After reading Stephanie’s article last week, I wanted to go a little deeper, specifically focusing on Chardonnay. Chardonnay is a blank slate when it comes to winemaking techniques and shows a great range in styles. We are going to do a deep dive on 2 of the most popular regions for chardonnay: Russian River and Chablis. We will look at climate and winemaking techniques that are widely used in both regions.
Acidity and alcohol
Acidity is great in wine, since it makes your mouth water. You can gauge this by swallowing the wine and wait to see how fast the saliva returns. Alcohol is the vehicle for all you smell in the glass. You can gauge the level by the speed and intensity of the warming effect going down to your stomach. The faster and more intense, the higher the alcohol.
In France, Chablis lays on the northern limits for wine growing. It is closer to Champagne than it is to the rest of Burgundy. Here, the grapes barely get ripe enough to make wine. Due to the northerly latitude, the average annual high temperature is 60 degrees! This will show in the wine with underripe fruit and racing acidity. The large amounts of limestone soil in the area comes through in the wine with a chalky mineral backbone. Oak aging is rarely used except for Grand Cru bottlings. Malolactic Fermentation (MLF), the conversion of sharp malic acid (green apple skin) to soft, round lactic acid is seldom used as well.
Russian River Valley
In California, Russian River is in the heart of Sonoma County. This is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay country. With summertime highs in excess of 90 degrees! This helps grapes get ripe and juicy. Here, oak aging is common along with malolactic fermentation (MLF). These wines are ripe and rich. The acidity still runs straight through the wine on the palate, but the added richness from oak and MLF softens the wine and rounds it out.
Do try this at home!
Pick up a bottle each of Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay and Louis Jadot Chablis. Pop them open side by side and taste back and forth. Take some notes and compare the two! Tell me what you find in the comments! More homework to come!
Adam Arlen: “I am passionate about wine because it is history in a bottle.” He is the sommelier for The Peninsula Club in Cornelius, NC. Originally from Allentown, PA, he believes you should always branch out and find new things. His goal is to never stop learning and continuing to grow both personally and professionally. A fun fact about him: “I was a nuclear engineer on a submarine in a previous life.”
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