Chardonnay is a grape that easily takes on influence of its surrounding. That means the climate, terroir, and aging vessels can all influence what the wine tastes like. If Chardonnay is grown in a warm climate, there will be a tropical fruit influence. If it’s grown in a cold climate, it the citrus and stone fruit influenced.
When Chardonnay is fermented, it usually goes through a process called malolactic fermentation. This turns the more tart acids into smoother buttery tastes. What some wine makers are now doing is partial malolactic fermentation. This means you will get the buttery taste, but at a smaller volume and will keep that tartness from the grape.
When Chardonnay is aged additional flavor characteristics can be added. When winemakers want to accentuate the crisp acid tastes of a Chardonnay from a cool-climate, they usually age it in stainless steel tanks or older oak barrels. The stainless steel imparts no flavor and an older, used wine barrel imparts little to none. If a winemaker wants to add the aspects of vanilla, butter, and they will new age oak barrels.
Knowing this information, read the Chardonnay labels or ask your wine steward for help. Remember, if you want the full mouthfeel of buttery and oaky Chardonnay, you should find one that has gone through malolactic conversion as well as having been aged in oak. If you are looking for a Chardonnay that has tastes of green apples and citrus, ask for a cool climate Chardonnay and check for one that has only had partial or no malolactic fermentation. Give all the styles and find out which ones you like the best!