Chardonnay is the queen of the white grape varieties and, for winemakers, it offers a “blank canvas”, inspiring the unlimited imagination. Around the world, various styles of white wine are produced from Chardonnay. Among these are some top-class wines that become even more fascinating with long-term maturation and excite wine lovers.
Champagne made from 100% Chardonnay is known as "Blanc de Blancs." It is always made exclusively from white grapes, and in most cases, solely from Chardonnay, the main white grape variety for Champagne.
In Champagne, too, a variety of Blanc de Blancs is produced, depending on where the grapes are grown and how the wine is made. Here, I would like to introduce seven producers that I highly recommend you try from among these.
1. Luxurious and Profound: Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne
"Comtes de Champagne" is a prestige cuvée, made by the established Maison Taittinger. The wine is complex and deep with apple, pear, and apricot compote. Moreover, toast and coffee flavors coming from a long lees-aging of 8-9 years are added and integrated. Although it has its own characteristics, depending on the harvest year and the timing of opening, there is no doubt that it will be of consistently high quality whenever you taste it.
In Champagne, the sub-region most famous for Chardonnay is the Côte des Blancs, where famous Chardonnay growers are based.
Comtes de Champagne is a vintage Champagne that is made only in great years, from a blend of grapes harvested from five Grand Cru villages and the wine is made from only grapes of that year. It is a wine that is suitable for special occasions.
2. Umami and Ripe Fruit: Champagne Pascal Doquet
Pascal Doquet is an enthusiastic and passionate grower-producer. He has a kind and gentle personality. When it comes to grape-growing, he has a strong will. He is the leader of an organic producers’ organization and his vineyards are certified organic. It is his dedication and commitment that makes such farming possible in Champagne, where these methods are difficult to implement successfully. His sincere attitude to daily vineyard work is reflected in the quality of his grapes.
"Vertus Premier Cru Coeur de Terroir" is well-balanced with umami and fruits of peach and pear. It aims to express the terroir of Vertus, the southernmost part of the Côte des Blancs, where Pascal Doquet is located. Furthermore, Pascal waits until the grapes are well ripe before harvesting, so you can feel the fullness and roundness of ripe fruits in his Chardonnay. This is a Champagne that works well as an apéritif or with a meal.
Pascal Doquet (second from left) and his family
3. Gorgeous and Stylish: Champagne Pierre Péters
"Cuvée de Réserve" is a NV Champagne by Chardonnay maestro Pierre Péters and is a gem that is gorgeous with precision.
Based in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, a Grand Cru village in Côte des Blancs, which has chalky soils from near the topsoil, this place is known for producing a steely, sharp Chardonnay with long-aging potential. "Cuvée de Réserve" is well-balanced, friendly, and accessible even when it is young.
Its secret lies in the "reserve wine" (wine from previous harvests) that makes up about half of this wine. At Pierre Péters, three different types of containers have been constantly replenished with wines each year over the past 30 years. This method was created from scratch by Rodolphe Péters, when he took over the winery from his father in 1997.
The result is a consistent Péters-style wine that retains the individuality of its own vineyards over many years. The reserve wines also include wines from the best plots of Pierre Péters, including “Les Chétillons” and “Les Montjolys”. Rodolphe exquisitely blends these according to the characteristics of the most recent harvest year to complete the "Cuvée de Réserve" every year.
Rodolphe recommends enjoying this Champagne with shellfish such as scallops, sashimi, or aged Parmigiano cheese.
Rodolphe Péters in his library nursery at the winery in Le Mesnil sur Oger
3. Finesse and Density: Champagne Louis Roederer’s Blanc de Blancs
Louis Roederer is a reputed Champagne Maison that owns a large area of vineyards farmed organically and biodynamically, covering most of its production. The Blanc de Blancs is made from four organically farmed plots in Grand Cru village, Avize in Côte des Blancs. Chardonnays grown in Avize tend to be full, rich, and concentrated with fleshy fruits and fascinating textures.
This is a vintage Champagne that can only be made in the great years of Chardonnay. It is elegant in style and has the purity and transparency of high-quality grapes with a depth of multiple layers. It is produced with long-term aging in mind and, as such, no malolactic fermentation is conducted. It may give a delicate impression when young, but it will develop beautifully through aging. For example, the 1998 vintage Blanc de Blancs, aged for over 20 years, that I tasted at the Maison became majestic with density and complexity, and the matured flavors of custard and roasted coffee were pleasantly added.
It is also crafted with great attention to detail, such that the pressure is slightly lowered. Mousse plays an important role in the wine of Champagne. As a result, it makes delicate fruits and mousse more integrated, and creates creamy and softer textures on the palate.
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, Cellar Master, suggests this Blanc de Blancs is nicely paired with carpaccio scallops when it is young. When it is more mature, butter-grilled seafood and poulard (chicken) are recommended. Goat cheese like Le Crottin de Chavignol from the Loire also goes well.
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, Cellar Master
4. Rising Star: Champagne Suenen (C + C)
Aurélien Suenen took over his family's domaine in 2009. He is a notable producer who focuses on Chardonnay. His Champagne, named "C + C", is made by blending Chardonnay from Chouilly and Cramant, Grand Cru villages in the Côte des Blancs.
Chardonnay from Chouilly is characterized by creamy, soft, and rounded fruits. By blending this with Chardonnay from Cramant that has power and spice, the wine becomes more balanced and complex.
5. Refreshing and Pure: Champagne Pierre Gimonnet
Pierre Gimonnet is a family-owned producer based in Cuis, in the northern part of the Côte des Blancs. Chardonnay from Cuis, grown in north and northeast facing vineyards, is crisp and lively with great structure. At Gimonnet, wine is vinified only in stainless-steel tanks. It expresses, in particular, the purity of the Cuis terroir, including fruits of green apples and grapefruit.
Furthermore, many old vines are planted in the vineyards that the family has inherited, and these grapes add concentration and complexity to the wine. Didier Gimonnet says, "You can pair our wine with raw oysters and sashimi. It also goes well with gastronomic dishes, as it is harmonious."
6. Chardonnay from Montagne: Champagne Margaine
Margaine, a family-owned producer, is based in Premier Cru village of Villers-Marmery in Montagne de Reims. Arnaud is the fourth-generation owner and his daughter Mathilde has joined him and will be the next generation to take charge. Montagne de Reims is known for its Pinot Noir, and Villers-Marmery was once planted predominantly with Pinot Noir vines as well.
After World War II, it was significantly replanted, and now Chardonnay makes up the majority of its plantings. Interestingly, the locals say that the Chardonnay grown here is “pinote” and tends to have the characteristics of Pinot Noir.
"The Chardonnay of this village has a little more body and is fruitier, and you can especially taste lemon and granny apple flavors. Our Chardonnay is fresh with high acidity, and it can be a little austere when it is young. It makes a wine that can be matured for a long time," explains Mathilde.
Margaine's "Extra Brut" is made from 100% Chardonnay from Villers-Marmery. Mathilde says, "It has salinity and citrus nuances and goes well with seafood."
Arnaud & Mathilde Margaine
The Japanese version of this article is published for my wine column at Forbes Japan (here).
Vineyards in the Côte des Blancs