Wednesday, August 08, 2007

WBW #36 - Naked Chardonnay

Happy 3rd anniversary Wine Blogging Wednesday! And congrats Lenn - you started something truly extraordinary here. People from all over the country and all over the world look forward each month to participating in and reading about Wine Blogging Wednesday. And why not participate? You don't even have to be a blogger. All recent hosts have invited non-bloggers to join in, sending reviews and experiences with whatever the theme wine is that month.

An online community of bloggers sharing experiences with certain wines each month, and inviting all interested parties to join, to be bloggers if only for that once a month. We all taste something, we all learn something, we all read each others' work. A simple idea, but very elegant and effective. Lots of people who might not otherwise be interested take the wine plunge because of WBW. I started a blog myself because of a Wine Blogging Wednesday post I read on Fork and Bottle, actually.

So again Lenn - happy anniversary to WBW and thank you for bringing this pleasure to us each month. Many more...

So this month's theme is Naked Chardonnay, or un-oaked Chardonnay. Why specify un-oaked? Because Lenn is some sort of freak? No, friends, not the case at all (with regard to wine, anyway).

From the late '80s through the late '90s (all dates are approximate, and cannot be confirmed) Chardonnay was generic swill that the masses got when ordering white wine. No reason to ask who made the wine or where it was from. "Just give me a Chardonnay. And you know what, make it a spritzer." How did it get that way? A load of producers in California were fattening and candying it up, allowing it to see plenty of new oak and encouraging malolactic fermentation to convert the sharper malic acids into smoother lactic acids. The end result often was described as rich and buttery. People went nuts for it.

I guess people here weren't ready to drink Chardonnay in its unadulterated form, with its steely minerals and strong acidity. That wasn't the thing people were looking for when they asked for a Chardonnay. Gone was the vibrant acidity and the slender frame, the mineral character. It was all about buttered popcorn, caramel, toffee, and other aromas and flavors that have little to do with the grape juice and more to do with the application of oak, malolactic fermentation, and who knows what other manipulations.

There are still folks who swear by huge buttery Chards, but it's not what most of us are drinking. And the folks ordering a glass after work at their power-drink sessions or at dinner with friends, well last I checked it was a generic Pinot Grigio they were asking for, but I'm not up on the latest trends.

Slowly but surely, lots of people begin to remember and seek out Chardonnay - true Chardonnay, wines that express that grape's character. Steel fermented is a great way to experience Chardonnay - nothing in the way of the juice. That said, there are plenty of examples of great and true Chardonnay that do, in fact, see new oak. Judicious application of oak is a sign of great skill in a wine maker. Heck, they've been making incredible Chardonnay in Puligny, Chassagne, and Meursault for over 100 years and they're definitely using new oak.

So why naked or un-oaked Chardonnay? I guess it's a way of rejecting the buttered popcorn style of the Gordon Gecko era. A way of saying "don't forget about Chardonnay because it is wonderful and it's sitting right under your nose at every price point and you should try it again."

I tasted two un-oaked Chardonnays for the 3rd Anniversary of WBW, both from Burgundy, but not from the Cote d'Or. A 2005 Chablis and a 2005 from the Maconnais. Both of these are regions that can provide good value in an otherwise very expensive wine locale. You probably saw Eric Asimov's recent article describing a tasting of 2005 wines from the Maconnais. At least one of the wines described in that piece, the 2005 Jean Manciat Macon-Charnay wine is both un-oaked and absolutely delicious, and at about $17 at Chambers Street, it's a great value. But back to my wines...

For some reason I decided that we would taste them blind. It's the 3rd anniversary of WBW - why not celebrate? Brooklynlady and I enjoyed a delightful dinner on the deck last weekend - grilled Spanish mackerel sprinkled with sea salt, fresh farmer's market bi-color corn on the cob, and a green salad. We bagged the two wines and got to it.

2005 Litaud Macon-Vergisson Domaine des Vieille Pierres, $14 (Chambers Street Wines). Blind I thought this was the Chablis, as it was leaner and more mineral than the other wine. It had distinct citrus and fennel aromas and flavors early on. Interesting, but we both agreed that the other wine was better at that point. It was obvious to me, though, that this wind needed time to unravel. A taste near the end of the meal didn't show much change. I pump sealed the wine and left it in the fridge over night. Then my pal Nick came over for lunch the next day and WOW - the wine had really blossomed. Rounder with a fuller texture and mouth feel, and well balanced with fleshy stone fruit - peaches maybe - hanging on a gently mineral and acid frame. Delicious and crisp, excellent with our lunch of pasta with fresh tomatoes and pesto.

2005 Domaine Boudin Chablis, $19 (Chambers Street Wines).
This wine was fuller bodied to begin with, with aromas of citrus and stone fruit. The palate was rich with sweet fruit and there was a slight pleasant smokiness on the finish. I read in the recent Burghound newsletter that Chablis in 2005 in many cases is more about Chardonnay than about the terroir that is Chablis. I take that to mean less about seashell minerality and lean citrus, and more about ripe fleshy fruit. Well, it certainly fooled me, as I was certain that this was not the Chablis.

We preferred this wine with our rich and oily Spanish Mackerel and sweet corn, and we drank more of it than of the Macon. I should have pump sealed the last third of the bottle, but I never got to it and instead just corked it and put it in the fridge. The next day at lunch with Nick (a guy who couldn't care any less about wine), I poured him tastes of both so he could choose what he wanted with his pasta and he unhesitatingly picked the Macon. I was surprised - the Chablis seemed more accessible. But I hadn't sealed it and it didn't hold up well. The fruit had faded and the texture was kind of thin. But the Macon had come into its own, and was perfect with lunch.

Thank you again for WBW Lenn and also to everyone else who participates by posting and reading. Looking forward to many more.


Marcus said...

Hey we're both on to something. My Mâcon (also from the Eric Asimov shortlist) cooled off in a very nice way over time too. Less sharp and aggressive, more nuanced and luscious. Surprising for a white wine.

Love them lots but unfortunately the SAQ (that's the QRC to you Americans) only stock Mâconnais at the $20 level. Meanwhile you guys get $10 per bottle values.

(Amtrak has issued me a voucher for $55 for late arrival times -- that's practically the price of a return trip! So next time I'll have to pick up some and lunch will have to be on me.)

Brooklynguy said...

Hey Dok - You guys get better prices on health care, we get better prices on Macon wines. Good deal for everyone. Yes, do come back soon, lemme know.

Anonymous said...

If you can find it I had an unoaked chard from cali recently that was real damn good. It was from the Santa Cruz Mountains from the producer Beauregard. Great juice man.


Brooklynguy said...

Hey East Village - good to see you around these Brooklyn parts. I will keep my eyes open for the Beauregard. Didn't you come back to blogger, or are you still Wordpress - I cannot access your profile or blog from your link above. Thanks for stopping by.