How to Buy It, How to Drink It, and How to Get the Most Enjoyment Out of a Bottle—a Preview of Dara’s New Book, Drink This
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While wine grapes are a special kind of fruit, Chardonnay is an especially special wine because it shows the winemaking that goes into making it more clearly than any other style of wine. Over the past few thousand years the various French monks, farmers, and tinkerers to whom we owe most of wine culture developed a couple major techniques of manipulating plain old grape juice to make it more special. Three of the biggest techniques are: Malolactic fermentation, aging in oak barrels, and “sitting on the lees.”
➥ Malolactic fermentation.
More common in Chardonnay than other wines, malolactic fermentation is a way of converting grape juice’s tart fruit acids to softer acids like those found in milk, giving it a buttery taste. It’s something that naturally happens to some batches of wine, but can be induced by adding the right yeasts, or prevented, depending on the winemaker’s choice.
Aging in oak barrels is a way of preserving wine, using oak’s natural tannins—tannin being a naturally occurring compound found in both wine grapes and oak. In addition to making wine more “ageable,” oak adds flavors of vanilla and toast that some people swoon over.
➥ “Sitting on the lees.”
Refers to resting fermented grape juice that still has some grape solids in it upon the dead yeast cells that remained after fermentation. This increases a wine’s aromatic profile and deepens its flavor components in the same way that simmering a soup stock for a long time extracts more flavor from the ingredients.
A structured tasting of five Chardonnays will reveal which of these factors—which soil, which climate, which winemakers’ techniques—create the Chardonnay that most appeals to your own personal taste.
A wine professional may stick her nose in a glass and exclaim, “This wine is bursting with grass, lemon peel, apricots, and fresh-cut apples!” You may stick your nose in a glass and say, “This smells like wine!” The fastest way to get over feeling intimidated by wine-speak is to put a few of the key aroma components of the wine in question in an actual wineglass. That way you can smell an actual wineglass with a dab of vanilla in it and think: vanilla! And then smell your wines and think: vanilla, just like this, or, no vanilla!
To get the most out of your Chardonnay tasting, put some of the following objects in wineglasses:
➥ Fresh lemon segments
➥ Slices of red and green apples
➥ Slices of pears
➥ Honeydew melon
➥ Toasted bread
➥ A vanilla bean or the tiniest drop of vanilla concentrate
➥ Minerals, in the form of a few very clean wet rocks from your yard
(feel free to use jam!)
➥ Pound cake
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is a senior editor at Minnesota Monthly.
Drink This: Wine Made Simple is available everywhere. Check the Dear Dara blog at MNMO.com for Dara’s latest appearances.