About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Monday, December 12, 2005
Chardonnay Blues
More testing for me. A different researcher this time but the same strange tests. Either someone out there has some pretty serious issues or is waking up every day and having a laugh to themselves. One of the tests involved jigsaws ~ not the traditional kind, more free form. When we got to the last one the researcher told me that she had seen only two people solve it. Off I went and after a little time I got it together!

Told the Wife.

"Guess what? I solved the butterfly."

"So did I."

"How long?"

"Straight away."

I've married well.

Had some friends over for dinner. D. is the store manager for a large wine retailer and always brings something interesting to drink. We were having fish pie, the English version, with three kinds of fish, mussels, shrimps and mushrooms, bound together with a sauce made from the court bouillon used to poach the fish along with the mussel liquor, all topped with mashed potato and baked. D. selected a Chassagne Montrachet from France to drink with the meal. For those that don't know, this wine is from the famous Burgundy region where only three grape varieties are permitted under classification ~ pinot noir, chardonnay and alligote.

This wine was a chardonnay from the 2000 vintage. It was still undeveloped but had great length with mineral undertones and as all good wines do, it started me thinking ~ about Australian chardonnays.

In Australia, for the most part, we have no trouble getting grapes ripe. Our alcohol percentages are always higher than in France, an indicator of grape ripeness as grape sugar converts to alcohol. In winemaking there is a balancing act between ripeness and retaining enough acid to allow the wine not only to live longer but to give it a backbone. Picked too early, the resulting wine will be acidic, too late and the wine is sweet and lacking charm.

In making chardonnay, most, but not all Australian winemakers have made a deal with the devil. In order to hurry up the evolution of the wine and increase their sales, they indulge in malolactic fermentation. This legal skullduggery softens the acid in the wine, making it approachable at an earlier age but at a cost to the wine; its soul has been sold. Most aussie chardonnays reach their peak between one and five years after vintage; it is rare to see a good one after ten years, they mostly just fall apart. Excessive malolactic fermentation also confers a sameness to our chardonnays, all butterscotch and nutty characters, which leads to the subtler characters of the wine being lost.

In France it's illegal to add acid to a wine, but not sugar; Australia has the exact reverse. While we are struggling to retain good acid levels in grapes before they are ripe, why do we then set out to soften the very thing that will keep the wine fresh and youthful; why then do we constantly need to add the acid back in?

The Chassagne Montrachet we were drinking was five years old and still had tremendous development in front of it, possibly another twenty years. In this modern world it can be hard to be patient, but I know which wine I would rather be drinking. Don't get me wrong, I drink more aussie wines than any other, but a good wine is a good wine and I think the French, in this case, have got it right.
  posted at 8:47 am


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