Big, bold Chardonnays represent California’s gift to the wine world. Not even France can compete in terms of big, exotic and intense Chardonnay. California’s long warm growing season makes that style the likeliest to occur. And why fight it? People enjoy wines of this sort.
The long warm growing season stands as one element in producing this type of Chardonnay. Chardonnays with alcohol topping 14% stand as the norm in Cakifornia. Malo-lactic fermentation contributes another element in the drama. What makes malo-lactic fermentation important? It converts malic acid to lactic acid.
The term malic means pertaining to apples. Malic acid gives an appley aroma to wines, just as it does to apples. Malic acid may be something a winemaker would like to feature. In Riesling, that apple freshness (undistracted by oak) produces the signal charm of the best Riesling. The unoaked Chardonnays we see now are well-served by retention of malic acid.
Lactic acid, on the other hand, produces a milky aroma, hence its name. From lactic acid we get those lush buttery tones in Chardonnay. Malo-lactic fermentation occurs naturally but winemakers can induce it with certain bacteria with long names. Along with imparting that buttery element, malo-lactic fermentation softens the acidity. The result, a rounder, fuller mouth feel.
Chardonnays take particularly well to malo-lactic fermentation. Chardonnay’s rather neutral character gains depth and texture, especially in conjunction with the oak element. Winemakers usually forgo malo in red wines, where its effect seems more of an intrusion.Winemakers can put all lots of a wine through malo, or only portions, or none at all, depending on what they wish to accomplish.
Other elements to the full scale chardonnay include yeast selection and oak aging. Winemakers impart subtle nuances depending on which yeast varieties they use. They might use different yeasts for different lots. They might let wild yeasts work their magic, though in a controlled way. Winemakers have many tools at their discretion, including discretion.
Use of oak can vary greatly. A winemaker might ferment and age in barrel,which imparts flavors of oak and oxidation, or in neutral stainless steel. They can choose between new oak barrels, which impart strong oak flavor, or old oak barrels that produce less effect. They can choose between American or French barrels, each having its own distinctive flavor element. Different lots can be treated differently, then blended.
Here are some big, dramatic, satisfying Chardonnay to try.
- Patz and Hall
- Far Niente
Great for holiday meals, holiday gifts, and any sort of celebration.