Tasting Notes with Jim Beauregard: Butter and oak aren't all there is to Chardonnay

June 26. 2018 9:33PM

Clos du Bois Chardonnay 

I am a red wine drinker,for the most part, but that does not mean that I don’t like whites. I do have a few favorites among the whites, Riesling being one of them.

Today though, I want to give some attention to another white, one that has often been maligned in the past: Chardonnay.

Anyone who is into wine lore is already familiar with the term “ABC” — Anything But Chardonnay, which speaks to a certain dislike of Chardonnays that are heavily oaked and buttery. But oak and butter are not all there is to Chardonnay.

This is a group with a long history, and it’s worth remembering that its original home appears to be in eastern France, namely Burgundy. When you hear the term “white Burgundy,” it’s usually a reference to a wine made in the Burgundy region from the Chardonnay grape.

Chardonnay has had good times and bad times. In the 1980s and ’90s, people tended to favor the rich, oaky Chardonnay, but more recently the sales trends have shifted to lighter and less oak-dominated examples of the grade. This was due in part to the glut of heavy-duty oaked Chardonnays available in the late 1980s and 1990s — a certain Chardonnay fatigue set in.

One thing to remember about Chardonnay is that it can be made in a variety of different ways. Winemakers do many different things with it when they are making wines from the Chardonnay grape. It can have long, cool fermentations, but it can also be treated to long oak-barrel fermentations and maturation. Then there is the process of malolactic fermentation, which can soften the wine and give it some buttery flavors.

Also, while we tend to think of bubbly drinks like Champagne, Prosecco and others just by their names, in fact Chardonnay often is an element in these lines. And, as a further testament to its variety, when Chardonnay is left on the vine for a long time, botrytis can set in. The end result there is a delicious group of dessert wines.

So, to say the least, Chardonnay is a versatile grape that does not deserve the bad press it received in the ’90s and early 2000s.

Since it is planted in many countries, the Chardonnay grape goes by a number of different names. It’s called Morillon in Austria, and Weisburgunder or Gelber in northernmost Italy (which, if you know a little German, just means white Burgundy).

And then there is California. In 1980 there were about 18,000 acres of Chardonnay planted. By the end of that decade, however, there was more Chardonnay being grown in California than in all of France. Chardonnay is still California’s most planted grape, outdistancing Cabernet Sauvignon and others.

So, let’s take a look at a couple of those California Chardonnays and see how they are doing:

Francis Coppola Diamond Collection 2016 Chardonnay: Monterey County, Calif., 13.5% alcohol by volume. $16. Clear in the glass, of medium intensity with slow legs and fat tears. The nose is clean and of medium intensity. On the palate it’s dry, with medium-minus acidity, fairly typical for Chardonnay, medium alcohol, medium body and medium flavor intensity. Primary flavors include pear, lemon, hints of peach and some melon in the tropical fruit domain, as well as a bit of vanilla. Flavorful and refreshing. This would be one to pair with a fairly heavy white fish, fish and chips, swordfish, pork chops or a pizza with veggies on top. Soft cheeses would also pair well.

Clos du Bois 2016 Chardonnay: Geyserville, Calif., 13.5% ABV. $13. Pale in the glass, lemon-gold in color, with a clean nose of medium-minus intensity carrying primary fruit flavors. It is also dry with medium-level acidity, more than is often typical in a Chardonnay. There’s medium alcohol, fairly light body overall and medium flavor intensity that includes hints of grapefruit, pear, lime, just a little hint of asparagus as well. Medium-length finish.

Contact wine and beer writer Jim Beauregard at tastingnotesnh@aol.com.


Food

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