A general idea has got about that Chardonnay is for chavs but as anyone who has a taste for top white burgundy or other premium new world Chardonnays will know it’s a spectacular food wine.
(I always think saying you're bored with Chardonnay is a bit like saying you’re bored with chicken or bread. There’s good and bad chicken, fabulous bread and truly awful bread. You don’t go off it because of the bad stuff.)
Getting the best out of Chardonnay depends on appreciating that it’s not just one wine - it depends where it’s made, whether or not it’s oaked and how mature it is when you drink it. Here are some pairings to suit 4 different styles:
Young, unoaked, cool climate Chardonnay
Such as: The classic and most austere example of this is Chablis but other young white burgundies would fall into this category.
They’re perfect with light and delicate food 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 can take on sushi and sashimi or delicately spiced fish or salads. Chablis is particularly good with oysters.
Fruitier, unoaked or lightly oaked Chardonnays
Such as: Chardonnays from slightly warmer areas to the above but made in a more contemporary style - smooth, sometimes buttery with melon and peach flavours. Examples would be inexpensive Chardonnays from the south of France, 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
Such as: barrel-fermented, barrel aged or ‘reserve’ Chardonnays, particularly top end Australian, New Zealand and Calfornian Chardonnay and top white burgundy, served within 1-3 years of purchase
Similar dishes to the above but 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). Cheddar cheese. 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
Such as: Wines that are about 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
What Chardonnay is NOT so great with
* Smoked fish and meats, Chinese food (better with German Riesling)
* Light fresh cheeses such as goat or sheeps 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)
* Thai flavours (better with Alsace Pinot Gris or New World Sauvignon Blanc)
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