I use to say that I thought that I was weaned on Chardonnay. For a go-to white wine, no other grape has come close. When people simply ask for a white wine, if any other varietal is included in the glass, I will bet that there may be a moment of hesitation, almost as though something might be a little “off.” Even for the A.B.C. (anything besides Chardonnay) crowd, the attractiveness of wines produced solely from this grape makes them hard to dismiss. By “attractiveness” I am referring to the grape’s many flavors and aromas, its supple mouth-feel, and its versatility with many foods. The Chardonnay wines can be so delicious that they can be enjoyed on their own. This is a quality that other varietals may also claim – that they can be enjoyed on their own – yet you can lose that appreciation for them more quickly than you can for the Chardonnays. Their wines seem to offer the complete “meal,” not just the beverage accompaniment quality. Some of those aromas and flavors can be found in other varietals, certainly, yet Chardonnay seems to have more of them.
You could say “No two Chardonnays are the same.” This would suggest a level of connoisseurship beyond the grasp of most individuals, even a bit of snobbery. Yes, they are different, yet they are unmistakably Chardonnay.
The appreciation for Chardonnay extends beyond the ease of its pronunciation. How many ways can you say “Chardonnay?” The name rolls of the tongue and the opportunities for rhyming with it are myriad. The relative ease of pronunciation reminds me of the name “Stilton.” This was the cheese guests requested most frequently during my Fromager tenure at Picholine restaurant. Far easier to pronounce than the French equivalent – Fourme d’Ambert – it may have given some diners a sense of connoisseurship, the recognition of a great cheese name. Interestingly, an old article in the Wine Spectator mentioned the success of pairing Stilton with Chardonnay. This sounded preposterous when I first read it, yet I admit that when I tried the two together, it turned out to be a good match. The success of this pairing was confirmed by participants in a Matchmaking Cheese & Wine class recently; the recognition of the successful pairing was virtually unanimous.
Like my favorite red grape – Cabernet Sauvignon – the Chardonnays appear to prefer cheeses made from cow milk. Some of the many cheeses that can pair well with Chardonnay wines with a couple of goat and sheep milk cheeses thrown in include: Affidelice, Appenzeller, Barely Buzzed, Beermat, Beaufort, Bleu de Laqueuille, Blu del Moncenisio, Brillat Savarin, Cheddar, Comté, Dorset, Fontina Val d’Aosta, Försterkäse (a.k.a. Bergfichte), Fourme d’Ambert, Hoch Ybrig, Humboldt Fog, Langres, Livarot, Mahón, Le Moulis, Le Moulis Chèvre, Roquefort, Roves des Garrigues, Rupert, Sainte-Maure, Sbrinz, Shropshire Blue, Stanser Rotelli, Taleggio, Tarentaise.
Yes, a glass of Chardonnay can be lovely on its own but why not elevate it with a fine cheese?