One of the most versatile grapes in the world, Chardonnay typically falls into two camps for wine drinkers: those who love it and those who hate it. For those who politely decline the variety, it\u2019s usually because their first introduction was a cheap, mass-produced version that tasted like imitation popcorn butter.\r\n\r\nBut Chardonnay can take on many forms, from deliciously delicate sparklers to still wines that run the gamut from crisp and steely to robust and round.\r\n\r\nWhile many American wine drinkers connect Chardonnay to California, its roots are in Burgundy, France. The grape is planted to nearly half of the region\u2019s total vineyard area. Its expression varies as a result of the area\u2019s range in climate, from cool northerly Chablis to more moderate temperatures in the M\u00e2connais to the south.\r\n\r\nBurgundian winemakers paved the way for modern winemaking practices like malolactic fermentation and barrel aging that tend to give Chardonnay a full-bodied, oaky and buttery texture.\r\n\r\nThose techniques found their way to America. The grape started to gain popularity, particularly in California, around the 1970s. Winemakers experimented quite a bit, and the American style of Chardonnay became defined largely as a high-alcohol, low-acid wine with minimal fruit expression and oodles of oak influence.\r\n\r\nToday, California winemakers have moved away from the butter bombs of the 1980s. They now produce wines, both unoaked and oaked, that showcase the variety\u2019s diversity when crafted in different parts of the state.\r\n\r\nIf you\u2019re curious to understand the grape\u2019s varying expressions and find the perfect Chard for your palate, dive into these matchups: unoaked versus oaked Chardonnay; warm-climate versus cool-climate Chardonnay; and Burgundy versus California. As you taste each wine, make sure to jot down any specific flavors or aromas that you experience.\r\n\r\nAnd it\u2019s fine if you can\u2019t find the exact bottles we suggest. Your local wine retailer should be able to point you in the right direction of something similar.\r\n\r\n\r\nUnoaked vs. Oaked Chardonnay\r\nWhen it comes to these two types of Chardonnay, the biggest difference is that one has been fermented in stainless steel and the other fermented in oak barrels. While the average consumer may believe that California is only capable of making full-bodied and buttery wines, the truth is that Chardonnay which embodies rich oak and creamy texture can be found anywhere in the world.\r\n\r\nChile, Australia, Argentina, and of course, France, also use a number of winemaking techniques that include oak to add hints of vanilla and toast to Chardonnay.\r\n\r\nWhen it comes to unoaked, lighter and zesty Chardonnay, stainless steel fermentations allow for the resulting wines to taste very crisp, clean and minerally. These offer typical flavors of green apple, lemon and pear.\r\n\r\nWhat ultimately makes the difference between unoaked and oaked Chardonnay is the way they are made and aged. Winemakers can choose between new French or American oak for the wine to embody certain toasty and nutty flavors.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nIn addition to the type of oak used, timing is everything when it comes to oaked Chardonnay. It can be aged for as little as three months or as long as a year. It all depends on the style that the winemaker hopes to achieve.\r\n\r\nMalolactic fermentation also takes place during oak barrel fermentation, which contributes the creamy flavor and texture that many people enjoy. With unoaked Chardonnay, fermentation happens in stainless steel tanks, which allows for the fruit character to shine bright.\r\n\r\nThe Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley in Sonoma County will showcase California Chardonnay at its best.\r\n\r\nUnoaked vs. Oaked Chardonnay Flight\r\nWine 1: Choose two bottles from the same region, or possibly even the same producer, to highlight the differences in winemaking technique. For a non-wooded selection, aside for \u201cunoaked,\u201d look for other common descriptors like \u201csteel\u201d or \u201cunwooded\u201d on the label.\r\nWine 2: For the oaked selection from your region of choice, look for key words like \u201creserve,\u201d \u201cwooded\u201d or \u201cbarrel fermented\u201d on the label.\r\n\r\n\r\nCool Climate vs. Warm Climate Chardonnay\r\nNo matter where in the world a vine grows, it needs five things: heat, sunlight, carbon dioxide, water and nutrients from the soil. A wine region\u2019s climate is defined by its annual pattern of temperature, sunlight and rainfall over the course of several years. Chardonnay expresses itself differently based on the type of climate where the grapes are grown.\r\n\r\nIn cool climates like the South Island of New Zealand, Chablis or Oregon\u2019s Willamette Valley, Chardonnay will express itself generally with higher acidity, more citrus-fruit flavor and minerality. It will also be lower in alcohol and zesty on the palate. Lower temperatures allow the grapes to retain their natural acidity and produce a Chardonnay that\u2019s lighter in body.\r\n\r\nGrapes grown in warmer climates like California, South Africa, Australia and Spain will generally be lower in acidity and higher in alcohol, but they\u2019ll bring forth richer, riper fruit flavors like pineapple, apple and lemon.\r\n\r\nCool- vs. Warm-Climate Chardonnay Flight\r\nWine 1: Choose a Chablis, which is an iconic example of cool-climate Chardonnay.\r\nWine 2: Select a Chardonnay from South Australia to taste a sun-soaked, warm-climate version.\r\n\r\nBurgundy Chardonnay vs. California Chardonnay\r\nThese are the two regions most famous for Chardonnay production. Burgundy is known for its vast, varying appellations and pioneering winemaking techniques. California is known for its history of \u201cbutter bombs,\u201d but now takes advantage of cool-climate areas to produce zestier, lighter-bodied wines.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nWhat makes Chardonnay a great grape is its ability to adjust to a variety of soil types. In Burgundy, terroir can change over the course of small areas, which can create unique expressions of the grape. Winemakers in France produce a number of quality levels, or crus, to best showcase the fruit\u2019s quality.\r\n\r\nIn the Golden State, altitude and vineyard aspect can play a major role in the grape\u2019s exposure to the sun. It gives Chardonnay the opportunity to ripen and produce full-bodied wines that are high in alcohol.\r\n\r\nPrice can often help to determine the quality of a good white Burgundy or California Chardonnay, but it\u2019s important to note where the wine was sourced. Regional wines, like those that are labeled Bourgogne, tend to be inexpensive, while bottlings from site-specific premiers or grands crus will be more expensive. For California Chardonnay, Napa Valley and Sonoma County will be the American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) to seek out for high-quality examples.\r\n\r\nBurgundy vs. California Chardonnay Flight\r\nWine 1: A white wine from any of the regions in the C\u00f4te de Beaune will provide a benchmark example of Burgundian Chardonnay. Look for bottles from Meursault or Puligny-Montrachet.\r\nWine 2: The Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley in Sonoma County will showcase California Chardonnay at its best.