Chardonnay, the classic white wine grape of Burgundy (Bourgogne), has become a worldwide favorite thanks to its ability to produce ripe, rich, elegant wines. Styles vary widely from region to region and even from winemaker to winemaker: from relatively lean and minerally to simple, soft and fruity to creamy, oaky and mouth-filling.
LABEL LINGO You may see the following words on Chardonnay labels: barrel fermented (which imparts toasty oak flavors); cold fermented (which preserves fresh, youthful fruit flavors); and lees contact or sur lie (increasing the contact time between the lees, or sediment, and the wine to add complexity and richness).
CHARDONNAY ALIASES Burgundy produces Chardonnays under many local place names, such as Chablis, Pouilly-Fuissé and Meursault as well as wines with Montrachet in the name.
10 Top Bottles
2001 J. M. Boillot Meursault Charrons ($36) Can a $36 wine be a great bargain? This one is. Made by one of the stars of Burgundy's famous Côte d'Or, this velvety, full-bodied wine has a finish that lingersand lingers.
2002 McManis Chardonnay ($11) Although California's warm San Joaquin Valley isn't renowned for good Chardonnay, McManis makes a bright, stylish version that's a credit to the region.
2001 Bernard Morey Chassagne Montrachet Vieilles Vignes ($40) Here's an example of a wine few producers outside Burgundy can pull off: a luscious and intense Chardonnayloaded with flavor but scaled to an elegant frame.
2002 Morgan Metallico Chardonnay ($20) This is what a well-handled, cool-climate Chardonnay should taste like. From the Santa Lucia Highlands of California, this is generous and big-flavored, boasting pure, ripe notes of peach and mango.
2001 O'Reilly's Chardonnay ($16) There is a peculiarly American success story behind this: David O'Reilly was born in Belfast, studied in California and makes wine in Oregon. His first Chardonnay under this label is a ringer for a $30 Burgundymellow and rich.
2002 Pedroncelli Vintage Selection Chardonnay ($10) Made by an old Sonoma family winery, this white is an antidote to big, heavy Chardonnays. It's light, fragrant and juicy.
2002 Trapiche Estate Chardonnay ($8) Produced in the foothills of the Argentine Andes, this very dry wine is best served slightly chilledall the better to show off its yellow-apple-tinged fruit flavors.
2002 Villa Maria Private Bin Chardonnay ($13) Like many New Zealand producers, Villa Maria elected to put its Chardonnay (and its other wines) under screw caps beginning with the 2002 vintage. This one is dry, concentrated and firm-bodied, with aromas of lemon and grapefruit.
2001 J. J. Vincent Pouilly-Fuissé Propriété Marie-Antoinette Vincent ($22) Made with the grapes from several family-owned Burgundy vineyards, this wine combines a mineral character with plump, generous fruit.
2002 Lindemans Reserve Chardonnay ($12) The Australian giant Lindemans produces an enormous quantity of Chardonnay, yet somehow its wines are consistently well-made and well-priced. This fruity, lively reserve is one great example.