Chardonnay was long held to be a favorite white for wine drinkers. Some of the greatest white wines of France are made from Chardonnay such as the Montrachets, or Grand Cru Chablis. Its popularity soared during the 1980s, partially as a result of the 1976 Judgement of Paris competition and continued to rise through the '90s. Because of this increased demand, growers sought to increase their output. The unfortunate result was that world-wide, vineyards containing ancient native varieties were uprooted in favor of Chardonnay plantings. Eventually a backlash against the heavily oaked style that was popular in the 80s (Anything But Chardonnay), led towards a shift to the lighter, more balanced styles of Chardonnay that are now common.
Despite the ups and downs it has recently experienced, Chardonnay is still an incredibly popular variety. Like Pinot noir, Chardonnay is indigenous to Burgundy. It is the most planted of the white international grape varieties. It spread from France and now high quality Chardonnay is made nearly everywhere, from Australia to California, Italy to South Africa, and many more regions besides; it is planted in more regions than any other grape.
Chardonnay, along with Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier are the major grapes of Champagne, and Chardonnay is often found as large component of sparkling wines world wide. In this capacity, we find plantings of Chardonnay as far up north as England! Aside from sparkling wine, Chardonnay is not typically blended, though it is not unheard of.
The style is entirely dependant both on the region and producer. Some Chardonnays are terroir driven, such as the wines of Chablis while others are allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation and take on rich, buttery, nutty aromas. Chardonnay is notable for its affinity for both malolactic fermentation, a process by which harsh malic acids present in the grape are converted into softer lactic acid, and oak, two things typically associated with red wine production. When aged in new oak, Chardonnay takes on toast, butterscotch, vanilla and baking spice notes.
A rich style of Chardonnay goes wonderfully with poultry, pork, dishes with creamy sauces or cheese. The unoaked, mineral Chardonnays that are dominated by green apple, citrus and white flowers aromas are excellent options for fish, poultry and pasta dishes. This style is a great option for Pinot Grigio drinkers who want more character in their wine.