Grape of the Night (GOTN) got together to explore the elegance of Chardonnay. This varietal is claimed to be the most popular of both the reds and whites. Chardonnay wines have a huge following by people that want that crisp, fresh,pure quality that this wine delivers. The palate gives way to flavors of pear and apple plus tropical and citrus fruits with a nice balance of acidity yielding a very refreshing yet dry finish. The uniqueness extends further with the addition of oak adding that creamy mouth feel with buttery vanilla and spices. If that is not your cup of tea, you can go for the un-oaked versions that are fermented in stainless steel where a more crisp and lighter mouth feel style is developed. The variations are endless with this classic wine. This does not even take into account further variations due to different terroirs. This grape varietal is extremely hardy and is grown almost everywhere that you find vineyards. It is produced in California, France, Washington state, Chile, Argentina, etc. The GOTN tended to stick with examples from California in the bottles offered for tasting.
Chardonnay styles are also heavily influenced by the vinification process. Some wineries chose to perform malolactic fermentation. This process is like a secondary fermentation after the primary fermentation where alcohol is created. Malolactic fermentation is used in making many red wines but only a few whites with Chardonnay being one of them. In a nutshell, this secondary fermentation converts the highly acidic malic acid, that is extremely tart, and converts it to a lactic acid which is found in products like milk, cheese, butter, etc. Malolactic fermentation also lends to a nutty flavor and body on the palate. This is where the buttery aromatics and taste come from.
Some vintners chose to use malolactic fermentation on half of their wine and blend the two together at the end. Blending increases the complexity of the Chardonnay providing a crisp and refreshing wine that has a solid fruit profile with a slight buttery softness. What an art! So let’s look at the wines that were brought by the GOTN group:
2010 White Oak – Russian River
- Aroma – Crisp
- Taste – Medium body, baked apples, honeycomb and orange zest at the end
2011 Merimar Estate Don Miguel Vineyard – Russian River
- Aroma – Apple and Citrus
- Taste – Crisp and Minerals (white granite). Tasted like a Viognier
2012 Tamber Bey Trio Vineyard – Calastoga Region of Napa Valley
- Aroma – Apple and banana
- Taste – Minerality, acidic and medium crisp
2009 Frostwatch – Bennett Valley Sonoma Coast
- Aroma – Crisp
- Taste – Creamy, light minerality on the finish, light green apples and citrus
1994 Kalin Cellars Cuvee – Novato, Ca.
- Aroma – Not much on the nose but a noticeably deep golden color
- Taste – Acidic, nice mouth feel, minerality
- Note: This bottle was 19 years old proof that Chardonnays can be aged. I want to thank George and Jennifer Skorka for giving me this bottle from their private collection to share with the group.
2008 Kellar Estate La Cruz Vineyard – Petaluma, Ca.
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- Aroma – Grapefruit, green apple and light coconut
- Taste – Medium body, smooth and low acidity
The key item with Chardonnay wines is balance. As you can see there are many variables in the process that can drastically alter the final product such as oak, malolactic fermentation, alcohol content, fruit ripeness and residual sugars. Many California wines fall out of balance by being over-oaked. By having the proper chemistry for the style that you are making is very important. As you can see, there is no single way to make Chardonnays and each style has its own unique profile. It is unfortunate that GOTN did not taste the French style as it is from a cooler climate with less fruit ripeness (sugars) is once again extremely unique and different…maybe next time.
I would like to thank everyone for their participation at GOTN Chardonnay and I hope to see everyone at our next event. Once again thank you to Valencia Wine Company for supporting our group and tending to our needs. Valencia Wine Company and its staff is definitely a class act. This event was also a farewell to our good friend and employee of Valencia Wine Company, Gino Rios, who has been taking care of all of us for many years. He will be missed and we wish him luck in his new venture.