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Most people who receive a fine bottle of wine as a gift will uncork it and drink it with any meal whatsoever. Unless they are fine diners, of course. The latter will make a point of finding out which grape variety or mix has been used in its production and, after inviting a friend, will be preoccupied with enjoying this wine at its best. Let’s imagine this bottle contains a Chardonnay: here are our tips for a perfect pairing.
The Chardonnay varietal is one of the most widely cultivated grapes in the world, from New Zealand to California, from Argentina to Italy, even though it originates from Burgundy, in the heart of France. Its grapes are used to produce some great sparkling wines all over the world, comprising Champagne and Franciacorta.
The incredible variety of its aromatic components emerges in different ways according to the soil composition, ageing process and the climate of the region in which it is cultivated. As a result, wine produced from Chardonnay grapes will have different nuances according to its origin. Despite this, there are certain elements which are common to all.
Successful Chardonnay pairings may either be harmonious or contrasting.
Chardonnay: Harmonious Pairings
On the palate, Chardonnay always has a fairly pronounced acidic component. It should be served at a temperature of 10-12 C° and makes a particularly good accompaniment for fish dishes, molluscs and shellfish. To enjoy them at their best, the latter should be served raw or lightly dressed with extra virgin olive oil.
Young wines produced from Chardonnay grapes tend to be fruity with notes of peach, apple, banana and pineapple or pear. So have fun trying to identify these aromas in your glass, accompanying it with a dish of these fruits already sliced. Ideally, you should lightly brush the slices with a mixture of water, two drops of lemon juice and a teaspoon of acacia honey to sweeten them slightly. And a drop of Chardonnay, of course.
In the case of more mature wines, the overtones are those of ripe apple, vanilla and caramel. This makes for a perfect pairing with tarte tatin, in which the apples resting on the pastry are slightly caramelized. This typical French pastry dessert is accompanied with vanilla flavoured custard or whipped cream.
So, you find that well aged Chardonnay wines remind you of passion fruit? Then they will certainly pair well with a tartare of umbrina or another fine fish variety, dressed with a condiment of passion fruit, extra virgin olive oil, lime and pepper.
With regard to fermented wines or those aged in casks, their fruity aromas mingle with notes of vanilla, coffee and various overtones of almond, butter, honey, hazelnut and dried fruit. Prepare some slices of buttered toast with the addition of a drop of honey topped with slices of an excellent smoked salmon and roasted dried fruit reduced to a crumb-like consistency. The salty taste of salmon craves for acidity.
Chardonnay: Contrasting Pairings
The best way to contrast the acidity of Chardonnay is to pair it with savoury flavours, which means all those dishes or ingredients having this characteristic, such as charcuterie and mature cheese. Try, for instance a good sparkling Chardonnay wine with mortadella.
A Chardonnay-based Champagne or Metodo Classico, like all sparkling wines, is perfect for cleansing the palate after consuming fatty food: so, a dish of mixed fried fish is bound to be a perfect match. It calls for a fresh, acidic wine that cleanses the palate, one that is structured but not excessively so, in order to withstand the impact without dominating the delicate taste of the food: the slight sweetness of fish, its savoury coating, the slight greasiness of the frying method.
With a pizza Margherita or a pizza with buffalo mozzarella and tomato, in which a slight acidity is noticeable, it is correct to choose a white wine with a rounded and mature character, a slightly buttery Chardonnay, of which there are many examples also in South Tyrol. Simone Padoan, for instance, one of the most refined pizza makers in Italy, is of this opinion; he loves this grape variety and prefers it in the Champagne version with pizza.
Chardonnay: Wrong Pairings
We just had to give you this tip on how NOT to pair Chardonnay: if you have a Chardonnay-based champagne in the house and some oysters, do not make the mistake of serving them together, which is only a cliché. The zinc content of oysters and the acidity of the Champagne clash on the palate. The same is true for strawberries.
The last tip regarding a pairing to be avoided at all costs comes from an expert. Because of the sulphur released during the cooking process, eggs alter the taste of wine considerably. One of the worst possible pairings is Chardonnay. So speaks Karen MacNeil, the greatest expert and author of The Wine Bible, the single best-selling wine book in the States.