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How to drink Chardonnay August 6, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Wine And Spirits.

One of the world’s favourite grapes, and wines, is even produced with some success in Cyprus.

Chardonnay is the darling of almost every region where wine is produced and can result in everything from a long-lived wine of great complexity to a simple, everyday white, according to how and where it is grown and vinified. It can be light and steely or fat and powerful, minerally and austere or pineappley and exotically tropical. The foods its various styles go with are correspondingly varied – from fish and poultry to cheeses, spicy foods and nut sauces – but at the same time it is harder to go wrong with Chardonnay than with many other varieties.

Mismatches seldom turn out to be truly nasty clashes, simply because the flavours of Chardonnay are not that confrontational. Oily fish like mackerel and sardines are to be avoided and mushrooms treated with caution, but other than those its chief disadvantages for food are its tendency, in the New World, to low acid and very powerful fruit and (added) oak flavours – but the fruitiness can at least be harnessed to Far Eastern spices and bold Mediterranean flavours.

The reason for the extraordinary versatility of the Chardonnay grape is that it has little personality of its own. Instead, like a ventriloquist’s dummy, it expresses the will of the winemaker and the fashion of the day. Only Chablis, in the north of Burgundy, produces a style of Chardonnay that, so far, can be made nowhere else, and that may be attributable to the distinctive Kimmeridgian soil found there. In other places the climate seems to be a more important determining factor, with cool climates producing light, leaner, appley wines unsuited to ageing in new oak barrels. The warmer the climate, the more the wine fills out, until in Australia’s very warm Hunter Valley it becomes fat and packed with butterscotch flavours.

The weighty wines are ideally suited to new oak ageing, which imparts vanilla and toast flavours well matched to Chardonnay’s buttery character. In fact, if you want to taste Chardonnay without oak your choice is limited. Unoaked Chablis is one option, the Chardonnay of Italy’s Alto Adige another. Or Cyprus for that matter.

Traditional Chablis is the epitome of concentrated steely, minerally, unoaked Chardonnay, of a style found nowhere else. Some is now being aged in new oak, which makes for rounder, less uncompromising wine, but the unoaked style is the classic type for fish and shellfish. Choose young Chablis for lighter flavours like oysters, and for salmon, turbot and sole a more mature premier or grand cru. The latter will also have enough weight for quite rich fish and fatty cheeses such as Chaource.

South African Chardonnay though is another style in rapid evolution, especially since better clones of chardonnay only became available in South Africa in the late 80s. There is still a tendency to over use oak, but the general direction is to a point midway between European subtlety and the more ebullient fruit of California or Australia. So far, they are wine for drinking fairly young rather than lying down, and with a good cross section of dishes from mild kormas to roast guinea fowl or even lobster.

Wines of the week

2004 Aes Ambelis Chardonnay Aes Ambelis Winery, Alcohol Volume 13%

The nearest winery to Nicosia on the road to Palaichori. Savvas Fakoukakis and George Tripatsas justify the title of dynamic duo yet again with this Chardonnay, which is a clear, greenish gold. Musky melon and intense peach and mango aromas with a herbaceous note that are pleasantly evocative of fresh green beans. Crisp and dry flavour follows the nose, with clean grapefruit notes consistent in a long finish. Excellent summer wine served at 9-11 degr C with grilled salmon, shellfish as well as poultry or pasta served with a creamy sauce.

2005 Kamanterena Chardonnay, SODAP, Pafos Regional Winery, Alcohol Volume 13%

SODAP’s regional winery at Stroumbi is beginning to produce surprises. After a successful Xynisteri, the Chardonnay – the one I predicted while tasting back in January at the winery. Yellowish with green tones, this Chardonnay has a clean and fresh flavour, it is crisp and aromatic. Sweeter fruit on the nose than Aes Ambelis with pineapple and mango the predominant fruit and with a touch of fresh cooking apples. Crisp and tart flavour, young medium body, with apples and fresh fruit acidity, consistent in a long good finish. Served at 9-11 degr C with tomato-based salads, seafood and especially fried fish or white meat in light tomato sauce.

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