Chardonnay is the red of whites. Its colour may suggest it’s white, however the way it is treated is often as a red. Chardonnay is often oaked unlike most whites, and much like most reds. However there is an increasing trend to leave chardonnay un-oaked. Amongst the chardonnays that I have tried, which is a fairly modest amount, the un-oaked variety is often more appealing. Oaked chardonnays tend to be put through a secondary fermentation, changing the characteristics from what one might describe as inherently white tasting to more red in nature.
Oaked chardonnay might be subjected to malolactic fermentation: the runner up in the fermentation beauty pageant. All wine must be fermented, without fermentation wine is just grape juice. Lucky for us humans, and as a quick youtube search will reveal animals (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSm7BcQHWXk), yeast has the enjoyable habit of hanging out with grapes and other fruits. Yeast is the awesome single celled organism responsible for bread rising, CO2 production (as such we are free to blame yeast for global warming), and the creation of alcohol. When yeast finds sugar it goes on a feeding and breeding frenzy. First it breeds then it feeds. The breeding process mostly just involves yeast replicating itself until the medium (grape juice) is saturated and cannot support anymore yeast. Upon saturation yeast eats and, to put it bluntly, poops out alcohol and CO2. Yeast converts sugar into CO2 and alcohol. This form of fermentation is by far the most important; it’s what allows us to enjoy wine.
The second most important type of fermentation is malolactic. While there is still CO2 being produced during malolactic fermentation there is no alcohol production. During malolactic fermentation malic acid is converted to lactic acid and CO2. This is a lot less of an exciting fermentation but an important one nonetheless. Chardonnay and some red wine benefit from this conversion. You may have noticed that chardonnay is often significantly less mouth puckering than some other whites, such a pinot grigio (pinot gris in France), sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc etc… this is because malic acid is significantly more tart than lactic acid. If you ever want to experience the difference between malic and lactic acid try comparing a sour key (almost malic acid) to sour milk (lactic acid). While both may be sour the sour key is substantially sourer. And sour key’s don’t even come close to the sourness of eating pure malic acid, I know from first hand experience; I have a chemical burn on my tongue to prove it. (The chemical burn is temporary but it’s still not worth eating malic acid to find out)
The wonders of malolactic fermentation don’t stop at converting one acid to another it also adds a buttery component. During the course of malolactic fermentation diacetyl is produced. Diacetyl has the peculiar characteristic of tasting and smelling like cooked butter or butterscotch. This too lends itself to the smooth texture and flavour of chardonnay. Next time you smell a wine and think of butter or taste a wine and think of a nice Sunday breakfast (which for some reason only includes buttered toast) you will know, or at least have a sneaking suspicion that that wine has gone through the second most popular fermentation process.
Wine: Penfolds Koonunga Hill Chardonnay
Region: South Australia
Aroma: Pineapple, honey, yoghurt, oak
Taste: Green tea, butterscotch, pear, vanilla
Notes: Nice body, fairly rich but subtle at the same time. The acidity is fairly low and mellow a wine that should not be drank right out of the fridge, probably want it around 15 degrees celsius.
Final Verdict: This wine kind of grew on me as it warmed up. At first I had it too cold and couldn't taste it well enough. I can't really decided what to give this wine, I'll have to give it a B/B+ it gets the same mark for its price range.