If you’re not a fan of the big, rich, buttery and oak influenced style of Chardonnay, we’ve got good news for you. They’re not all made that way! Join us this Friday as we explore and discuss Chards made “the other way”. These are wines made with little or no oak influence and without the us of other “smoothing techniques”. They have been made for many years, but recently they’ve experienced a surge in popularity. With higher levels of acidity, more tart and tangy citrus flavors, and more mineral and earth nuances, these Chardonnays are crisp, crunchy and refreshing.
To fully understand Chardonnay, you have to understand the different ways in which the finished wine can be influenced by winemaking techniques and/or terroir, or the influence of the place that the grapes were grown. Chardonnay is usually a pretty neutral tasting grape, and many winemakers choose to enhance its flavor and texture through a couple of common practices. The most obvious is fermenting and/or aging the wine in oak barrels which adds smoky, toasty, spicy notes to the wine. The other common winemaking technique used to “soften” the acidity of the Chardonnay grape is a secondary fermentation, known as malolactic fermentation or “malo” as many refer to it. It changes the wine’s acid profile from malic acid (tart, Granny Smith apple) to lactic acid (creamy, buttery). For winemakers going for a bold, rich and creamy Chardonnay, whether they be from France, Oregon or California, these techniques are commonly used. However, this isn’t the way Chardonnay is always made.
Other producers feel that Chardonnay is just fine without any of these methods applied to their wine. They feel that Chardonnay is the perfect conduit through which to express terroir, or a sense of place. These producers seek out vineyard sites with lots of rock, mineral and limestone in the soil, as these conditions stress the vine and result in intensely flavored wines. They like the natural freshness and vitality of Chardonnay when it’s allowed to retain its natural malic acid character, and they seek to produce wines that engage the drinker with natural mineral characteristics. At the end of the day, we like both styles, but we’re going to focus on the mineral-driven, no oak, high acid style of Chardonnay for this Friday’s tasting. Here’s what we’ll try:
1. 2011 Pascal Berthier Macon Chaintré “Vieilles Vignes” (Burgundy, France)
The Maconnais region is located at the southern end of Burgundy and has a long history of producing Chardonnays without any tinkering whatsoever, and here’s a wine that is just straight up classic. From vineyards that average 50+ years of age, this is just pure, mineralic delight. Great by itself, try it with fresh seafood and/or shellfish and we guarantee you’ll be happy!
2. 2011 Jean-Paul Brun Beaujolais Blanc “Terres Dorees” (Beaujolais, France)
Jean-Paul Brun makes one of the best Chardonnay values on the planet each and every year. As David Schildknecht of The Wine Advocate said, “Brun’s 2011 Beaujolais Chardonnay Classic offers charm, complexity, and stupendous value will come as little surprise to veteran readers of my reports. Still, this might be his best yet.” We concur with Mr. Schildknecht on his analysis of this wine. It is pure and fresh, but not at all simple.
2012 Paul Hobbs “Crossbarn” Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast, California)
California doesn’t just make super oaky, butter bomb Chardonnays as evidenced by this lovely wine from one of California’s Chardonnay masters. Paul Hobbs has a deft touch with the grape and for this wine, he ferments in a combination of 80% stainless steel and 20% neutral oak and allows 100% malolactic to occur. The resulting juice is pure and precise, but rich and broad with pear, spiced apple and citrus notes along with some nice white floral nuances. Enjoy this treat!
All tasting wines are 10% off by the bottle and 15% off if you buy six or more of them.