Chardonnay. One of the noblest of varietals, and also much maligned. The red wine only masses look physically pained at the mere mention of the grape, and even the white wine lovers spent years mimicking the cute little “ABC” phrase, meaning “anything but chardonnay.
I’ve spent the last two years pouring twice weekly tastings at a local wine market, and I wish I had a dime for every time someone told me they didn’t like Chardonnay, or made a face at the Chardonnay, and then told me “that one wasn’t bad.” Wine trends among the general public would make an excellent subject for a thesis or dissertation wouldn’t it?
I will confess that I too was once a red only drinker, and it was a Bordeaux Blanc that brought me over to the light side, so I spent a few years trying a lot of white varietals, but never gave serious attention to Chardonnay. That is until I had the first one that I absolutely swooned over. It was a Tuscan Chardonnay, and it caused me to reach out to the producer about importing it. I even became fully licensed to do it. It didn’t work out, but that’s another story.
I am currently a completely equal opportunity drinker, depending on my mood, the meal, and the weather. In 2019 I had what I refer to as my summer of Chardonnay, and it continues to beguile me – growing in nearly every wine growing region, it can taste so incredibly different. It’s possible that I am so enamored with it because I came to it so late on my wine journey – when my palate had some development and my knowledge was far greater than at any other point in my wine drinking life.
Recently, after finishing a bottle of Chablis, my husband and I decided to break out another bottle, and in a pure wine geek curiosity moment, I decided to open a Chardonnay from the Dahlonega Plateau AVA – grown right here in beautiful north Georgia. I couldn’t resist the chance to compare the Old World/New World, warm climate/cool climate wines. In a blind tasting I think I would have guessed two different grapes here – they were that different.
Let’s compare these two wines – both beautiful in their own right – and honestly it is not a fair comparison. If you have a strong preference for one style over the other, you will likely not have much love for one, but it is a great opportunity to compare the difference climate can make.
Domaine Moreau-Naudet & Fils|Chablis|Montee de Tonnerre|2018|13.5% ABV
Chablis is part of the Burgundy wine region, however, it is not attached to the rest of the region physically. It is actually closer to the Champagne region than it is to the Cote d’Or. The wines are 100% Chardonnay.
Chablis is known for it’s unique soil – Kimmeridgean Clay, which is not clay at all, but a mixture of limestone, and fossilized seashells. A cool climate, with average rainfall of around 33 inches per year.
Chablis is widely thought to use only stainless steel in fermentation and aging, but 1/3 of this wine was aged in one-year old oak barrels, with the other 2/3 in stainless steel for 2 years prior to bottling. Extended lees aging give the wine a complexity and richness. The grapes came from a single 4 acre lot, from 45 year old vines. In terms of quality for the Chablis, Premier Cru is considered to the best bet in terms of availability and pricing. It is second only to Grand Cru which is harder to come by and the price usually reflects that.
This wine is powerful, yet elegant. Fruit, minerality, salinity, acidity – its all there. The acidity makes this wine feel lean and electric, but it is complex and rich due to extended lees aging, with notes citrus, stone fruit, wet rocks.
The Cottage Vineyard & Winery|Agape Estate Reserve Chardonnay|2019|13.4% ABV
Located in Cleveland, Georgia, The Cottage sits on 29 acres where Chardonnay, Viognier, Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Meunier and Muscat grow. The North Georgia wine industry is not well known to those that don’t live within driving distance, but it continues to gain recognition for quality wine and will hopefully one day be as well known and respected as New York or Virginia. I can only hope anyway.
The Dahlonega Plateau AVA is located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and is made of gentle rolling hilltops, with vineyards averaging about 1,500 feet. The growing season is hot and humid but that is somewhat mitigated by the elevation. Annual rainfall averages around 60″ – that is not a typo! Like many other wine growing regions, it all works because the mountains provide microclimates that are ideal for grape growing.
A warmer region is often equated to a higher ABV, but we are a at a lovely 13.4% here. If that is due to residual sugar in this wine, the acidity offsets it and gives the impression of being completely dry. Cottage is very small production, and I could not confirm the technical data, but if if becomes available I will update.
On this wine, I noted tropical fruit, lime pith, minerality, hazelnut, and cheese rind. The acidity was excellent, but in comparison was less than the Chablis. The mouthfeel was slightly weightier, but the extended lees aging on the Chablis made these two much closer in that regard than I had expected.
This was a fun experiment for me to help develop my palate and maybe helped me to identify wines based on warm versus cool climate regions. The hazelnut and cheese rind on the Georgia wine really surprised me! As I stated above, it really isn’t fair to the wines in their own right, but because I study wine and never tire of the subject it is the sort of thing that intrigues me.
You likely cannot get this Cottage Chardonnay unless you happen to be in the area. The Chablis is available at various places online, but if you are in the Atlanta area you can find it at Perrine’s Wine Shop in midtown. You don’t need these specific wines to conduct this kind of experiment though, you could choose any two same varietal wines from two climatically different regions. If you do it, I’d love to hear about it!