White Burgundy still ranks among the wine world’s most famous grape varieties, and the benchmark styles from its namesake terroir remain a gold standard. We’re of course referencing Chardonnay. It’s also done very well in California, where climate and drinking taste converged in the 1980s, providing a significant cornerstone upon which a young wine industry was initially built-up, then broadly diversified. The widespread popularity of particular wine styles is subject to cycles. A rapid rise for Chardonnay as a staple table wine in North America was followed by a degree of consumer fatigue–clearly expressed in an unfortunate acronym: ABC (‘anything but Chardonnay’). Within the broad range of finishing styles that includes both sparkling and still wines, the world’s most planted white wine grape is enduring and defying the fickleness of fashion.
Finished Chardonnay is a definitive winemaker’s wine in that the characteristics commonly associated with it: highly aromatic, a buttery mouthfeel, tropical or stone fruit flavours, notes of vanilla, etc. are all methodically coaxed results from a relatively neutral grape. From time to time, the experimentation has translated into an individual characteristic overshadowing others. As Chardonnay is one rare example of a white wine being suitable for barrel ageing, overly-oaked versions of less-select grape harvests contributed to the decline in reputation and desirability for discerning drinkers. With the development of the grape in cooler climate vineyards, fresh and vibrant expressions of Chardonnay are more common again, and arguably, more faithful to the originating style from Burgundy. This week’s recommended bottling is a balanced reinterpretation, though hailing from vineyards in Chile–highly deserving of a revisit and re-appreciation.
Established in 1875 by Luis Pereira, the +140-year history of Viña Santa Carolina now makes it one of Chile’s oldest commercial bodegas. For their Gran Reserva line, the vintner draws fruit from the valley terroirs best suited to a particular grape variety. In the case of this Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2016, it’s the relatively younger Chilean wine region of the northern Valle del Limari: 400 km north of Santiago and 20 km inland from the Pacific Ocean. Also framed by the arid Atacama Desert and the Andes Mountains, the mineral-rich soil and dry conditions of Limari combine to promote the development of robust vine stock, yielding highly characterful grapes and wine. Though you’ll find many of Santa Carolina’s offerings on the regular LCBO shelves, this feature is a time-limited release in the Vintages section. Christmas hosting is just around the corner, so buy at least three while you can.
SANTA CAROLINA GRAN RESERVA CHARDONNAY 2016
VINTAGES/LCBO — Product #928580 | 750 mL bottle
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD
Made in Limari Valley, Chile
By: Vina Santa Carolina
Release Date: November 24, 2018
This bright straw-yellow, barrel-aged wine with significant alcohol content, playfully combines aromas of lemon balm and apple along with subtle toast and vanilla accents. If serving as an apéritif, try with smoked salmon and Gruyère cheese. As a main course complement, herb-roasted chicken and Parmesan polenta, grilled trout, crab cakes or pasta in light cream sauces are all excellent choices.