WTF…aged Chardonnay from…China?

2004Grace_Chardonnay_China A good friend brought me a Chardonnay from China.

The 2004 Grace Chardonnay was provided in a beautiful box, but not being able to find out much about the wine I had no idea if it would be a decent (drinkable) wine or not.

Most wine professionals know very little about Chinese wines so I put the wine away and waited for the right time to open it with some other wine drinkers.

 

Chardonnay_lineupI am a member of a tasting group full of non industry wine aficionados. These folks KNOW wine. When it was my turn to host I put this wine (now 11 years old) in a blind tasting with some other Chardonnays from around the world that were much younger

 

This was not a very fair comparison. The other wines that were served were around 10 years younger and were fresh and vibrant.

The Chinese Chardonnay had a funky, oxidized nose but this eventually dissipated and the wine was actually very interesting. Some thought it was a Chenin Blanc, others a late harvest wine, but all were amazed that a Chinese wine displayed this amount of complexity after 10 years in the bottle.

Will keep an eye on wines from China as they are ramping up to become a grape growing powerhouse…

Here is some more information about the winery and wines of China:

Wall Street Journal article on Chinese wines

Distributor website

Winery website (if you read Chinese)

Champagne for the Holidays…

DavidBowlerChampagne “insider” secrets:

Attended a recent Champagne tasting at PJ Wine. Meeting with some very knowledgeable reps provided some great wines and some new (to me) “insider” information.

Basics:

The primary grapes used for making Champagne are Chardonnay (white grape), Pinot Noir, Pinot Menuier (red/black grapes).

Most Champagnes come from a blend of all three. Meunier gives fresh fruit and energy, Pinot Noir gives body and backbone, Chardonnay, high in acid provides the ability to age.

Champagne made with only  Chardonnay (or very rarely, Pinot Blanc) is called Blanc de Blanc– white (wine) from white (grapes).

Champagne made with 100% Pinot Noir, 100% Pinot Meunier  or a mixture of the two is called Blanc du Noir– white (wine) from black (grapes).

Now for the Advanced…

Continue reading

Around the World QPR Chardonnay+ a Ringer

Memorial Day Blind Wine Tasting

chardonnay_roundtheworld

There is a term “ABC”- short for Anything But Chardonnay. But when it comes to Chardonnay it is not about the grape but rather the style of wine.  Chardonnay is a chameleon, not very distinctive on it’s own, but easily changed by soil composition, growing conditions (hot or cold), use of barrels (none, medium, overdone) and  other winemaking techniques (stirring up dead yeast cells, use of Malolactic fermentation, etc.)

Chardonnay is an acidic grape, one of the qualities it brings when it is used in Champagne which makes an excellent palate cleanser.
Acid is also what allows a white wine to age (higher acid= better ability to age)

BurlapChalkBagsWhat makes Chardonnays different?

Difference between warm and cool climates…

Wines that are further from the equator (cool climates) get less sun are usually more acidic, lower in sugar and lower in alcohol. Dominant fruits are citrus (lemon, limes) apples, pears.

Wines that are closer to the equator (warmer climates) get more sun and heat so the fruit is higher in sugar and usually riper. Dominant fruits can be more tropical and sweeter in flavor (papaya, mango, pineapple, peaches)

Use of barrels…

Chardonnay can be greatly influenced by the decision to use oak in fermenting and/or aging and how much is used.
No aging– stainless- wine is lean, acidic, light in body and color
Medium oak– low oak influence can make the wine rounder in body, darker in color
Heavy oak– for a brief time, California winemakers were using a heavy hand with oak. Oak can be used to mask flaws but many say (myself included) that using too much oak hides many of the good fruit flavors found in Chardonnay.

The use of barrels are responsible for some of these flavors found in Chardonnay: vanilla, toast, smoke, spices, as well as some sweetness.

thespreadWinemaker methods…

There are many but 2 commonly used methods found in Chardonnay are:

1.    Malolactic Fermentation– also called “ML” this is a second (non alcoholic) fermentation using a specific type of bacteria that turns sharp (malic) acids into lactic (smooth/creamy) acids. The difference between granny smith apples and milk.

ML is responsible for some of these flavors in Chardonnay: butter, butterscotch, caramel, cream, toffee, lemon curd (yoghurt).

2 . Contact with Yeast? To make alcohol you add yeast to grape juice (which is mostly sugar). The yeast eats the sugar and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. When it consumes as much sugar as it can, the yeast eventually dies. Some winemakers remove the yeast cells immediately, some leave them in the tank/barrel and even stir them (called battonage) continuously for more flavor in the wine.
Presence of yeast cells produce toasty or doughy flavors (especially in Champagne)

Soil…
Much too complicated to go into this time,  but it can be responsible for all non-fruit flavors such as mineral (wet stones), chalk, sea spray, some floral qualities

THE WINES/THE RESULTS

For our annual Memorial Day wine tasting I decided to pick my favorite mother-in-laws, favorite wine, Chardonnay. We tasted the wines blind, the only thing that tasters knew was that one of the wines was VERY expensive. What they did not know is that one was very common and inexpensive. After everyone sampled the wines I then let them know which country the wines were from and some brief “professional” descriptions, listed below, to see if it would help identify them, before the “reveal”.

AuBonClimat#1. 2010 Au Bon Climat, Santa Barbara California– $20
Burgundian in sensibility, but with California style, is one way of describing Jim Clendenen’s chardonnays. In the glass, buttery brioche marries with tropical fruits in an irresistible elixir.

Tasters said: This is good, I like this! Probably the highest ranked wine.

MarquesCasaConcha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#2. 2010 Marques de Casa Concha– Concha y Toro, Limarí Valley, Northern Chile– $22
A fresh, harmonious white, featuring pineapple, citrus and spice notes backed by juicy acidity and creamy texture. Well-integrated, with a lingering aftertaste of fruit and chalk.

Tasters said: “This is good but not my favorite”.

HamiltonRussell#3. 2011 Hamilton Russell Vineyards Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa– $26
This white cuts a bold swath, delivering flavors of dried Jonagold apple, fig, creamed pear, hazelnut and persimmon. Creamy and lush, held together by a finely beaded spine of acidity, with strong minerality kicking in on the lengthy finish.

Leflaive_LesSetilles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#4. 2010 Olivier Leflaive les Sétilles, Burgundy France- $15

Fine balance sets the stage for the apple, lemon and mineral flavors in this white. Stays focused, with the vibrant structure framing the finish.

This is not just any Bourgogne Blanc, this is Olivier Leflaive’s closely guarded secret blend. The resulting wine is the perfect progeny, melding seamlessly Meursault’s fleshy fruit, plump fresh nuts and creamy textures with the driving minerally energy and jasmine scent of Puligny.

Tasters said: “This is lean, acidic…I don’t smell much…I don’t like this one, it is probably French.” BINGO !

YellowTail#5. Yellow Tail Chardonnay- South Eastern Australia– $7
Rich tropical fruits with a creamy finish. This wine is soft yet fresh with balanced acidity and lingering melon flavors on the tongue.

Tasters said: “I really like this wine.” but others, “This is the only wine so far that I don’t like, actually I can’t drink it”. The most polarizing wine of the day and one that really shows the difference between personal preferences.

2006Latour_GrandCru

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#6. 2006 Domaine Louis Latour Corton-Charlamagne Grand Cru, Burgundy, France. $150 retail.
Latour’s estate-bottled 2006 Corton Charlemagne displays lime peel, resin, and chalk dust in the nose; its sappy, pit- and citrus-fruit dominated palate resists the wine’s 100% new wood well; and it finishes invigoratingly with an extended reprise of citrus, resin, and chalk.

Tasters said: “This is probably an expensive wine. It definitely needs food.”

Try this yourself sometime and please share your favorite Chardonnays with me !!

In Pursuit of Balance Wines 2013

I virtually “attended” In Pursuit of Balance Wines which was held in San Francisco.
Basically this is a group of California winegrowers who aim to produce great wines (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir only, for now) in the vineyard and in the cellar by keeping all of the components of a wine (acidity, alcohol, fruit) in balance.

When a wine is in balance it pairs well with food and is very easy to drink.
If you had some bad experiences with poorly made California wine (too buttery, oaky, alcoholic fruit bomb) then you might consider trying some of the wines on this list.
Continue reading

Top 100 VALUE wines of 2012

It’s that time of year…Wine Spectator recently released their list of the Top 100 wines of 2012.

Due to personal preferences I can’t tell you whether you will really love all of the wines on the list or not. However, if it is under $20, (I also include exactly $20) and makes this list, it probably is a solid value.

Last years list only contained 12 wines under $20- this years has 27. Also, I am noticing a large number of wines coming from South America.

Hint: just because they might not have made this years list- the 2011 list are still good wines to try!

Here are the VALUES (ranking/Score/Price)…
Continue reading

The “skinny” on Chile- Organic Wines, Excellent Value

South American wines often get lumped together on wine lists and in retail stores, and that is a shame. The two largest wine producing regions of Chile and Argentina have some things in common:

Location (latitude)- they share weather and temperature

Altitude-they are located on either side of the Andes mountains which is a key component in their unique terroir

Very little rain-both countries have very little rain fall but have ample water for wine production due to the melting snow and ice of the Andes.

Very low cost of labor– Virtually all grapes are picked by hand.

All of these factors are beneficial to wine growing. They allow them to produce clean wines (hardly any chemical usage), with very ripe fruit, high acid, and soft tannin.

BUT CHILE IS VERY DIFFERENT FROM ARGENTINA…

Continue reading

Véraison- The grapes they are a changin’

This past weekend we travelled to the North Fork of Long Island for a Dinner in the Vines at Lenz Winery.

We took some time to walk the vines. This is a very important time of year for the wine growers, known as Véraison (Vay-ray-zoN). This wine growing term, from the French, is used to mean “the onset of ripening”.

All grapes start out very small and acidic (not good to taste). During véraison the berries become soft and take on the colors characteristic of their specific varieties. White grapes change from green to whitish golden. Red/Black grapes change from green to their final color.

Looking at the color of the grape skins can finally give you an indication of the final color of the wine. Also, inside of the grapes, acid levels decrease and sugar levels increase.

Because the grapes are finally getting sweet this is also the time that wine growers will cover the vines with nets to protect them from the hungry birds.

Took a few pictures of the process for you enjoy…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next step…wine harvest.