Photo credit: Wine for Normal People
Branch out and explore Chardonnay alternatives
Chardonnay is an international grape variety grown in all wine countries, from cool Germany to warm Australia. Because of its neutral character, Chardonnay is a winemaker’s canvas, where various winemaking techniques can be employed to make different expressions of wine.
Chablis is a classic Chardonnay from cool climates displaying fresh acidity, minerality and apple and citrus aromas. Depending on if it’s fermented in stainless-steel tanks or old barrels, its texture can have different degrees of creaminess.
One alternative to Chablis is Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) from Germany. Similar to Chardonnay, it has a neutral bouquet, but barrel fermentation and lees stirring give the wine a creamy texture. Weissburgunder grown at Premier or Grand Cru sites shows depth and concentration, allowing the wine to age gracefully.
However, don’t confuse German Weissburgunder with Italian Pinot Bianco (Italian for Pinot Blanc). Pinot Bianco served as house wine is often light-bodied with a simple citrus aroma, lacking the depth and texture of its German counterpart.
If you prefer Italian, Soave, made from the Garganega grape in north-east Italy, is a good option for Chablis. Its citrus, peach aromas are refreshing, and the smart use of oak adds another dimension of nuttiness and roundness to the wine.
Moving to warmer climates, Chardonnay displays riper fruit aromas of stone fruits and melon and has higher alcohol, medium acidity and a rounder mouthfeel. Roussanne from South Africa and Australia has a similar fruit profile and texture. In its native Rhone Valley, Roussanne is often blended with Marsanne and other varieties to produce a full-bodied wine with apple and yellow fruits aromas that can be mistaken as South Australian Chardonnay.
Heavily oaked Chardonnay from California and Australia might be out of fashion, but for its fans, an oaked Viognier can be a pleasant substitute. Its lush, full-bodied palate with exotic fruits and sweet spices keeps oaked Chardonnay lovers asking for more.
I know some wine consumers stick only to the grape varieties with which they are familiar. If you belong to this group and happen to like Chardonnay, it’s a pity to miss out on so many Chardonnay alternatives. The next time you go wine shopping, open both your eyes and mind!