‘ABC, anything but Chardonnay.’ As a former wine sommolier, I heard this phrase a lot! To a certain degree, I agree that you should drink whatever style of wine you like best. When it comes to food pairings, however, I find those who discount Chardonnay due to its mass appeal might miss out on some enchanting combinations.
Oaky and ‘Buttery’ Chardonnay
Chardonnay has a variety of styles, from heavily oaked and toasty, to steel barrel fermented and flinty. With an oaked chardonnay, the flavours tend to be round and full, and silky, and the nose is full of vanilla and fruit. People tend to equate this chardonnay as buttery, as a bit of butter on your tongue has the same round and silky characteristics. This buttery nature is influenced by malolactic fermentation often used in the wine making process.
Various shellfish, such as lobster, shrimp and scallops, are a fantastic partner for this style of Chardonnay as these foods are not overly bold or strong, and the buttery nature of the Chardonnay enhances the subtle personalities of the shellfish allowing them to become vibrant and lush. If the shellfish is in a rich cream or butter sauce, the Chardonnay only drawing out the lively flavours even further.
With baked crab cakes, a Chardonnay will offer up some buttery notes, as well as refreshment if the crab cakes are slightly dry from the baking process.
With oak, comes a nutty richness, and a rich Chardonnay is the perfect accompaniment to rich flavoured (like beans/risotto) or rich textured foods (like avocado/ squash). This style of Chardonnay is also excellent with Butter Chicken, where the weight of the wine matches that of the dish. Meanwhile, the acidity in the Chardonnay has no issue cutting through the creamy, rich and buttery sauce, allowing your tastebuds to focus on the slow-cooked chicken.
I find the oakier a chardonnay, the toastier the wine becomes. When veering into this territory, it’s best to play the Chardonnay to cooking methods that mirror the burnt woody flavours the of the oak. Any grilled or smoked vegetables or plank roasted white fish would be delicious in this situation.
Corn on the Cob and Chardonnay Pairing
An oaky Chardonnay that has lots of buttery notes is spectacular with corn on the cob. The buttery notes complement any butter on the corn, while the wine’s acidity cuts through the fat, salt and starchy corn flavours. This makes the wine come off as refreshing while amplifying those corn on the cob flavours you love.
If you BBQ your corn on the cob, the vanilla and oaky flavours of the wine will further complement the char marks on your corn.
Lobster Bisque & Chardonnay Pairing
An Oaked Chardonnay has a rich and creamy component that complements rich lobster dishes like Lobster Thermidor, Lobster Ravioli, Lobster Bisque, or Lobster Newburg. The rich powerful flavours of the wine complement and enhance the decadence of the lobster bisque, leaving your mouth will be in heaven!
Furthermore, the tropical fruit and vanilla notes add an element of refreshment. Rich foods can often sap your taste buds, but Chardonnay’s acidity can kick-start those senses back into first gear. This makes each bite taste as fresh as the next.
What not to pair with a round Chardonnay
With these ’round’ flavoured wines, you want to stay away from pairing it with sharp ingredients, such as asparagus, broccoli, capers, olives, leeks, tomatoes.
Examples: Traditional Burgundy Wines, Bogle Chardonnay
If the Chardonnay is young, and low on the oak scale, the wine will probably be more fruit forward and easy drinking. Pair these with tropical dishes, like Roasted Pork, or Sautéed Snapper, or even cream based seafood dishes. The tropical crispness of the wines cuts through the richness of the dish, while the touch of ‘butter’ oak compliments the seafood component. Examples: Peller Estates Family Series Chardonnay, Kendall Jackson’s Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay.
Tropical Chardonnay and Roasted Chicken
Tropical Chardonnay is an easy drinking white with plenty of tropical fruit and vanilla notes on the nose. As roasted chicken can often end up dry, a refreshing glass of Chardonnay will make the meat taste moist, and impart fantastic flavours of apple and mango to the neutral flavours of roasted chicken.
Chablis or Steely Chardonnay
Chardonnay isn’t an overly aromatic or flavourful grape to begin with (especially when compared to Sauvignon Blanc or Gewürztraminer. Many old world winemakers (like the Chablis region) produce clean flavoured chardonnays that stress mineral and earth components, much like you would expect if you took a bite out of a granny smith apple. Chablis is perfect as a counterbalance to cut through rich dishes with a higher acidity. A clean chardonnay is also spectacular with mussels and oysters.
Examples: Chablis Region wines, Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay
Chablis and Oysters
A perfect pairing like no other is Chablis and Raw Oysters. What makes this an amazing pairing is that mineral character of Chablis is a frisky dance partner to the oysters’ briny and saline character. The crisp fruit flavours are also refreshing against the briny nature of this seafood dish, which keeps you wanting to eat more and more!
While there is a chance that Steely Chablis style wines might have had some ageing in oak barrels, unoaked chardonnays have not. Full of tropical fruit, melons and apple flavours, along with butterscotch notes. These are food-friendly, easy-drinking, summer sipper wines that pair great with appetizers and summer salads.
Examples: Stoney Ridge’s Charlottes Unoaked Chardonnay, Coyote’s Run Unoaked Chardonnay.
Unoaked Chardonnay and Halibut
An unoaked Chardonnay does not have those toasty, buttery, or vanilla flavours that an Oaked Chardonnay will have. Instead, expect crisp apple like flavours, a vibrant acidity that brings out those subtle halibut flavours.
In general, Chardonnay does not pair well with sweet food, such as desserts, so stick to late harvest wines or dessert wines in this case.
Due to its nutty nature Chardonnay pairs extremely well with nuts, and recipes incorporating nuts (especially if they are toasted nuts). Nutty cheeses (as long as they aren’t pungent) show off an Oaky Chardonnay.