Once, Years ago, while I was in a restaurant on the Mendocino coast on a work trip, I heard an Englishman asking the bartender if she had a white wine with a "taste of butter ".
I never forgot her, as she served her a California chardonnay that I knew well, one that was never notat all buttered. And he loved it.
I have learned two lessons from this incident: First, people are not always able to describe precisely what They like it or dislike it in a wine, and secondly, what they want isn't necessarily limited to what they think they want.
Here at Wine School we spent the last month drinking and considering the Chablis from the 2019 vintage. The idea was to compare the Chablis to other chardonnays that we have known and to think about the difference this vintage can make, especially for a wine that can be as distinctive as this one.
These are questions worthy of interest . But as so often happens at Wine School, the way many readers have responded to wines made me think about another problem.
Like Usually I have suggested three bottles to try byreaders and, if they wish, to give their opinion on the wines. As well as sharing a lot of love for Chablis, readers took the opportunity to express general disgust for Chardonnay, which happens to be the Chablis grape and one of the most planted white grape varieties in the world.
Most of the feedback focused on two reader problems associated with Chardonnay: oak and butter. Many readers have linked the buttery flavor they hated (or in one case loved) to using oak barrels. Additionally, many have hinted that this woody, buttery quality is a common characteristic of Chardonnay in general and California Chardonnay in particular.
I'll come back to this idea, but first, here are the three bottles I suggested: Samuel Billaud Chablis 2019, Gilbert Picq & Ses Fils Chablis En Vaudecorse 2019 and Patrick Piuze Chablis Terroir de Fye 2019. I have asked readers to think about how vintages can affect the character of a wine. This can be particularly telling with a wine like Chablis, which has at best a particular stony, chalky and seashell minerality that I consider the most distinctive expression of Chardonnay. I have seen many chardonnays described as "Chablis-type" elsewhere, but never found the characterization to be true.
This does not mean that Chablis is the best Chardonnay, only the most unique. The terroir of the region - the combination of soils, climate, altitude, inclination towards the sun and human input - produces this idiosyncratic wine. But the terroir is fragile, and the biggest variable outside of the human factor is the weather, especially given the continued effect of climate change.
The years 2017-19 were a case in point. The weather was relatively cool in 2017, with late frosts that reduced yields, but the wines were lively and full of Chablis character, which made me feel 'delighted. The following year was hot and dry, producing ripe and rich wines, often excellent but seeming less typical of Chablis. We talked more about the grape variety, the Chardonnay, than the place, the Chablis.
I speak here in general. One can always find exceptions. Part of Burgundy, Chablis uses a hierarchy in which each bottle is classified according to its potential for distinction and grandeur. At the base is Petite Chablis, followed by Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and, at the top, Chablis Grand Cru.
It will be interesting to see if the 2018, in particular the premiers crus and the grands crus, developgrow more Chablis character as they age.
The 2019 vintage was also hot and dry, but not quite as hot as 2018, and the harvest has been successful. 'is extended longer because the grapes did not ripen as quickly as in 2018.
The 2019 tasting was a good opportunity to see if the wines were more there like the 17s or the 18s, although I realize that for our purposes a direct comparison between the 18s and 19s would have been even more revealing. Some readers already knew the differences.
"I think that with global warming, the vintage differences in Chablis can become more dramatic ", a declared Boston Larry , pointing around 2018 and '19 as well as 2014 and '15 as good examples.
I loved these three 2019s. The Picq seemed to me to be a school village Chablis, greenish gold in color, tense, energetic and salty, with flavors of apples, pears and herbs.
The Le Piuze was fresh and textured, less incisive than the Picq but more dimensional and exuberant, with flavors more floral and lemony than mineral. In contrast, the Billaud seemed calmer, smoother, slightly mineral, slightly saline, deeply Chablisian but without the adolescent energy of the other two.
One of My favorite thing about wine is how three bottles like these, all from the same vintage and roughly in the same location, can be both so similar and yet so different. They reflect the power of the Chablis terroir in general, but also the subtle variations between the different plots, and the different methods andpersonalities from their producers.
Readers also found a lot to like in the 2019s.
"Relatively new to Chablis, but I like the crunchy mineral taste of wine," said Fred from Northwest Indiana . "I assumed this was from stainless steel storage versus o ak.
He would be right on one point. Each of these three village wines has been fermented and aged in stainless steel vats. But the container does very little to impart the flavor he cited. I would rather say that these mineral qualities are largely the product of the Chablis terroir and the education of the winegrower.
In other words, a good Chablis has the potential for many years to produce these flavors, although theycan be erased by poor farming and winemaking, or by unusual weather. The 2018 vintage is an example in which many wines did not have this distinctive Chablis character.
However, Fred would be wrong to paint oak barrels like the bad guy here. It is important to distinguish between older oak barrels, which are often used to improve texture and aging, and those used as flavoring agents, in which new oak can impart woody, vanilla, chocolate flavors. , toasted as well as oak tannins.
New oak barrels are quite rare in Chablis these days, although they may have had a brief vogue 25 years ago. But many producers use older oak barrels for their wines, mainly for the more ambitious premiers and grands crus, but sometimesfor village wines like these. For the most part, it is difficult to discern a flavor.
Many readers, while defending Chablis, have denounced chardonnay in general. They described it as butter , or by tasting like caramel or even buttered popcorn . Many have criticized the oak for producing these flavors and have centered the problem in California.
I want to emphasize three points: first, the flamboyant California chardonnays , buttered and woody became popular in the '80s and' 90s, popular enough for growers around the world to emulate the style.
But over the past 10 or 15 years, fashion has declined. This style continues to have its fans, like Second, as i suggested oak isnt the bad guy, although sometimes the way winemakers use oak barrels (or oak additions like chips, staves or dust) to flavor the wines could be harmful. These days I find that many more wines are improved by judicious use of oak barrels rather than damaged by overdoing it.
It is interesting that oak is the most popular wood. for barrels today, until 50 years ago, many wine regions simply used the wood that prevailed in their regions, such as the redwood in California or the acacia and chestnut in parts of Europe. Around the fringes, today I see a few winemakers returning to these traditional woods, albeit in California , most redwoods are now protected and will not appear in new wine vats.
Finally, the influence of oak has gradually see with the perception of a buttery flavor. This quality, properly known as diacetyl, is a by-product of malolactic fermentation , in which bacteria transform the'Sharp malic acid in addition to milder lactic acid, which is found in dairy products such as butter, milk and cheese.
When malolactic is properly handled, the buttery feeling is not noticeable. In fact, it used to be seen as a flaw until American critics in the 1980s and thereafter the public began to embrace it.
Here is the result, and you can extend it from chardonnay to just about any type of wine: don't blame the grape or the container, they are almost never at fault. Most wine-related problems can be attributed to the producer, whether in the vineyard or in winemaking.
I learned this the hard way. Actually, I'm still learning it.
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