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All About Chardonnay

Published in Man's World Magazine | September 2007

CHARDONNAY GRAPE IS the single most sought after varietal in the world. Its homeland may be Burgundy, France, but it happily sets down roots in a wide range of warmer and some cooler climates across the world. Chardonnay grape bunches are compact with small, round, greenish-yellow berries. Viticultural academics opine that all vitis vinifera is descended from wild vines and that Chardonnay is a particularly ancient vine variety. Its aromatic impact on the nose is broad and muted rather than sharp and piercing. As Chardonnay grapes ripen, flavours change. Apple, grapefruit, lemon? Yes. Also, pineapple and melon characters. Grapes grown in warmer climates like India and South Australia show further flavour changes. With higher sugar levels inside the Chardonnay grape, you will even get peachy and typical fruit characters. Plus, higher levels of alcohol.

Three countries in three continents dominate the Chardonnay market. France leads in snob appeal. Most French champagnes use Chardonnay as one of its official three blends. Some champagnes use only pure Chardonnay, without other grape blends. This is known as Blancs de Blancs. The Chardonnay growing region in Chablis, North Burgundy, is globally known for its classic dry white wines. A few Chablis brands Long Depaquit, Domaine Laroche — are available in five star hotels here, but the most popular one in the market is J Moreau et Fils.

In California, over a thousand Chardonnay producers rake in the moolah. Many are clumsy and oily wines that sell in the millions. But then, great Chardonnay is not easy to make. The best Californian Chardonnays available in India are Cakebread Cellars, Beringer, Stoney Hill, Trefethen, Stags Leap. (Tittarelli Torrontes from Argentina and Tarapaca from Chile are two very popular Chardonnays in India.)

Chardonnay is so popular in Australia, they think they invented it! At its basic, Australian Chardonnay is a fruity quaffer. At its creative best, the Aussie Chard (as it is called) is lush, yummy and half the price of French versions. Stonier, Leeuwin, Penfolds, Rosemount, Jacobs Creek are the well known names here, but I have chosen to profile a brand new entrant in the market that is simply divine the Red Earth Chardonnay 2005.

This wine comes from Australia’s outback and is an outstanding example of the Chardonnay’s popularity. The winemaker here is quite clearly a maestro at work, someone who not just understands the character of the grape but also works it like a lover. This wine was produced from premium grapes from the Red Earth winery estate. It has won the Seal of Approval at the London International Wine Challenge. In the Adelaide Plains of South Australia, Chardonnay grapes ripen early and are full of tropical fruit flavours. The wine, light golden in colour, must be chilled to 12 degree C.

TASTE: Fresh, crisp, I got the first flavour of fruits and then a slight hint of honey at the finish.

FOOD SUGGESTION: Drink a glass as an aperitif. Avocado or asparagus mousse is the current favourite. I cooked a mushroom risotto with spring onions and penne pasta in olive oil and very light pesto to go.

MAN’S WORLD WINE FUNDAS

CLOUDY: Descriptive term, not necessarily negative, for a wine that looks hazy rather than brilliantly clear. A wine can be slightly cloudly because it has not undergone filtrations. Some wines, however, are cloudy as the result of faulty winemaking.

CLOYING: Describes a wine with unbearable, candy-like sweetness that often sticks to your tongue in an unpleasant way. Dessert wines should not be cloying.

COMPLEX: Describes a multifaceted wine with compelling nuances and character. All great wines are complex.

CRUSH: Used as a verb, to crush means to break the grape skins, so that fermentation can easily begin. As a noun, ‘The Crush’ is the general term used for all of the steps (harvesting, and so on) that take place just prior to fermentation.