Wine & Cheese Pairing - Chardonnay
One of the most popular wines in the world, Chardonnay is an excellent partner for cheese.
Chardonnay grapes are planted virtually everywhere wine is made. Born in Burgundy, France, this somewhat neutral-flavored grape can be turned into some of the most gorgeous white wines in the world (think Meursault or Montrachet), or reduced to cheap wine barely worth the bottle it’s sold in.
Because of its neutral nature, Chardonnay is hugely influenced by the terroir in which it’s made and the techniques of the winemaker. Unoaked Chardonnay, best represented by northern Burgundy’s village of Chablis and many new-world locales, have aromas which are sharper and edgier. Notes of citrus are common, especially lemon and lime peel. These wines can also have a ‘wet rocks’ sorta smell to them. Sometimes they may even remind you of Sauvignon Blanc!
Oaked Chardonnay, on the other hand, is much more opulent and rich in aroma and flavor. Time spent mellowing out in oak barrels gives the wine hints of vanilla. If the barrel has been cured with flame when being made (as most of them are), the wine may also show off some “toasty” notes as well. These wines can come across as somewhat caramelly and plump. While oaked Chardonnay might not be exactly what you’d reach for to have a glass or two with a movie, I assure you it makes for a brilliant food-pairing wine!
The Cheeses that love it
Unoaked Chardonnay is actually quite flexible with cheeses. Where you take it depends on where you’d like to go. If you want to emphasize the citrusy and minerally flavors of the wine, go with a fresh goat cheese. The tangy flavor and cakey texture is perfect for the wine’s liveliness.Think cheeses like Capriole’s amazing Wabash Cannonball, Vermont Creamery’s delightful little Bijou, or any number of stunning French chévres from the Loire Valley. (My favorites include the classic Valençay frais and the leaf-wrapped Mothais sur Feuille.)
If you’d prefer the unoaked wine act as a contrast to the cheese pick something with more richness and fat. Brie and Cowgirl Creamer’s Mt. Tam are great choices. The cheese’s fuller body will balance out the wine’s zippiness. For a condiment, I’m a big fan of citrus marmalades with this combination. The flavor will match that of the cheese and wine, but the sugars will act as a foil to the wine’s acidity and the cheese’s lactic tang.
Going with oak? Great choice. Use the wine’s heftier body and richness to pull out similar characteristics in the cheese. Those same cheeses that contrast an unoaked wine will act quite differently here. Bigger wine, bigger cheese, bigger impression. Camembert, Brie, and triple crèmes are texturally a treat with oaked Chardonnay. To really drive home the pairing, add a dollop of mild acacia honey or even something crazy like a scoop of chilled lemon curd. Delicious!