Chardonnay

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I have jumped from the Pinot Noir, a red grape in the last post, back to a white grape, Chardonnay.

There is some logic to this drunken weaving as Chardonnay is the white grape of Burgundy as Pinot noir is the red. Not that you would know that you were drinking Chardonnay as ever in Burgundy, and probably most of traditional wine producing areas of France, the grape is often not included on the label, except for some wines made by progressive winemakers, and usually in less fashionable districts.

If you can open my piece on Pinot Noir you can see the spread of the Burgundy area, for red and white wines; Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

Just as red Burgundy wines can have a small amount of Gamay grape included in the must white Burgundy can include some Aligoté. Nothing is ever straightforward in France and in Burgundy their wines are a minefield for the uninitiated.

The Chardonnay grape is reckoned one of the easiest white grapes to grow and thrives in a range of soils and climates. It is, commercially, the most diffused white grape and outside France is generally labeled, front or back label, as Chardonnay, which aids comparison for those who wish to taste the spectrum of flavours that are Chardonnay.

Chardonnay does not have any dominant characteristic flavour common to its cultivation in different parts of the World. It adapts well to where it is grown and he flavours and styles reflect the local climate and soil. Again, a simple rule of thumb is that the cooler the climate the more acidic and the lighter the style. The warmer the climate, the fuller and more fruity the expression. Descriptors of Chardonnay wines range from crisp apples (Chablis in Burgundy) to lemons, fruit salad and even butter (which may be due to a co-fermentation with bacteria, spontaneous or seeded).

Malo lactic Fermentation

A slight diversion here is justified into the fact that as well as yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), there are a huge variety of yeasts of other genera and many different bacteria active at different stages of the fermentation.

Modern day wine making technique is to add, in quantity, a specially selected wine yeast isolated from a previous spontaneous fermentation, in sufficient quantity to give it a head start over all the other micro organisms which can cause unwanted flavours.

Bacteria tend to be killed off quickly as the alcoholic phase of the fermentation progresses except for one class of bacteria called malo lactic bacteria. These can survive up to quite high concentrations of alcohol, up to 15% and then grow, using the nutrients released by the dead yeast, to transform residual malic acid into lactic acid and carbon dioxide. The change from malic to lactic lactic acid softens the perception of acidity in the mouth acidity.  They also produce small amounts of other flavours, such as butter and can be responsible for the release of other fruit precursors intrinsic to the grape variety but are otherwise locked in. The lighter style of white wine means that such a flavour nuance can give an edge to a white wine worth a fair few pounds per bottle. These malo lactic bacteria are very fastidious in their nutritional requirement and their natural appearance in wines is very much a hit or miss process. 

Some wines are very much improved by this and naturally this would happen during the Spring following the primary fermentation, when the temperature in the cellar rises and the bacteria start to reproduce. Most wineries now, if their wine has a propensity to have a malo lactic fermentation or if their wines are too acidic, seed with specially selected bacteria.. This way the wine is protected from the process happening in the bottle and causing turbidity and a pressure build up in the threatening an explosion or, at least, a semi carbonated cloudy wine.  Some spontaneous bacterial strains cause bad tastes in wine and the winemaker needs to control these so as to protect his creation. Thus if there is a chance of such a spontaneous bacterial fermentation taking place most winemakers will seed it and control the process before bottling.

Wines which have been further transformed by malo lactic bacteria are never declared to have been so. No winemaker declares on the bottle label that a malo lactic transformation has taken place, spontaneous or induced. The result of such a transformation can be significant, especially to cold climate Chardonnays which have a higher acidity than those grown in warmer climates.

It is illegal to seed a wine with malic acid in order to have the basis for a malo lactic fermentation.

In France, Chardonnay also turns up in Champagne along with the red grape Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier but you will never find that on any label.

In France,as I said white Burgundy is based on Chardonnay, so as they sell by way of region, the following will be that

Cote d’Or
Cote Challonaise
Maconnais

Outside this region, white wines from the Languedoc-Rousillion (Pays d’Oc), Touraine, Haute Poitou and the Ardeche will be Chardonnay. They may even be labeled as Chardonnay contrary to the norm in France. Halleluha!

In Italy, New Zealand, Australia, USA, Spain and South Africa the grape will be declared on the label. For my Spanish wine aficionados, the Penedes region makes Chardonnay. Penedes is between Barcelona and Tarragona and as you drive between the two, on the Autopista  at the St Sadurní exit you can see the vineyards, wine cellars and many billboards advertising Codorniu Cava. Surprise, surprise is Chardonnay is used in Cava despite the literature which suggest that the grape varieties used are local, such as Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel.

I know that about 40 of the contiguous states in the USA produce wine, From Texas to  Arkansas to Wasjington State. However I was surprised to find that Chardonnay is produced on Long Island, New York State.

Chardonnay offers a rich spectrum of flavours depending on the soil, climate and impact of bacteria. Like all white wines it can be affected disproportionately by off flavours which cannot be hidden unlike full bodied reds which may contain the same off-flavours but they are masked. It is bit like comparing off-notes in Guinness and Budweiser.

In general, the warmer the climate, the fuller the wine, the lower the acidity and the higher the alcohol concentration.

It is a great wine to buy from different countries and have a tasting comparing the fruits you perceive, their intensity and the body of the wine. New World against Old World.