Bare with me, I seem to be going through an Elgin infatuation as we … speak? It probably won’t pass, however I’ll most certainly move to another obsession next week that will keep me preoccupied for a little while. In this instance, I’ve been fortunate enough to taste a couple of their stunning Chardonnays over the last few weeks, and decided to stick my “aches-ridden” neck out for it as a variety (dramatic huh?).
Yes the severe Chardonnay bashing in protest of those heavily wooded over ripe wines was long overdue and consumers needed to send out a strong, solidified message; but the ever adapting and evolving wine makers (they hold a reverend place in my heart) have mostly listened and hit back with some jaw dropping muscle! Fair enough, you can affirm that you aren’t a fan of plank in a glass: but to write-off an entire variety because you think they only come in 2 x 4 sizes, is a lot ignorant, is it not?
Take a mere 3 examples from said hallowed ground whose cool climate is perfect for Chardonnay:
Half of this wine gets fermented in stainless steel tanks and inoculated with “store”-bought yeast. The other half is placed in French oak barrels (I suspect older barrels) and let to naturally ferment over 9 months. It further undergoes malolactic fermentation where the Malic acid (think green Granny Smith apples) is converted into Lactic acid (think milk, cream and butter) that turns down the acidity and offers that fatness.
The results are impressive. I picked up that ground nut character I associate with natural ferment, creamy vanilla and lemons on the nose. The palate had sweet apples, stone fruits and refreshing tangerine. Slight toasty, but definite balance.
The grapes are actually sourced from Paul Cluver Wines. They too undergo both tank (about 60 % of them) and barrel fermentation. Old barrels are used that range from 900 to 300 litres in size; with the larger vessels having more subtle oak influence. The intention behind the mix is to keep the freshness and fruit from the tank component and add rounded more complex flavours from the barrel. None of this wine underwent malolactic fermentation.
I first picked up almonds and toast with a lemon peel character. Following through was tangerine, savoury salt and cold ham (which in my head together screams bacon!). There was great intensity matched with crisp acidity that lingered convincingly.
Sourced from 11-year-old vines, this wine is made completely naturally: meaning absolutely nothing was added to it; that is no yeast, nutrients or enzymes, with no filtering or fining (Find explanation of fining here) before bottling. A third of the grapes were fermented while still attached to the stems in a process known as whole bunch fermentation for 8 days. In this practice, the stems contribute tannins to the wines and promote oxygenation of the must (mixture of grape juice, skins, stems, seeds and pulp). The remaining grapes were pressed while still attached to the stems (known as whole bunch pressing… no surprise there), where the stems aid in the flow of the juice. Both components were then naturally fermented and aged in 500 litre barrels that had been used four times before (4th fill) for 10 months.
The nose was, for lack of a better word, “interesting”. Struggling to comprehend natural wines, I lacked the vocabulary to describe it other than being “savoury”. On the palate though, it truly came alive! I picked up lemon meringue that gave way to remarkable pure citrus and fleshy fruits. As if this wasn’t enough, the wine was mineral, rounded on the mid palate and astonishingly refreshing. The flavour integration was sheer elegance.
I concede, a sample of 3 is in no way a representation of a whole. However if just one location can produce outstanding and diverse expressions like these, what can an entire country come up with?