GRAPEVINE: Don't be afraid of chardonnay
Heavy oak and rich buttery flavour force many wine drinkers to steer clear of chardonnay. After all, who wouldn’t want to drink a light, fruity sauvignon blanc during the warm summer months?
Choosing a good chardonnay takes more effort and a deeper pocketbook than opting for, say, a rosé or pinot grigio. Go too cheap and that easily detectable fake-vanilla taste quickly ruins a bottle.
That’s why it’s easy to ignore chardonnay when a good bottle of patio-ready sauv blanc under $15 is sitting on the shelf.
But the often overlooked grape offers flavours not found in other wines. And it definitely doesn’t have to be oaky or buttery, if a more clean, fresh taste is what you’re after.
Chardonnay is a hardy grape and the most common in production today. In fact, it is grown nearly everywhere wine is produced.
To give it that oaky flavour, chardonnay is often treated in oak casks, but oak flavour is poured into the cheapest brands.
While some people like it oaked, many producers are opting for stainless steel casks to please customers who will do anything to avoid the taste. But not so fast.
There is one more thing to be wary of when dealing with chardonnay: Like other white wines, chardonnay needs to be served at the proper temperature.
Unlike sauv blanc, which can taste good right out of the freezer, this more finicky grape is often best served a bit warmer.
“I often hear people say ‘I really like this wine when I get down to the last 10 per cent.’ That’s because it probably should have been served seven degrees warmer,” says Chris Sharpe, a wine specialist at Everything Wine in North Vancouver.
“The use of inexpensive oak can give it a fake taste that’s not that great,” he adds after leading an hour-long lesson on the ins-and-outs of chardonnay.
Three factors will contribute to the taste of your bottle of chardonnay, he says.
1) The weather 2) The grape variety 3) Its terroir — the characteristics of where the wine is grown, such as climate and slope of the vineyard.
To avoid disappointment, all these aspects need to be taken into consideration when picking your next bottle.
If it’s a not-too-heavily oaked chardonnay you’re after for the next dinner party, here are a few recommendations:
Bodega Cantena Zapata Almos Chardonnay 2009 - Argentina $14.99
This reasonably priced wine has peach, butterscotch and herb notes, with a subtle taste of vanilla. It’s a less expensive version of the 2008 Catena Alta Chardonnay, which is produced by the same vineyard and goes for $39.99.
“You’d find this quality chardonnay at about twice the price in California or Burgundy,” says Sharpe while carefully pouring a glass of the Alta at the tasting seminar.
Foxtrot Chardonnay 2010 - British Columbia $54.99
Hailed as one of B.C.’s best, this chardonnay has aromas of citrus, tropical fruits and vanilla with subtle hazelnut. Light green apple and pineapple flavours make it a perfect pairing with West Coast seafood dinners.
“Top restaurants always have this in stock because it pairs well with our local food,” Sharpe says. Like other B.C. chardonnays, he predicts this one will cellar well for five to six years.
McGuigan Bin 7000 Chardonnay 2010 - Australia $17.99
For those who like a bit of oak, this medium-bodied wine will do the trick. Its fruit-driven taste with notes of peach and citrus balance well with the slight oak influence. It is best paired with seafood, especially lightly buttered scallops, or cream-based dishes.
Wind Gap “Yeun” Chardonnay 2008 - California $66.99
Oak-be-gone: The large concrete eggs surrounding this Sonoma County vineyard may look peculiar, but they are a handy way to store the wine, keeping it away from oak at all times. The complex palate features powerful fig and truffle notes, along with pear, white peach, honey and mineral aromas.