Chardonnay in April

I am admittedly partial to red wines and not a huge fan of white. But I think, like most prejudices, my dislike is founded mostly in ignorance. So I’m dedicating this spring to learning about white wines, starting with chardonnay this month.

Chardonnay is a pretty standard white wine – it grows in every wine region and every winery makes it. (so says Wikipedia) It has different characteristics depending on where it’s grown and how it’s treated, but overall it’s a fairly straightforward wine. (Yes, I know I’m pissing off 2/3 of the wine community by saying that. It’s overly simplistic and doesn’t do justice to the grape. But bear with me. I’m laying my uneducated cards on the table and building on that.)

By the way, I welcome recommendations and good old-fashioned tongue-lashings from those who can teach me what I’ve missed while paying so much attention to my beloved reds.

What I want to learn is what distinguishes a chardonnay from other white varietals. I can recognize a sauvignon blanc, but what makes a chardonnay a chardonnay?

Tonight I’m tasting the 2010 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay (on sale at Raley’s for $11). Robert Mondavi is one of the grandfathers of California wines, and I know I can’t go wrong.

The color is a light lemon yellow, the pour and swirl releasing a wonderful aroma of vanilla, spice, lemons and peaches. I’m generally turned off by melon aromas and flavors in white wines (hence my fairly solid dislike of sauvignon blanc), but there is no melon in this wine.

One flavor I detect in most chardonnays is popcorn — yes, popcorn. Some chards that have been aged in oak have a heavier popcorn flavor, but even the fruitiest chards still seem to have that hint of butter and grain.

So here’s my first note on chardonnays: butter.

This flavor can be accentuated by oak aging, but even steel barrels can’t mask the buttery characteristic.

What other flavors are common to chardonnays? Anyone? Anyone?

Fear not, I will end this month with a great understanding of white wines and will be better able to review them on this meager blog. Suggestions are welcome. Mild criticisms are accepted.