Chardonnay is probably the most widely recognised grape in the world, but its name is often more associated with the wines it produces. It was only in the late 20th century, as varietal labelling took hold, that Chardonnay became more than just an ingredient. By the late 1980s, Chardonnay became an international bestseller, with rich, sweet and oaky varietal wines that were high in alcohol leading the market. Today, Chardonnay is planted in more regions than any other grape, from Switzerland to South Africa, and is estimated to cover a massive 160,000 hectares in total. However, its homeland is Burgundy (e.g Chablis), where it is an intrinsic part of some of the best wines available there. It is one of the three main grapes that can be used to make Champagne.
The secret to Chardonnay’s success is largely its productive capabilities, as it is capable of high yields in a wide range of climates. However, it does bud early, putting it at risk of spring frosts, and its thin skin puts it at risk of rot if there is too much rain during the harvest. Deciding when to pick the grapes should also be done carefully, as over-ripe Chardonnay can lose its acidity. However, even when picked early it has good ageing potential and can create sensational, full bodied wines that truly express their terroir.