Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Billion Chardonnays

Quite a daunting number!  We didn’t have a billion, but when I saw all the wines poured out (two sets, so that the second set would still be cool by the time we got to it) it felt like a billion.  Chardonnay is a truly international grape, growing around the world with relative ease.  It’s more important in some areas than others – for example, it’s really important in Chablis and Champagne, but only somewhat important in Piedmont and New Zealand, because of the wines that producers want to make and the styles/varietals that take precedence.  We tasted a range of Chardonnays from Canada, the USA, France, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Argentina, with French Chardonnays having the highest share. 

(We also drank a couple of reds, to give our palates a rest from all this Chardonnay, and boy were they a treat!  A Rioja Gran Riserva and a Sforzato – num num num)

Chardonnay is the offspring of Gouais Blanc and Pinot Blanc.  Gouais Blanc is a Roman grape that parented a bunch of delicious vinifera offspring, but is seldom – if ever – grown in its own right anymore.  Chardonnay is an early budder and an early ripener, with a specific ripeness point at which the sugars can outweigh potential acidity, and acidity drops off.  This gives wine makers no end of trouble, especially in places that are hot (high heat and very ripe grapes mean lots of sugar in the grape, lower acidity, and potentially very high alcohol), and places that are cold (early budding vines are at risk of frost in late spring, and grapes may not ripen as much as desired, yielding a high-acid, austere wine).  Chardonnay also has no trouble producing tons of leaves and soaking up nutrients, so viticulturalists have to plant the vines close together and prune the crap out of them to make them work a little harder to produce tasty wine grapes.  Fortunately for us, these people work tirelessly to make great wines out of this pain-in-the-pip grape.

My two faves from last night were the Tawse 2010 Chardonnay, from Ontario, and Dom Antonin Goyon Meursault 1er Cru Les Charmes-Dessus 2008 Chardonnay, from Burgundy, France. 

Ontario does really well at producing Burgundian-style wines from Burgundian varietals, so it wasn’t terribly surprising that the Tawse 2010 Chardonnay was a great sample.  The wine was pretty, bright, and pale straw coloured, with a reserved nose of green apple and wood oven.  The palate opened with vanilla and pear, with tart fresh-picked apples on the mid-palate, and toasted hazelnuts on the finish.  It was clean, fresh, and vibrant, leaving a cool and tingly sensation in the mouth.  Like Italy’s high-acid wines this Chardonnay didn’t need food, but it sure did make me want to eat.  And, even better, it’s affordable and easily available!  Hurrah!  ($35 at the LCBO)

Dom Antonin Goyon’s Charmes 1er Cru 2008 provides an interesting contrast to the Tawse 2010, having certainly gone through malolactic fermentation, and showing a bit more of the influence of oak.  The wine was gold coloured – we’re talking 10 karat – and had a more generous nose with smoke, flint, pears, honeysuckle, and a hint of sawdust.  On the palate it tasted of popcorn, toasted nuts, and fresh tree fruits – pears, apples, and peaches.  This wine was silky, zippy, and energetic, leaving a wonderfully clean sensation in the mouth.  It was delicious, and would be worth every penny of the 89 bucks it sells for at the LCBO.

Next week: Syrah!

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