If you’re a regular reader you know that much of my early wine education consisted of being exposed to bulk Chardonnays, Pinot Grigios and Merlots from all-to-well-known mass-producers in large bottles. Sad, I know. Far too much oak or far too little fruit were basically ruining any understanding or real appreciation for wine as I knew it. Proms, weddings and the purchasing habits of family members did not improve this situation. I suppose the price and extra volume had an influence there, though I think that philosophy is best reserved for ramen and toilet paper.
Fast-forward to the present and those days are thankfully behind me. Wine now permeates my soul to the point where like most of you, I collect it, spend ridiculous amounts of money on it, write about it, read about it and always find an excuse to drink it. Down the road, I hope to make it.
Chardonnay is the one that took me longest to come to fully appreciate again. The excessive use of oak in those bulk-made wines completely overpowered any characteristics of the grape itself, and ageing would help these wines little. In most cases these wines are fermented in tanks with cheap oak chips or in better examples new American oak which I feel is better suited to Rioja than Chardonnay.
In my re-acquaintance it helped to start with steel-fermented and lightly oaked ones and go from there. But my new appreciation for the grape has also come through formal education. Knowing now how versatile this variety is and how vinification factors can affect it, as well as how to best pair it with food makes a world of difference. And tonight I am pairing a Meursault I got in that crazy 3-day flash sale at Last Bottle with some Belgian-beer-braised chicken and onions.
Meursault, if you don’t know, is a commune in the Côte de Beaune sub-region of Burgundy with many Premier cru and lieu-dit quality wines. Wine production here dates back as far as the middle ages. While there are no Grand Cru (this is the highest level in Burgundy), the top wines here can easily compete with the Grand Cru in neighboring Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet. The finest examples can fetch over a thousand dollars a bottle. Fortunately I got this at a very good price, at $22 for a half-bottle, not being a top producer yet still 90 points. While there is red Burgundy made here, including one Premier Cru (Appellation Volnay-Santenots Premier Cru), 95% or more of the production is white. And while Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are technically allowed in both the red and white Burgundy here, it is almost always 100% Chardonnay in a white Burgundy. Meursault Chardonnays are known to have a clear oak influence, often described as buttery or creamy. Tonight’s Meursault is Buisson-Charles Meursault Vielles Vignes 2009, the ‘vielles vignes’ meaning ‘old-vines’.
Lemon-gold in appearance, the wine is my dream Chardonnay, perfectly somewhere between too much and too little of a good thing. Expected creamy, nutty and buttery notes on the nose and palate yet still dry and with balanced crisp minerality and hints of citrus. Medium in body and finish. As Goldilocks might say, just right. The oak was there, but not offensively in any way.
Burghound echoes these sentiments quite closely: “A ripe yet airy, cool and citrusy nose that also features aromas of pear and hazelnut gives way to rich, concentrated and velvet-textured medium-bodied flavors that possess an opulent but not heavy mouth feel, all wrapped in a vibrant, dry and impressively persistent finish.”
What a wine, and what a match. The chicken dish was an outstanding pairing. It makes me sad to think of all the old me’s out there drinking products that do little to show how expressive and palatable this grape can be. I only wish the wine didn’t go so fast. Or the chicken.