Chardonnay has a long history in Italy but for a large part of it, the grape was commonly confused with Pinot blanc—often with both varieties interplanted in the same vineyard and blended together. This happened despite the fact that Chardonnay grapes get more golden-yellow in color close to harvest time and can be visually distinguished from Pinot blanc. In the Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol region this confusion appeared in the synonyms for each grape, with Pinot blanc being known as “Weissburgunder” (White Burgundy) and Chardonnay was known as “Gelber Weissburgunder” (Golden White Burgundy). By the late 20th century, more concentrated efforts were put into identifying Chardonnay and making pure varietal versions of the wine. In 1984, it was granted its first Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) in the province of South Tyrol. By 2000, it was Italy’s fourth most widely planted white wine grape.
An unoaked Chardonnay from the South African wine region of Stellenbosch
Though many varietal forms of Chardonnay are produced, and the numbers are increasing, for most of its history in Italian winemaking Chardonnay was a blending grape. Besides Pinot bianco, Chardonnay can be found in blends with Albana, Catarratto, Cortese, Erbaluce, Favorita, Garganega, Grecanico, Incrocio Manzoni, Nuragus, Procanico, Ribolla Gialla, Verdeca, Vermentino and Viognier. It even blended into a dry White Zinfandel-style Nebbiolo wine that is made from the white juice of the red Nebbiolo grape prior to being dyed with skin contact. Most Chardonnay plantings are located in the northern wine regions, though plantings can be found throughout Italy as far south as Sicily and Apulia. In Piedmont and Tuscany, the grape is being planted in sites that are less favorable to Dolcetto and Sangiovese respectively. In Lombardy, the grape is often used for spumante and in the Veneto it is often blended with Garganega to give more weight and structure to the wine. Chardonnay is also found in the Valle d’Aosta DOC and Friuli-Venezia Giulia wine region.