What’s the deal with buttery Chardy?
Question from Caroline: I find Chardonnay incredibly frustrating. I love that creamy rich flavour that some Chardonnays have but often when I open a bottle I get fresh citrus fruits. How do I avoid this lucky dip?
In a nut shell – That buttery flavour comes from a special winemaking technique and not the Chardonnay grape itself which, on its own, is quite citrus driven and fresh. The oily texture and creamy flavour is created through a special kind of fermentation.
In a clam shell –With a buttery Chardonnay, after the wine is fermented (yeast is added to grape juice and as the yeast eats the sugar, alcohol is produced) the wine undergoes an additional fermentation called Malolactic Fermentation which is used to soften harsh acidic flavours (think Granny Smith apples, lemons and limes). A different kind of yeast from the initial fermentation feasts on the harsh malic acid in the wine and farts out lactic acid which is softer and more creamy. So if you’re a fan of a buttery Chardonnay (I am!) look for Chardonnays that have undergone Malolactic Fermentation or MLF (no not THAT MLF).
Now just to confuse things it’s not always going to be written on the bottle so you’ll need to ask your friendly bottle shop assistant for a Chardonnay with malo (that’s wine wanker talk and your assistant will be very impressed).
One more thing to throw in the mix. Don’t get malo confused with oak treatment or lees which can both create similar flavours.
If you hear the term lees it simple means the dead yeast cells that have been left behind after fermentation has finished (in other words, once the yeast have eaten all the sugar it dies and falls to the bottom). In a crisp wine those dead yeast cells are removed immediately but for a little extra creaminess and savoury nutty flavours those lees are stirred through the wine before they are removed.
Lastly, don’t mistake those buttery flavours with oak treatment which can create flavours of toast, vanilla and/or coconut. Many Chardonnays are either aged in oak barrels or have oak chips added to them while they mature in stainless steel tanks.
Some people love the taste malolatic fermentation or lees produces but hate oaked wines so be mindful of this and don’t shun Chardonnay just yet. Experiment with all three styles of Chardonnays and see which one you prefer. Failing a love of malo, lees or oak treatment you’ll probably like a simple Chardonnay which will be zesty like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.
Give Chardonnay a go! It’s so versatile and interesting!