Wide-ranging wines from the world's top white grape

It's hard not to love a Chardonnay—at least one Chardonnay—because the grape offers such a wide and delicious variety of options. You love a buttery, vanilla-tinged mouthful? You'll love oak-aged Chardonnays. Prefer frisky, light and fresh? Go for the unoaked varieties. Like it bubbly? Chardonnay is the foundation of Blanc de Blancs Champagne as well.

Picked barely-ripe, (more often in cooler climates with shorter growing seasons; think France or Washington state) Chardonnay grapes offer a stricter, steelier lemony, green-apple fruit. When the grape is allowed to become lusciously, nearly over-ripe—typically from warmer vineyards (California)—flavors run more towards tropical pineapple and mango.

If you've had a Chardonnay that struck you as "creamy," it's not just imagination. Some Chardonnays are put through a process called malolactic fermentation (MLF) that changes the fruit acids to the softer, rounder acid found in milk and butter. But if you love this quality, you may have to do a bit of sleuthing to search it out; whether or not a wine has gone through MLF is not usually noted on the bottles.

All this variety, its ability to pair with foods from creamy cheeses to herby fish and chicken, and the Chardonnay grape's ability to thrive in a wide range of climates without complaint—has made it the world's most-grown white grape.

Try a few to discover the range and charm of this variety. Then settle in with a glass and enjoy the fruit of your researches.

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