Food & Wine Pairings: Chardonnay

chardonnay food pairing insolence + wine

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In January, we sent out a poll to our awesome readers asking what they wanted to see on this blog. The overwhelming favorite was food and wine pairings. With pairing food and wine, things can be overly simplified or simply be too complicated for the average wine drinker to fully comprehend—so we’re going to do our very best to simplify this (sometimes) difficult task.

Chardonnay Food Pairings

For as long as I’ve been legally consuming wine, Chardonnay has been thought of as an old person wine. When I was growing up, my grandmother provided harvesting crews for Kendall-Jackson. I remember sneaking sips of my mother’s Chardonnay during parties and not being impressed; I don’t think I’ve even sniffed Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay since then. Disclaimer: I was 12, so I'm sure Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay is much better than I originally thought it was.

Chardonnay is the worlds most frequently planted white grape, and is known for being a medium to full-bodied wine that’s a bit on the dry side, but can be a bit fruity while being moderately acidic. You’ve probably heard people say that Chardonnay is buttery or has dominate vanilla (oak) or starfruit flavors. Obviously the flavors and aromas are going to be vastly different from bottle to bottle, especially if they’re grown in different regions or climates, or have been aging for different amount of times. What most novice wine drinkers do not realize is that there can be many different styles of one varietal of wine. With Chardonnay, for example, you can have a range of light to full-bodied, all depending on where it was grown and how it was aged.

For the most part, you’re always going to get a hint of oak in the flavors of a Chardonnay, unless of course it’s been aged in stainless steel, which produces lighter, crisper wines. Rich and creamy Chardonnays go hand-in-hand with lobster, but I don’t know anyone who regularly cooks lobster so we’ll go beyond that well-known pairing. 

If this is your first time visiting us (what the hell took you so long?!) you might be unfamiliar with the concept of mirroring. Mirroring works exceptionally well for Chardonnay—young or unoaked Chardonnays pair well with light dishes that don't over-complicate things while rich, complex dishes can compete with rich and creamy Chardonnays.

Light & Crisp

For young and light Chardonnays, gravitate towards raw and lightly cooked shell fish (prawns, crab), subtly spiced steamed or grilled light-skinned fish (avoid seared salmon in general for Chardonnay, the flavors are unbalanced!) or my personal favorite, pasta with spring vegetables. If you don’t know if your Chardonnay is considered light, hold it up in the day light. Is it pale yellow or golden like Goldilocks' hair?

For younger, lighter and crisp Chardonnays, it's best to stick to lighter dishes. Corn pairs extremely well with these types of Chardonnay as does risotto (if you're using mushrooms or another "earthier" vegetable, use a richer and creamer Chardonnay), as well as creamy vegetable soups like the one mentioned below.

 Creamy Squash & Apple Soup via  Raia's Recipes

Creamy Squash & Apple Soup via Raia's Recipes

 Weeknight Risotto with Bacon and Corn via  J  essica N Wood

Weeknight Risotto with Bacon and Corn via Jessica N Wood

 The fun part with this ceviche recipe is the tropical flavors used along with the delicately cooked scallops. Scallop Ceviche with Baked Plantain Chips via  Food Done Light

The fun part with this ceviche recipe is the tropical flavors used along with the delicately cooked scallops. Scallop Ceviche with Baked Plantain Chips via Food Done Light

Fruity & Smooth

With fruity and smooth Chardonnays, I really like to play on the fruit aspect of the flavors and aromas in the wine. Have you tried a chicken salad with ripe peaches with a crisp, cool glass of Chardonnay? It's pretty darn delicious on a hot afternoon.

Pastas with creamy sauces or poached salmon (or shell fish) with a light butter sauce balance nicely with the flavors and textures of the wine. Keeping things simple is the key to success—think of a light Alfredo sauce. If you're a fan of prawns or scallops, Chardonnay is a great match simply because of the texture. If you have an excellent recipe for crab cakes or simple fish pie, here's your winner.

 Prawn and Scallop Creamy Pasta via  Brazilian Flair In The USA

Prawn and Scallop Creamy Pasta via Brazilian Flair In The USA

  Light  curried seasoning will not be lost on sweet & smooth Chardonnays. Pan Seared Scallops with Curried Lemon Butter via  Whit Bit's Kitchen

Light curried seasoning will not be lost on sweet & smooth Chardonnays. Pan Seared Scallops with Curried Lemon Butter via Whit Bit's Kitchen

 

Rich & Creamy

Rich and creamy pairings are pretty straightforward—These are your "go big or go home" dishes that are rich in both flavor and texture. A rich and creamy Chardonnay will completely overpower a light pasta dish. If you have a go-to roast chicken recipe, reach for a rich and creamy bottle. These Chardonnays are going to have a richer, golden hue when looked at in direct sunlight.

With rich and creamy style Chardonnays, I personally love mushrooms and other "earthy" flavored late-summer vegetables, pumpkin or squash (in ravioli or soups) and ultra creamy pastas and soups. It shouldn't have to be said, but this is the wine to pair with your ultimate lobster dinner. The rich buttery texture from the wine and the lobster just melt together in your mouth like your favorite piece of chocolate.

 

 Crema da yautia recipe via  That Girl Cooks Healthy

Crema da yautia recipe via That Girl Cooks Healthy

 Cooking with champagne sounds awesome, however be sure that you're using a sparkling wine made from Chardonnay grapes  not  Pinot Noir! Champagne Risotto recipe via  Zag Left

Cooking with champagne sounds awesome, however be sure that you're using a sparkling wine made from Chardonnay grapes not Pinot Noir! Champagne Risotto recipe via Zag Left

 Butternut Squash Carbonara via  Chilli Pepper Madness

Butternut Squash Carbonara via Chilli Pepper Madness

 

As for pairings to avoid completely, dishes with tomato-based sauces (reds are better), smoked meats (we'll eventually get to that), light cheeses (easily overwhelmed), Chinese or Thai flavors (spices are all wrong), ice cream or chocolate (do I really need to explain this?).

For more recipe pairings and ideas, check out our Pinterest Board.

Do you have a favorite recipe to pair with your Chardonnay?