As the world’s most planted and versatile varietal, Chardonnay needs no introduction. Nor does one need a particular reason to indulge in a glass or two. But wine lovers may want to mark their calendars for May 26th, 2017 a day on which Chardonnay is to be internationally celebrated.
Chardonnay and Terroir
The popularity of Chardonnay can be attributed to its “blank slate” nature, its ability to adapt easily to the terroir in which it is grown. Although the varietal itself is relatively neutral in terms of flavour, it imparts most of the fruity characteristics to the overall profile. This fruit flavour is expressed differently depending on characteristics of the terroir from whence it hails, especially climate. Typically, Chardonnays from warmer regions, like California, Australia and Chile, reveal tropical fruit notes (think pineapple, mango and guava). Those of cooler climates, like the vineyards of Champagne, Chablis and Germany, exhibit green apple and lemon flavours, as well as earthy, mushroom aromas. Somewhere in the middle, Chardonnays from temperate climates, such as Burgundy and New Zealand, tend to show stone fruit (think peaches and nectarines) on the nose.
Reflections of Oak
Often referred to as “the winemaker’s wine,” Chardonnay also possesses the uncanny ability to clearly reflect through its bouquet, body and mouthfeel the winemaking process behind it. Ageing in oak introduces more oxygen, resulting in roasty-toasty pie crust and baked apple flavours, while contact with the new oak brings spice – vanilla, coconut, cinnamon and clove, among others. Malolactic fermentation in barrel also results in the luscious, buttery texture often associated with oaked Chardonnay. When it comes to this varietal, however, a little bit of oak goes a long way. Upon discovering the fabulous effects of oak on Chardonnay, Californian winemakers in the 1980’s and 1990’s went a bit overboard, over-oaking to produce wines with a heavy, almost greasy texture. Some of these Chardonnays were described as tasting like a stick of butter melted into a glass! International mass-producers of Chardonnay started to use oak to mask the flavours of low-quality Chardonnay grapes. This practice eventually led to the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) movement, with many winemakers swearing off Chardonnay for good.
But this should not be so! A Chardonnay with the right amount of oak displays a great depth of flavour and a full-bodied, round texture. It pairs perfectly with the bold flavours of grilled or roast shellfish (think lobsters and scallop), roast chicken and creamy wild mushroom risotto.
A Lighter, Fruitier Chardonnay
A lack of oak in the winemaking process results in a lighter, fresher Chardonnay with more floral and fruit-forward notes. This style was made famous by the French region of Chablis. Unoaked Chardonnays reflect the varietal itself, expressed through fruity (yellow apple, fresh mango and pineapple) or floral (green apple, citrus, pear, white flowers) aromas, depending on terroir. These wines go beautifully with more delicate dishes, like steamed flaky fish, oysters and vegetable terrines.
“Blancs de Blancs”
Chardonnay is also the most popular white varietal used in the production of sparkling wines, including Champagne. There is even a special French phrase used to refer to a sparkling wine made with Chardonnay. “Blanc de Blancs” are created by blending a “cuvee” of early-harvest Chardonnay and allowing it to undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle. The flavour profile depends on whether the wines were produced in oak or stainless steel, and on how long they are aged in bottle.
Oaky, unoaked, warm or cool climate, sparkling or still – whatever your preference for Chardonnay may be, this month’s annual International Day of Chardonnay is the perfect opportunity to share some. So let’s raise our glasses and toast to this delightful and internationally beloved varietal.
Below our some of our recommendations for Chardonnay wines.
Chateau Fuisse : Saint-Veran Village 2014
The Chateau-Fuisse Saint-Veran Village is a single-varietal Chardonnay white wine produced in the appellation of Saint-Veran. It benefits greatly from the location of this appellation, made up of three different terroirs that bring an incredible richness to the product. The 8 hectares of the vineyard are home to a variety of soils and subsoils composed of clays, limestones and even blue marls.
At tasting, the Chateau-Fuisse Saint-Veran Village 2014 displays a beautiful, clear yellow color with hints of clean, bright green. A powerful nose reveals intense aromas of ripe fruits and white flowers. It feels sophisticated, meaty and rich in the mouth, leaving behind a fantastic minerality, along with touches of lemon, green apples and yellow apples. A fresh and solid wine to keep until 2019.
Please note that this rather general comment seeks to describe the timeless style of the wine, which is a topic of interest due to the natural evolution of its organoleptic qualities.Château Fuissé : Saint-Véran Village 2014
Olivier Leflaive : Puligny-Montrachet 1er cru “Garennes” 2006
The 2006 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Garennes of Olivier Leflaive presents a gorgeous light golden colour. On the nose, this Burgundy white is vegetal with seductive notes of white flowers (honeysuckle and hawthorn). On the palate, the 2006 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Garennes of Olivier Leflaive has volume with a great balance of strong citrus fruit notes, including grapefruit. This wine is frank and precise. The finish offers a freshness and a pleasant hint of bitterness. This is a wine worth keeping, but it can also be tasted already. It pairs beautifully with fish served with cream sauce or white meat such as poultry.Olivier Leflaive : Puligny-Montrachet 1er cru “Garennes” 2006
Louis Latour : Meursault 1er cru “Charmes” 2009
Located south of Volnay and Pommard in the Cote de Beaune, Meursault is the largest commune of white wines in the south of the Cote-d’Or. The vineyards of the Meursault “Charmes” estate is recognized for its climates, which results in the finest wines of the appellation. The well-drained and mineral soil is perfectly suited to Chardonnay and the wines are opulent, with aromas of ripe peaches, apples and hazelnut.
The Meursault 1er Cru Les Charmes 2009 by Louis Latour has a pale yellow colour and a rich bouquet guaranteed to charm. The wine boasts aromas of white fruits and lightly buttered, grilled almonds. The mouthfeel is full and supple. Citrus notes appear in the finish.Louis Latour : Meursault 1er cru “Charmes” 2009