnay, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, California, 2016 ($30; mevushal): opulent, oaky, and creamy with aromas and flavors of butterscotch, vanilla, citrus, apple, pear, pineapple and kiwi, with a lengthy, enjoyable, rich, clean, and refreshing finish that includes notes of melon, vanilla, toasty oak and mild baking spice. Classic Napa chard. Just wonderful.
Covenant, Lavan, Chardonnay, Sonoma Mountain, California, 2014 ($38; non-mevushal): Sourced from the Scopus Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain, this brilliant, concentrated, rich, medium-bodied chard is rounded and serious with nicely integrated toasty oak, bracing acidity and aromas and flavors of white peach, pear, citrus, honeysuckle, apple, honey, toast, toasted almond and with lovely minerality. Great northern California chardonnay; seriously delicious.
Pascal Bouchard, “La Classique,” Chablis, France, 2016 ($38; mevushal): An excellent example of chablis, this is crisp, dry (almost flinty), medium
bodied, restrained and elegant, with a nose of apple, lemon, peach, cream, hay and some lovely earthy and herbal characteristics that follow through on the palate in a wonderfully complex interplay with a fabulous, almost saline foundation upon which floats additional notes of white peach, lemon and quince. Nicely balanced with a touch of citrus fruit — flesh and pith, and a very slight and enjoyable almond nuttiness on the lengthy finish. Outstanding.
Domain du Castel, “C” Blanc du Castel, Judean Hills, 2014 ($50; non-mevushal): This is a big, rich, creamy, oaky chardonnay made in the style of burgundy — fermented in French oak barrels and aged sur lie (with the dead yeast particles in the barrel) for nearly 12 months with frequent batonnage (stirring). This is bright and balanced with a buttery aroma. It has rich flavors of apricots, peach, apples and lemon, along with well integrated, toasty oak and a notable minerality that comes together seamlessly and flows smoothly into the lingering and appealing finish. L’chaim!
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