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 !!

Wait…this isn’t dessert wine? Lost in Translation

A prime example of how confusing and complicated wine labels can be for consumers:

After having “a few glasses” of wine for dinner I decided to open up a special bottle of dessert wine that we brought back from a trip to the Loire Valley.

I thought the label read Coteaux du Layon which is a well known area (appellation) for sweet white wines made from Chenin Blanc.

Opened it and thought, “this doesn’t smell like dessert wine” (rich and honeyed). “Maybe it needs to open up”?

Drank it and immediately knew it was a dry wine and unfortunately, a pretty good one.

Looked again at the region on the bottle which read Coteaux du Loir. This appellation produces mostly dry wines.

Looking at the label of a traditional Old World wine is NOT helpful. Many times I advise people to turn the wine around and look at the “second” or back label. This is usually put on by the importer so it is more American friendly with copy in English and the information that we are used to seeing on the label (grape variety, tasting note, food pairing inf0). Not this time.

Oh well …happens to us all…at least it was the right color!

Why don’t Americans drink Chianti?

I recently attended the launch of the Slow Wine Guide as well as the Italian Wine Masters class on Tuscan wines.

One of the wines that we tasted and discussed, was Chianti.

Forget everything you know about straw basket Chianti. The main grape of Chianti, Sangiovese, with it’s high aciditiy, produces some of the most affordable, food friendly, versatile wines that I enjoy.

Also, because Chianti can be made in so many styles you are sure to find one that suits your tastes.

So why don’t we drink Chianti, more often? STRAW BASKETS!

It is probably due to Americans past negative experiences with Chianti…

1. Originally the laws for making red wine in Chianti were very restrictive:

•  Wines needed to include a white grape, Malvasia (they don’t anymore)

•  Producers had to match the “recipe” or established percentage of each grape set in the mid 19th Century (now vast improvements have been made by winemakers)

2. Quality of wine exported to the United States was not very good. Producers focused on quantity, for exports, and kept the best wines for the local market (Italians)

3. The main grape, Sangiovese, doesn’t grow well outside of Italy so we are not as familiar with it as we are with other California staples like Cabernet and Merlot.

NEW, IMPROVED Chianti… On to the wines

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Festive Wines for Holiday Gifts

A friend asked me if I would suggest a great wine that also had a nice holiday label.

Wine producers do not generally create special holiday labels (halloween, valentines day, christmas, etc) because any change to a label must be re-submitted and re-approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). And nobody wants to deal with that!

Although I DO NOT recommend buying a wine just because it has a cute or clever label there are many great wines that also have holiday packaging or look like they were made for the holidays.

I am a bit of a traditionalist. Holiday wine for me is red and sparkling. When I think of holidays I think of red, green, silver and gold (and maybe white- for snow).

Here are some of my traditional favorites…

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Around the World in 80 Sips- Wines of the Week

Host of the Event

The Crowd

I attended an excellent event thrown by Bottlenotes Around the World in 80 Sips. This is a great opportunity to learn while “drinking around the world”. Virtually every style of wine can be sampled in one place.

Click here to see the wines poured

Below are some wines that really stood out, for me. The exclusive retail sponsor was Continue reading