This white grape is successfully planted all over the world. Chardonnay has proven to make spectacular wines from soils with a high chalk or limestone content. While it needs sun to develop some of the complex fruit characteristics, it also requires a bit of a cool climate to maintain proper levels of acidity. It produces an abundant crop and is capable of taking on the unique characteristics of the terroir in which it is grown. For years the finest expressions were unequivocally produced in Burgundy, France. Today there are equally compelling wines from Italy, Australia, New Zealand, and unquestionably the United States. Characteristics are often citrus, apple, toast, and tropical fruits depending on where and by whom the wines are made. There are those who believe these wines are the finest in the world. Chardonnay pairs beautifully with a wide array of seafood, white proteins and white sauce pastas. Some of the finest producers in the world are Ramonet, Dauvissat, Coche Dury, Olivier Leflaive, Leroy, Hirsch, Peter Michael, Au Bon Climat, Lioco and Miani.
If there is one varietal to challenge chardonnay’s position as the finest white grape in the world, it would be Riesling. This noble grape produces wines of remarkable complexity and longevity. The vines want to be planted in cool climates with a long temperate autumn season to reach their full potential. Throughout Germany and Alsace, France, the wines reach their zenith. Many of the finest expressions are bone dry, although they also show varying levels of sweetness that only add to their complexity. In their youth, the wines can be somewhat closed. Upon maturity (five to thirty years,) the wines show minerality, stone fruits, and floral qualities. Rieslings are outstanding food wines because of their natural levels of acidity. Please do not dismiss this varietal as one that only produces cheap, sweet wines. As with all wine exploration, a closed mind will diminish the opportunity to discover new treasures. Some of the finest producers of Riesling are Trimbach, Hugel, Zind Humbrecht, Egon Muller, Joh. Jos. Prum and Fritz Haag.
Chenin Blanc is the finest quality, least-appreciated varietal in the world. There is no other grape that consistently produced wines of such dramatic styles with such tremendous over all quality. These expressions can range from bone dry to honeyed sweet and from flat to sparking. In the Loire Valley of France, in towns Like Vouvray and Savennieres, the wines are truly extraordinary. In South Africa and the United States, they are reaching greater levels of quality. With Chenin, like many varietals, who is as important as where. Quince, apples, floral, honey and citrus are characteristics typically associated with these wines. A few very good producers of Chenin Blanc are Huet, Nicolas Joly, Domaine de Baumard and Mulderbosch.