Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Basic Grapes: Chardonnay

Loved by many and hated by some, Chardonnay is like a blank canvas, you can do so many things with it and the results will be wonderful no matter what! But let me start by saying that Chardonnay is no sissy! 

It produces the biggest whites of all, so if you want a white with substance, lush an almost red wine... then you have arrived to the right place! I say that is a blank canvas because it can shine no matter what, if you treat it like a purist, fermenting in stainless steel and avoiding oak, it will produce lean wines with solid acidity and delicious minerality, a vehicle to express its terroir (like in Chablis). If you barrel ferment or age it oak, add malolactic fermentation and aging in lees, it will produce a round, soft and fat white with buttery and creamy flavors similar to the best wines of the Cote D’Or.

Originally from Burgundy, Chardonnay is the child from the cross of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc. It doesn’t have a strong nose, it can grow in any climate, but does better in cool climates, since in warmer ones, losing acidity can be a problem. It buds early and is susceptible to frost, and suffer from problems with flowering and uneven fruit set (coulure and millenderage). 

Best soils for Chardonnay are limestone, chalk and clay.  Most elegant wines come from limestone and chalk. Yields, as with all wines of quality, shouldn’t go higher than 45 hl/ht, but in the New World  it could get to 60-100 hl/ht. The best clones are the Dijon (Burgundian) ones that have been planted everywhere, since Burgundy Chardonnay has been replicated like no other wine in the world...the fact that Chardonnay is a brand that sells so easy also helped.
Chardonnay’s flavor profile may change according to climate and vinification, cool climates samples will show more citrus notes: lemon, lime, pears and yellow apples, warm climates will show more tropical flavors: pineapple, mango, guava,melon, peach. Aging or fermenting in oak will add butter, vanilla, honey and caramel notes.

Best samples come from Burgundy and can age for up 30 years, (Corton Charlemagne anyone? Yes if you can afford this!
Wines from cool climates can age 8-10 years (CA: Carneros, Russian River, Australia: Yarra Valley, Chablis). Warm climates Chardonnay should be drunk early before they lose their flavor, don’t keep them for more than 5 years.
Finally, let’s not forget that Chardonnay is one of the key components in Champagne, actually Blanc de Blancs are solely made from this grape.  As if we need another reason to appreciate it even more!

You can find Chardonnay in every country but for me, these three places do the best job:

Chablis: Christian Moreau, Laroche, Raveneau, Jean Marc Brocard, Domaine Vincent Dampt, Patrick Piuze, Albert Bichot, Billaud Simon, William Fevre, Domaine Laroche. 

Burgundy & Pouilly Fuisse: Jadot, Domaine Leflaive, Bouchard Pere et Fils, Chateau Fuisse, Les Heritiers Du Comte Lafon, Louis Latour, Thierry & Pascale Matrot, Jean Pascal et Fils, Domaine Faiveley, Olivier Leflaive, Albert Bichot, Yves Boyer Martenot, Jean Chartron, J.A. Ferret, Alex Gambal, Vincent & Sophie Morey, Jacques Prieur.

California: Kistler, Au Bon Climat, Marcassin, Ridge, Aubert, La Crema, Oberon, Sta Barbara Winery, Arista, Kendall Jackson, Paul Hobbs, Pahlmeyer, Arista, Sonoma Cutrer. Cheers! Silvina


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Basic Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc

Pungent, exotic, exhilarating... Sauvignon Blanc has a lot of personality! its aromas are so strong and pronounced, it’s easy to recognize/identify it when tasting blind. 
Sauvignon Blanc is also known as the “green” wine, often showing aromas of green peppers, fresh cut grass, asparagus, black currant leaves, hay, all of this due to the presence of Methoxypyrazines.

Both SW France and the Loire Valley claim to be Sauvignon Blanc's birthplace. The styles however are very different in both appellations, and there is a third style coming from the New World. In Bordeaux and SW France, Sauvignon Blanc is usually blended with Semillon and Muscadelle which give roundness to this variety and it’s aged in oak, producing both dry and sweet samples (like in Sauternes). Here the climate is maritime with mild summers and winters and no extreme temperatures. The wines will be softer than those from the Loire, with a kiss/ touch of oak.
In the Loire Valley’s top appellations of Pouilly Fum
é and Sancerre, the climate is continental with cold winters and hot summers. Terroir is important here, where we find soils rich in silex, chalk and flint, that give the wines its typical mineral aromatics and traditional cat’s pee aroma. These wines are not aged in oak or blended like in Bordeaux. Loire's Sauvignon Blancs show refreshing acidity too.
The third style and for me the best, comes from Marlborough, New Zealand. The climate here is cool maritime, influenced by sea breezes, but there are Sauvignon Blanc plantings in other appellations in NZ, too.  New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is very new world, fruit forward, pure and less mineral. California, Chile and South Africa, have many plantings of Sauvignon Blanc, though it may be hotter there than in the Loire and Marlborough. Best samples will always come from cool to moderate climates, Sauvignon Blanc does not do well in warm weather, losing its acidity very fast.

Sauvignon Blanc buds late and ripens early,and will get all its aromatic compounds just before getting optimal ripeness (the right balance of sugar and acidity). Because of this, some producers prefer to harvest in different trips, a first trip to pick up grapes slightly unripe (keeping acidity), a second one to pick up grapes at optimal ripeness and lastly a third trip to pick up fruit with extra hang time (for extra aromatics), this way both elements are present in the final product.

Old World Sauvignon Blancs are made at a higher fermentation temperatures (16-18 ºC/ 60-64 F), which will result in wines that are more mineral with gun flint and chalky aromas. In the New World (New Zealand, Chile, South Africa), wines are made at lower temperature fermentation and with short skin contact that will guarantee a more fruitful aroma. Remember the warmer the climate, the more tropical the fruit will be and these will also have a bit more alcohol. Cold skin maceration is often used to secure fruit in the final product, batonnage and aging sur lie (with their yeasts) can give the wines extra depth and creaminess.

Bodywise, most Sauvignon Blancs are medium bodied, their alcohol will depend on climate,  it will be balanced in cool climates and higher in warmer appellations.  Aromas also vary according to climate: cool climates will give  green peppers, herbs, asparagus, kiwi, lime, grapefruit. In warmer climates, it can get tropical: peach, nectarine, pineapple and passion fruit.

Dry Sauvignon Blanc needs to be consumed young when all their freshness is in the bottle, though some good examples from Bordeaux and the Loire can age up to 10 years. New Zealand wines are best consumed young and up to 5 years. Sweet samples can age for much longer 20 or 30 years, and they will display honey, marzipan and apricot aromas.

In Bordeaux and CA, samples can be barrel fermented or aged in oak, just a touch of oak will give good results. 

By the way in CA, Sauvignon Blanc is known as Fumé Blanc, when you see this on a label know, that means you are dealing with a Sauvignon Blanc that has a touch of oak. This name came from Pouilly Fumé AOC in the Loire Valley, though the style in the Loire Valley as I explained earlier, has nothing to do with California Fumé Blanc... California producers like to confuse us!

Recommended Producers:
New Zealand: Cloudy Bay, Craggy Range, Kim Crawford, Greywacke, Matua, Babich, Nobilo,Greywacke, MT Beautiful, Dog Point, Nautilus, The Infamous Goose, Sunshine Bay.

California: Merry Edwards, Ferrari Carano, Robert Mondavi, Desparada, Quintessa, Gamble Family, Heitz, Mason.
Loire Valley: Henri Bourgeois, Didier Dagueneau, Pascal Jolivet, Domaine A Cailbourdin, Phillipe Girard, Cheteau de Tracy, Jean Marie Reverdy. Cheers! Silvina