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WINE OF THE MONTH:  Chardonnay Part 2 – The Different Styles

WINE OF THE MONTH: Chardonnay Part 2 – The Different Styles

Last time we spoke, I chatted to you about the basic background of Chardonnay! A little history, the different types of flavour profiles and what foods to enjoy with this beautiful wine! Today, I will discuss with you the 4 different styles: Unoaked, Wooded, Sparkling and Dessert. So without further loitering lets jump straight in, as we have a lot to discuss!

Champagne on ice

Sparkling Chardonnay

Chardonnay is used to make prosecco, cava, sparkling wine and South Africa’s most beloved Method Cap Classique. If you see the words Blanc de Blanc on a bottle, you can bet your bottom dollar that it is made from? Yup, you guessed it… Chardonnay!

Chardonnay being used for sparkling wine, creates a more richer profile! Here you will get notes of yellow apple, lemon, biscotti, toasted vanilla, hazelnut and honeycomb. On some occasions you may even pick up some marmite. On the more leaner profile here you get lemon zest, minerals, fresh limes and floral notes of honeysuckle.

When a wine cellar chooses to use chardonnay to make either MCC or sparkling wine, they harvest the grapes much earlier. This is to preserve the acidity in the grapes. The longer the grapes are on the vine the “sweeter” it becomes.

Popping the Cork: How MCC/Champagne is made?

  • Once the grapes have been harvested it will go through first fermentation like any still wine.
  • Once ready to go it will go through a blending process, winemakers like to use the term “cuvée” {pronounced: koo`vay}. The blend is entirely up to the winemaker, but most cases, it is a blend of Chardonnay Pinot Noir.
  • The next step Chardonnay goes through a second round of fermentation. This is the key step in getting the wine its sparkles naturally. You see folks, the wine is bottled along with a mixture of sugar and yeast. A crown cap is placed on the bottles and stored horizontally. This is where all the magic happens.

    Second fermentation begins, when the yeast slowly converts the sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide. Since the bottle is capped, the carbon dioxide is trapped in the bottle in the form of bubbles.

    Taa da! We now have MCC! Well sort of, there is still a long process that needs to be done, but you got the basic gist of it. I will discuss MCC/Champagne in much further detail on another day.

wine cellar with barrels and champagne bottles
  • Depending on how the wine was first fermented whether in barrels or stainless steel tanks it will determine the main profile taste. The longer the wine ages the more creamy and nuttier it becomes.
  • Remember Champagnes are sparkling wines but not all Sparkling wines is Champagne.

Next time you open up a bottle of MCC try having it with some fried foods like Chicken, Calamari, or even French fries! Try it and tell me what you think?

As discussed we now know that Chardonnay is a very popular white wine. We have also concluded that it is easy to grow and adapts well in all wine regions from France, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, the USA and right here in South Africa.

The fact that this wine is quite neutral it is a popular winemakers creating creativity in the wine cellar. It is up to the winemaker in what style he would like to opt for a unwooded or wooded? So lets discuss unwooded first.

Unwooded/oaked Chardonnay

If you enjoy a more crisp and lighter white wine with lemons, limes, jasmine and honeysuckle… then this would be your best choice of wine. Here the wine can rage anything from fruitiness like golden delicious apples, freshly cut pineapples, and juicy mangoes to a much cleaner more floral profile of jasmine, granny smith apples, pears, and lemon or lime zest.

Unwooded Chardonnay is a wine that is pure, stripped back and naked. Meaning that what you get off the vine is what you will get in your glass. No wood or oak is added to change the flavour profile.

Unoaked Chardonnay in the Cellar

stainless steel tanks are used to keep the oxygen out of chardonnay wine

In the cellar it undergoes a process called reductive environment. This means less oxygen is used. This is so as to preserve the freshness and acidity that you will find in Chardonnay. Most unoaked chardonnay’s are fermented in Concrete or Stainless steel tanks.

HOWEVER – some winemakers will use Malolactic Fermentation. This happens after the first fermentation. Here winemakers will alter the acids in the wine. They take the malic acid and convert it to an oilier acid. This softens the wine giving it a buttery flavour that one would expect to find in an oaked wine. Do you see why it is a winemakers dream to play around with Chardonnay.

Logically the next one to talk about is Oaked/Wooded Chardonnay. As it is quite a lengthy discussion I will have to keep that one for tomorrow. So much needs consideration, such as the type of wood, the size, time period and intensity of toasting the barrels. Moving on we will jump straight in to Dessert wine.

Dessert/Noble Late Harvest

Chardonnay late harvest

Most cases late harvest wines are made from grapes left on the vine long after they have reached their peak ripeness. Normally about a month or two after regular harvest has been completed. As mentioned earlier the longer a grape is left hanging the sweeter it will become.

The juices dehydrate and the sugar content is spiked and becomes super concentrated. The more sugar, the higher the alcohol potential becomes. In the end you will have a wine that is rich in honey, beeswax perhaps even some ginger. So yes a certain rot on grapes are good. This word we call Botrytis or Noble Rot!

Doing a wines in this type of style is not an easy job. Each grape needs to inspected and thinned to remove the ones that are suitable. You are now left with only a few that make it to the wine barrels.

In the end you are only left with a small amount. As they arrive at the cellar they are pressed to remove the little liquid that is still remaining. Once pressed they will be moved to oak barrels for a few months for fermentation to occur. In the end you are left with pure aromas of dried apricots, quince, and pear blossoms. The mid-palate is awash with waves of wet stone minerality, a botrytized classic characteristic. Beautiful layers of spice, honey, raisins, and candied fruit meld into a luxurious, honeyed finish.

What I do enjoy about a Chardonnay dessert wine, is the extreme complex of layers that you can pick up on. Added Bonus? Not overly sickly sweetness. You will also get a little tang which is refreshing and enjoyable.

Should you pair this wine with a dessert, there is a rule of thumb! Please, I beg you make sure the wine is sweeter than the food itself. If the food is sweeter it will leave the wine bitter.

And folks that is all we have time for today. So what type of Chardonnay do you enjoy?

Bubbles on Ice: Image by SplitShire from Pixabay
Wine Cellar Image by Mikele Designer from Pixabay
Wine cellar with Steel Tanks Image by Andrea Falzetti from Pixabay
Autumn wine vines Image by Holger Schué from Pixabay

Image by photosforyou from Pixabay

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