It is a well-known fact that Chardonnay produces a wide range of flavours. The reason being it’s ability to grow under various climatological conditions. The colder the climate, the tighter the aromas and the higher the acidity: green apple, unripe pear and white flowers. Chablis and champagne are the classic examples here. In slightly warmer climates like that of Burgundy, the aromas are something more mature and broader: citrus and ripe apple. In hot climates like California, Australia and Chile (all of which are closer to the equator than for example Burgundy) Chardonnay gives very mature, sometimes sultry aromas of tropical fruit such as mango, passion fruit and lime. Right here the acidity is lowest.
With its wide range of flavours, from sleek cool climate’s fresh accents to rich tropical fruit in warmer climates, Chardonnay is suited for a very wide range of dishes. So which Chardonnay food pairings are the best? What follows hereunder are the basics to do it right, some handy tips and a little about what not to do.
How to find a suitable combination of Chardonnay and food?
Here are some of the basics to get you started into the right direction.
Step 1: Basic ingredients
Basic ingredients refer to the main part of the meal: meat, poultry, game, fish, seafood or vegetables. These components represent the main parts, and are often the basis for the choice of the wine, although very successful combinations are also common due to the use of the remaining ingredients. For Chardonnay wines the basic ingredients are:
Crab, shrimp, clams, coquille, lobster, halibut, sea bass, monkfish, snapper, trout, swordfish, salmon, tuna, chicken, turkey, pheasant, goose, veal, pork.
Step 2: Additions
The additives help to give the food a better connection with the wine by the interaction in taste, body, or basic taste intensity. For Chardonnay wines they are:
Citrus: orange, lime, lemon, citrus peel; pear; apple; fennel (roasted); maize; avocado; pumpkin; coconut, coconut milk; polenta; herbs: tarragon, basil, thyme; spices: nutmeg, curry powder, ginger, saffron; roasted nuts: hazelnuts, pine nuts, cashew nuts, almond; olive oil; butter; cream, milk, sour cream; mushrooms: shitake, oyster mushrooms, canter cubits; cheese: brie, parmesan; bacon, pancetta; sweet onions; roasted garlic; mustard; tropical fruits: mango, papaya, pineapple.
So, how does all this translate into the right combination?
Getting the best out of Chardonnay depends on appreciating that it is not just one wine – it depends where it is made, whether or not it is oaked and how mature it is when you drink it. For most Chardonnay wines, it is desirable that the dish has a certain richness to underline the rich, creamy mouth-filling taste of wine. A few toasted nuts with most dishes combine well with the light oak taste of most Chardonnay wines. Butter and cream are fond of Chardonnay, but you do not always eat them when you open a bottle.
Here are some pairings to suit the different styles of the queen of the grapes, the Chardonnay, ranging from the light, fresh, unoaked ones all the way to the full bodied, oaked ones (I am quoting Fiona Becket here):
Young, fresh, unoaked, cool climate Chardonnay
The most obvious example of this is of course Chablis, but there are other young white burgundies that also would fall into this category.
These are perfect with light and delicate dishes such as raw and lightly cooked shellfish like crab and prawns, steamed or grilled fish, fish pâtés, fish, chicken or vegetable terrines and pasta or risotto with spring vegetables. They also go well with creamy vegetable soups. Finer, more intense examples such as Puligny-Montrachet (also from the Burgundy) can take on sushi and sashimi or delicately spiced fish or salads. Chablis is particularly good with oysters.
Fruitier, unoaked or lightly oaked Chardonnays
Chardonnays from slightly warmer areas than the above, but made in a more contemporary style – smooth, sometimes buttery with melon and peach flavours. Examples would be Chardonnays from the south of France and New World countries like Chile, New Zealand and South Africa.
Slightly richer dishes than those listed above but ones where a degree of freshness in the wine is still welcome. Fish pie and fish cakes (especially salmon fish cakes) other simple salmon preparations (simply poached or with a buttery sauce) chicken, pork or pasta in a creamy sauce, chicken, ham or cheese-based salads such as caesar salad or chicken salads that include peach, mango or macadamia nuts, mild curries with buttery sauces (such as chicken makhani)
Full bodied, oak aged Chardonnays
Examples are the barrel-fermented, barrel aged or ‘reserve’ Chardonnays, particularly top end Australian, New Zealand and Californian (Napa, Sonoma) Chardonnay and top white burgundy, served within 1-3 years of purchase.
Similar dishes to the above but these can take an extra degree of richness. Dishes like eggs Benedict for example or even a steak béarnaise. Fine rich fish such as turbot, grilled veal chops with mushrooms, late summer vegetables such as red peppers, corn, butternut squash and pumpkin (pumpkin ravioli and a rich Chardonnay is very good). You can even drink a rich Chardonnay with seared Foie Gras (and indeed many prefer it to Sauternes at the start of a meal)
Mature barrel fermented Chardonnays
These are wines which are 3-8 years old. With age Chardonnay acquires a creamy, sometimes nutty taste and creamy texture that calls for a return to finer, more delicate dishes.
Umami-rich (savoury) dishes such as grilled, seared or roast shellfish like lobster and scallops, simply roast chicken such as poulet de bresse, guinea fowl, dishes that include wild mushrooms and slow roast tomatoes, white truffles. Hazelnut-crusted chicken or fish. Sea bass with fennel purée.
You better not pair Chardonnay with:
- Spicy dishes: chillies strengthen the alcohol and the wood flavour of most of Chardonnay wines, and are therefore not the best combination (better with Alsace Pinot Gris or New World Sauvignon Blanc).
- Smoked fish and meats, Chinese food (better with German Riesling)
- Light fresh cheeses such as goat or sheep’s cheeses (better with Sauvignon Blanc or an aged red, respectively)
- Seared salmon or tuna (better with a light red like Pinot Noir)
- Tomato-based dishes (better with dry Italian whites or Italian reds)
There is a general idea that Chardonnay is not for everybody, but anyone who has a taste for top white Burgundy or other premium new world Chardonnays will know it’s a spectacular food wine.
Besides a large variety of appetizers, rich seafood, shellfish and poultry, Chardonnay goes very well with a lot of veal and pork dishes especially if simply prepared so that the wine does not have to compete with the complex flavours of the dish.
The versatility of Chardonnay is almost endless and I would like to think, that if you like white wine, there is one or more Chardonnays for everyone. It is just a matter of finding them. You will find a summary of great Chardonnays from the best regions all over the world right here. I am sure that following my reviews and ratings, you will be able to find Chardonnays that will suit your taste perfectly. To gain access just click the three images to the right (for mobile users just under this text) under the heading World best Chardonnays for delivery to the USA, UK and Australia markets. And if you have found your favourite already, you are welcome to tell us here!