A few years back during a lovely dinner party, someone pulled out a bottle of La Crema Chardonnay. And I remember it distinctly – mostly because white wines do not usually make a memorable impression on me. Sure, I like white wines and drink them regularly. But for whatever reason, reds typically leave me wanting more than white wines do. However, I remember so clearly sitting around the dinner table with many good friends, and taking a sip of this Chardonnay and thinking, “wow – this is lovely.” Since then, I have enjoyed La Crema on multiple Chardonnay occasions… but it’s time to Wine Know a little more about it….
Divine Wine of the Week: La Crema Chardonnay, La Crema Winery, Sonoma Coast, CA
What I like the most about La Crema Chardonnay is while it has some soft fruit or flowery flavors, its buttery and smooth finish is what makes it interesting. I think it would go well salmon or any fish, but also with a steak. I would not necessarily just sip this one without food – it seems like it would be best with a little something to bring out its flavor.
Chardonnay grapes are originally from the Burgundy region of France and is now one of the most widely planted white wine grapes in the world – it seems it is essentially planted everywhere that grapes are grown. It makes up approximately 40% of the white grape vines planted in California and is the second most widely planted white grape in France. Chardonnay grapes are often used in making Champagne – often combined with Pinot Noir grapes. In the Chablis region of France, Chardonnay grapes are the only grapes permitted in making white wines within the European Union “wine laws” (I put that in quotes because I believe there is a more proper name for said laws). So basically, if you say, “I’ll take a glass of Chablis!”, you’re really saying, “I’ll take a glass of Chardonnay from Chablis in France!”
The grape is generally easy to grow and is highly resistant to vine diseases. It is not especially flavorful in and of itself, which means that a winemaker has a lot of control in a wine’s taste via the winemaking process (see next section). And in general, as a wine, Chardonnay is extremely popular, making it a relatively easy sell for winemakers. “A typical Chardonnay winemaker is more chemist than vitner.” (The Wine Avenger) That might be a harsh assessment, but when you read below, you may feel the same!
Two things primarily affect the flavor of Chardonnay grapes when turning them into wine.
(1) Malolactic Fermentation (yes – there will eventually be a wine word guide on Wino to Wine Know – this Wino can’t keep up!). According to my good friend, Wikipedia, “Malolactic fermentation (or sometimes malolactic conversion or MLF) is a process in winemaking where tart-tasting malic acid, naturally present in grape must, is converted to softer-tasting lactic acid.” So, now that we know that, we know that the wines that go through that fermentation process have a more buttery taste, and those that do not go through the fermentation process have a crisper appley taste. My guess is that the La Crema Chardonnay does indeed have some MLF happening (look at me already abbreviating my new favorite winemaking verbiage!).
(2) Barrel Choice: There are generally three types of barrels used in wine making – stainless steel, used oak, or new oak. (The Wine Avenger). Chardonnay is typically made in oak, and the flavor of the wine is highly dependent on how much that oak barrel was charred. With a highly charred barrel, the wine will be rather “toasty”. Other flavors tasted when drinking a glass of Chardonnay that come from the oak of the barrel include caramel, cream, smoke, spice, coconut, cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla. (“New World Chardonnay”, The Wine Spectator)
So what we’ve learned so far is that Chardonnay grapes are grown all over the world, and the taste of a Chardonnay wine is really more dependent on both the maloactic fermentation process and its barrel rather than the grape itself. I find this very interesting and feel that if I ever venture to make my own little barrel of wine, that perhaps I should start with Chardonnay!
What does La Crema Winery say about its Chardonnay? “The 2009 vintage of Sonoma Coast Chardonnay opens with an intriguing interplay of lively citrus and subtle toasted oak, laced with just a kiss of butterscotch. The palate is round and nutty, with flavors of yellow apple and orange adding lushness, while well-balanced acidity creates a lovely vibrancy. Hints of vanilla and caramel add richness and texture to a long, fresh finish.” (La Cream Winery)
Woot! I feel like my Wino assessment was pretty close to the winemaker’s assessment! (Again, I write the Wino Assessment prior to my Wino research). Of course, the winemaker has a much better and expansive selection of words, but I think “buttery” is close to “butterscotch” when speaking about wine flavors, and “soft fruit” is similar enough to “flavors of yellow apple and orange adding lushness.”. Am I stretching too much??
As previously stated, Chardonnay is one of the most widely planted white wine grapes in the world. In the North America, it immensely popular in California, but is also grown in New York, Washington State, and Oregon. Canada also grows Chardonnay (Canadian wine?? Hmm… I smell a future blog post.) In Europe it is most popular in France. And in other regions of the world it can be found in Australia, New Zealand, and South America. Basically, if you’re seeking out some Chardonnay vines, just go to any wine country region of the world and you’re likely to find it.
So La Crema, in this Wino’s book, is indeed a Divine Wine! Give it a try and let me know what you think!
[Source for all this fine Wine Knowing in this post unless otherwise stated: The Oxford Companion to Wine]