View Full Version : Chardonnay - the Grape that has it all

Mick Pacholli
13th July 2013, 03:11 PM
Chardonnay is one of the world’s most popular, diverse and widely planted white grape varieties and despite having had a brief run-in with the “Anything-but-Chardonnay” set, has clambered back to new heights, re-cementing its spot as one of the most loved varieties on the planet. From Burgundy to Sonoma, Australia to England, Chardonnay grapevines have found their way into every winegrowing country in the world, just as the wines they make have made their way into our hearts.What Does Chardonnay Taste Like?But what does Chardonnay taste like? It’s a very good question. More than any other grape variety, wines made from Chardonnay fall into a myriad of different styles. While in Australia we often think of Chardonnay as big, rich and full-bodied, there are many styles that are fine and elegant, with extreme finesse seen in Chardonnay made as a sparkling wine.
http://www.tooraktimes.com.au/~/media/Wolf Blass/Images/From Our Winery Blog/Chardonnay.ashxClimate and ripeness have a significant impact on what the wine will ultimately taste like. Less ripe and cooler climate Chardonnay tends to produce wines with crisp green apple, lemon and grapefruit flavours, which move more into the tropical spectrum for very ripe or warm climate Chardonnay where we see more pineapple, mango and guava. In between there is a whole range of fruit flavours, most notably pears, melons, stone fruits and figs.The reason for Chardonnay’s diversity is due to the fact that it’s what we consider a “neutral” grape variety (as opposed to Riesling or Moscato, for example, which are “aromatic” varieties), and so tends to be very pliable in nature, taking on the characteristics of surroundings, whether that might be the terroir of the vineyard, or the techniques of the winemaking; most particularly whether it’s been made as a sparkling or still wine, whether it has undergone malolactic fermentation and whether it’s been matured in oak, and if so, what type.So what is malolactic fermentation?OK, let’s get the technical stuff out of the way. Wine fermentation takes place when yeasts convert sugar to alcohol and carbon-dioxide. This is known as the primary fermentation. There is, however, a secondary fermentation carried out by lactic acid bacteria known as malolactic fermentation (MLF) which converts malic acid (the very tart, crisp acid of green apples) to lactic acid (a softer, creamier acid found in milk). Most red wines will undergo MLF, though this is a non-essential fermentation, used very much as a style decision in white winemaking. It changes the wine flavour and texture to become smoother, softer, creamier, less austere and, in the extreme, becomes rich, oily and buttery. Some wines will also take on a distinct butterscotch character. The decision to put a wine through MLF (or partial MLF) will depend on the outcome the winemaker wants to see. Crisp, fresh, fruit driven Rieslings, Sauvignon Blancs and most unoaked Chardonnays will generally not go through MLF, while rich, creamy, complex styles of Chardonnay generally will, at least in part.So as well as the different inherent fruit flavours we talked about, there are a number of different flavours (and textures) that can be imparted on the wines because of the way they’re made.Sparkling ChardonnaySparkling wines are most commonly made with a blend of grape varieties. The traditional Champagne varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, while in Australia it’s more common for us to see Chardonnay blended just with Pinot Noir. But sparkling wines may be made from Chardonnay alone in the Blanc de Blancs style. These tend to be more delicate and of the utmost finesse. While the making of sparkling wines is a topic for another day, suffice to say that the fine cool-climate Chardonnay fruit, picked at low sugar levels to provide a crisp delicate wine, is given immense complexity through the sparkling winemaking process, while still retaining that divine elegance; contributing complex flavours of biscuit, yeast, brioche and nuts to the refined citrus, apple and pear fruit flavours.Why not try:
Red Label Chardonnay Pinot Noir (http://www.wolfblasswines.com/en/our-wines/red-label/sparkling-chardonnay-pinot-noir.aspx)Silver Label Chardonnay Pinot Noir (http://www.wolfblasswines.com/en/our-wines/silver-label/chardonnay-pinot-noir.aspx)Unoaked ChardonnayUnoaked (or unwooded) Chardonnays are just that – made without the use of oak. The intent here is to allow the varietal fruit characters to take centre stage. Not as fragrant as Riesling, and not as ‘green’ in its flavour spectrum as a Sauvignon Blanc, unoaked Chardonnay offers an alternative that is at once light and fruity, while at the same time displaying a spectrum of flavours that are uniquely Chardonnay, ranging from apples, pears and citrus to nectarines, white peach and perhaps a hint of the tropical from warmer climes. Once again, climate and terroir play a key role, as the influences of winemaking are less apparent here. Most styles are soft, medium-bodied, fruity and refreshing.Why not try:
Red Label Unoaked Chardonnay (http://www.wolfblasswines.com/en/our-wines/red-label/unoaked-chardonnay.aspx)Oak Matured Chardonnay
http://www.tooraktimes.com.au/~/media/Wolf Blass/Images/From Our Winery Blog/GL Chard.ashxThe most complex styles of Chardonnay are those that have been matured, and often also fermented, in oak. As well as the primary fruit flavours, the oak itself lends flavours such as vanilla, smoke, coconut, caramel, spice, cinnamon and cloves and the process of maturation brings out more developed fruit flavours like honey, nuts and toast, producing a wine which ultimately has far greater complexity. *Wines matured in oak will also gain more structure from the natural tannins present in oak but also more texture and fullness of palate. Batonnage (or barrel stirring), which re-suspends the spent yeast cells that have fallen to the bottom of the barrel, also gives the wine a smooth, creamy texture.In “New World” winemaking countries like Australia and the US, oak matured Chardonnays have carried somewhat of a reputation as being big, oaky and over-the-top in flavour, however more modern Australian winemaking styles favour more refined, elegant Chardonnays from cool climates like the Adelaide Hills, which are picked earlier, ensuring more citrus-driven flavours and higher acid. More subtle use of malolactic fermentation and a paring back on the use of new oak has helped create wines of poise and distinction.Why not try:
Yellow Label Chardonnay (http://www.wolfblasswines.com/en/our-wines/yellow-label/chardonnay.aspx)
Gold Label Chardonnay (http://www.wolfblasswines.com/en/our-wines/gold-label/chardonnay.aspx)
White Label Chardonnay (http://www.wolfblasswines.com/en/our-wines/white-label/chardonnay.aspx)

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