Chardonnay’s Redemption

As we continue with White Wine 201, we need to deal with the “Anything-But-Chardonnay,” or “ABC” camp. They make the point that this grape, so neutral and easy to grow the world over, is too common and too dull, especially given the vast number of other neglected yet fascinating white varieties. And they are right except that wines such as Burgundy’s rivetingly good (if shatteringly expensive) Montrachet is, after all, made of Chardonnay.

Chardonnay is the result of the union of Pinot Noir and the obscure Gouais Blanc grape. It’s so often inoffensively fruity and carries oak so well that it’s helped to popularize wine drinking since the 1960s. But it can also be strikingly individual and aristocratic.

The winemakers below have chosen to soften the juice’s sometimes searing acidity through the conversion of harsh malic acid into the softer, creamier lactic acid by way of malolactic fermentation. This secondary fermentation also increases the the amount of the ethyl lactate that gives “body” to the wine, as well as diacetyl, which brings the impression of butter into the glass.

Butter, lime and hints of grapefruit will hit you when you taste the very good, very Burgundian Domaine de Fussiacus, Vieilles Vignes, Pouilly-Fuisse 2005 (+723007), for $24.95.

From New Zealand is the intense and wonderfully textured Goldwater Marlborough Chardonnay 2006 (+991463) $19.95, only 40 per cent of which went through the malolactic.

And from California, Santa Barbara Winery’s Chardonnay 2006 (+989152) $17.95, is restrained and elegant, 58 per cent having been altered by malolactic.

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