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Under the category of ‘that’s why you can’t have nice things’, I offer you California Chardonnay.
I’m mostly kidding, of course.
But Chardonnay didn’t have a lousy reputation until nearly every winery in California started making it by allowing their grapes to get sweetly ripe and then slathering oak and vanilla flavoring all over the wine (sometimes, the wines were even aged in actual oak barrels!).
This heavy handed approach (which, quite frankly was and remains extremely popular) allowed the wine police (oh yeah, you know who you are!) to crack down and dismiss all Chardonnay as awful, disgusting, yucky and completely declassé! Well, they said, except for French Chardonnay, because it has no oak!
Of course, they were wrong (as usual…remember these are the same people that think California Cabernet is dry!) Depending upon from where the French Chardonnay is made, (Chablis; little or no oak, Maconnaise; maybe/maybe not, Beaune; yes, oak) you can find various degrees of fermentation and aging in oak barrel. The primary question is not ‘To oak or not to oak?”, but rather more technical questions like, ‘New barrel or used?’, ‘Large barrel or small?’, and ‘What’s the desired outcome?’. You see, in making Chardonnay, the French see the influence of oak more as seasoning than flavoring. And of course, no artificial flavorings are allowed.
So this brings us to Marcel Couturier’s beautiful and sublime Chardonnay from Pouilly-Loché. The wine spends one year in barrel before bottling, but only 20% of the barrels are new (newer barrels impart more flavor and histamines). But, more importantly, the grapes are of 70 year old vines, farmed organically, picked when just ripe and fermented slowly, allowing the seasons to hasten or slow the process. The result is (in this case, for sure) a rich and full wine that is both gentle and persistent, showing bold flavors of baked apple and toasted nuts atop nuances of wet stone and herbs with invigorating acidity and impeccable balance. Or, exactly as Chardonnay tastes when not ruined by California winemakers. Which is why you can’t have nice things.