When I was a small boy, May 23 had not been established as International Chardonnay Day — that did not happen until 2010.
For all of my life, the next day — whether it be Queen Victoria’s Birthday (still that in Canada), Commonwealth Day or Bermuda Day — has always been a time to party and celebrate and I suggest that chardonnay could add to the conversation and friendship.
Even though sauvignon blanc rules supreme here, the rest of the world does not agree, as there are 299,000 acres of the latter planted and 518,900 of chardonnay.
Pinot grigio possibly takes the second spot on our island, but I still must “go to bat” for chardonnay as there are so many choices and styles. In cool climates like its birthplace, Burgundy, chardonnay tends to be leaner and crisper and the acidity gives it the ability to age wonderfully. Add a little warmth and tropical fruits such as peach, papaya and pineapple emerge.
I think that the important factor in enjoying chardonnay is to pick the style that you like. Regular chablis usually has no contact with oak and the deep chalk soils that are a continuation of the White Cliffs of Dover give a “steely gunflint” character to the citrus notes.
Chardonnay that is fermented and/or aged in oak will reveal coconut, vanilla and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Slight evaporation through the wood also adds intensity.
Virtually all white burgundy will go through a second fermentation called malolactic and during this, bacteria will convert malic acid (green apples) to lactic acid (milk); hence tartness is converted to butteryness. Not all New World wines need this.
From the village of Chablis, that is surrounded by chardonnay vines, I suggest Drouhin Domaine Vaudon 2016 Chablis. This is a dry and fruity wine that is easy to drink. Its colour is pale gold with greenish hues. Very fresh aromas reminiscent of citrus (lemon and grapefruit) and small, pleasant touches of fern and coriander are found as well. On the palate it is dry and fruity, with mineral notes. Pleasant with a long aftertaste that reveals this grape in a most natural way with no oak influence. $30.20.
We have winery owners here this week from Spain and I would like to mention their Bodega Otazu Navarra 2018 Chardonnay that we sell for $22.50. I just spoke with one of them and he explained that no oak is used at all, but the young wine is left on its lees for four months in stainless steel tanks to add body and complexity. He also mentioned that the northern latitude of the growing area makes this a crisper and fresher chardonnay than others from a more Mediterranean climate. Look for pineapple and apple along with citrus and floral notes.
Now I will take you north to Burgundy again and introduce you to the effects of some oak treatment on Drouhin Meursault 2016 and, for the degree of influence this family demands, they buy their own oak, carefully weather it for three years and then make their own barrels — perfectionists indeed!
Wine critic John Gilman comments: “This is a great village wine and my favourite of the three top Côte de Beaune white ACs in 2016. The very pretty and complex nose delivers fine purity in its classic blend of apple, pear, almond, bee pollen, chalky soil tones and a discreet framing of vanilla in oak.
“On the palate the wine is pure, full-bodied, crisp and beautifully balanced, with a lovely core and a very elegant, long and zesty finish. A beautiful bottle of meursault. Drink between 2018 and 2035.” Note the potential life span of a fine white burgundy. $64.
I can happily cross the Atlantic and head to the West Coast of the United States to enjoy the flavours of delicious apple, pear, Meyer lemon, vanilla and a hint of minerality on the long toasty finish of Rodney Strong Chalk Hill 2016 Chardonnay from Sonoma. Another very important influence overall is whether the oak barrels are lightly or more heavily toasted during the heating of the wood to form it into correctly shaped staves. This releases various flavours and, of course, “toast”.
Wine.com writes: “Some wines say, ‘Just pop the cork and enjoy.’ The 2016 Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay is such a wine. Tasting notes: This wine soundly represents Sonoma County chardonnay. Its aromas and flavours of dried peach skin, and a shading of oak should pair it wonderfully with an oven-baked chicken over a bed of couscous.” Tasted: February 16, 2019, San Francisco, California. $24.95.
I will end with Catena Alta 2016 Chardonnay that sources its fruit from an elevation of almost 5,000 feet in the Andean foothills of Argentina. Their Adrianna Vineyard’s calcareous soils and cool climate are the promised land for chardonnay, and 20 per cent of the fruit from the nearby, gravel-covered Domingo Vineyard adds complexity.
Fermented in French oak with wild yeasts, this chardonnay is not for the faint-hearted with its butterscotch, vanilla cream, pineapple, apricot, almonds, high acidity and elegant, beautifully oaked, multilayered and fresh finish. This is not just a summer day sipper, but a wine that will make rich seafood meals sing.
Robert Parker feels this way about it: “It’s fresh and elegant, with high acidity and moderate alcohol. The oak is almost imperceptible, as the wine is very intense and pungent. It has a dark golden colour and an impressive nose with ripe yellow fruit and some notes of botrytis but with a completely dry palate. It’s round, lush and exotic, with the grapes taken from deeper soils and slightly warmer parts of the Adrianna Vineyard in Gualtallary. It’s quite marked by the oak, but it should evolve nicely and in a classical Burgundian way in bottle. 92/100.” $34.70.
• This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail email@example.com or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George (York Street, 297-0409). Visit wineonline.bm