Monthly Archives: May 2010

A Chardonnay for the Chardonnay-Hater

Introducing Mer Soleil; the Chardonnay for the non-Chardonnay drinker.

Too many people these days have been turned off of Chardonnay because of California’s eagerness to create the biggest, oakiest, butteriest version of the once docile grape. Traditional French methods call for lightly oaked, well balanced version, that has completed malolactic fermentation. Malolactic fermentation takes the tart malic acid and converts into a softer, rounder and fuller lactic acid. This process is reserved mainly for Chardonnays which are typically grown in cooler climates and that tend to be overly acidic otherwise. Many feel that California wine makers have been trying to “keep up with the Jones’s” with regards to who can make the butteriest wine – the buttery, round mouthfeel being the result of the malolactic process.

California wine makers also tend to harvest the Chardonnay wine grapes at a riper stage and at a higher Brix level (a measurement of sugar levels). This gives the wines higher alcohol levels, since sugar ferments into alcohol.

The use of solely new oak barrels contributes to the higher sensation of oak, rather than a second or third time use of barrels. A mix of new and used barrels at different stages gives an impression of lighter oak.

Extreme use of all these factors have created a monster – a very big and often not a food friendly wine.

It is refreshing then, to hear a descriptions of the Mer Soleil Chardonnay as wine drinkers are presented a lighter and more balanced style of California Chardonnay. I have heard wine drinkers state “Mer Soleil is wonderful, and I don’t usually like Chardonnay.” Mer Soleil translates literally into “Sea Sun” in French. The grapes are grown in Monterey County, a coastal growing region; cool and foggy. The frequent fog keeps the grapes cooler and promotes a slower ripening process and a more Burgundian style Chardonnay. The foothills of the Sierra de Salinas mountain range, the home of Mer Soleil, is the coolest growing region in all of California.

As if this Chardonnay couldn’t get much better with regards to terrior, Chuck Wagner, winemaker, went ahead and planted 400 Meyer lemon trees around his vineyard. Some believe the bees are responsible for the cross pollination of the lemon trees and the grape vines. Mer Soleil boasts a delightful and unexpected lemon citrus flavor, but is balanced with light oak, a round palate and sun-ripened flavors unique to California.

2007 Mer Soleil Chardonnay – $30

Sun of the Mountain

Ninquen was founded in 1998 by brothers Eduardo and Hernan Gras and Cristian Hartwig when they boldly sowed Chile’s first mountain vineyard. Ninquen translates to  “Plateau on a Mountain” in the ancient Mapuche language. They specialize in three wines at their winery; a red blend, a Syrah and a Cabernet Sauvignon – Carmenere blend. The Antu Niquen Cabernet Sauvignon- Carmenere is a beautiful and uncommon blend, especially in terms of our domestic wines. Chileans have been working with Carmenere since its rediscovery in 1994. See The Lost Grape. Because of the combination of these two specific grapes with their own unique qualities, this wine has a deep complexity. It boasts the dry tightness of a Cabernet and the peppery finish of a Carmenere. This wine is dusty with firm tannins, black fruits, mocha and spice.

Antu means “sun” in the Mapuche language. With the combination of Antu and Ninquen, this wine loosely translates to “Sun of the Mountain.” Fitting, as this shining star stands out among Cabernet blends. Even the marigold colored label emits a sense of warming and draws your eye to it as it stands out on the shelf.

The vineyard is at 1000 ft elevation and the grapes that thrive in that climate is Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Syrah and Petit Verdot. One of the best things about this winery is their sustainability practices. The wine makers feel they are a part of a special place and have been accepted by the rough and rugged landscape. They believe in the importance of understanding the terrior and being in harmony with their surrounds versus trying to take control. They state: “Our policy has always been to not attack or alter nature in its wild state. Instead, we want to become part of it as we want to share the value of its natural state.”

New Wine Regions Win in British Competition

The UK recently held their annual International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC), the UK’s most prestigious wine competition.  In a competition dominated typically by ‘old world’ – French, Italian, and Spanish – producers, some of the winners of this years competition surprised the judges, competitors and spectators alike.

China was awarded two silver medals and a bronze for both Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.  Japan, who won a few medals in 2009, added to their collection with six silvers and twenty-five bronze medals – quiet impressive for a new wine region.  While some of the newest surprises was a bronze going to a Welsh winery and bronze and silver going to English wineries.

The recognition going to these up and coming wineries shows promise that we can continue to expect wine regions to grow, giving us ‘winos’ hope that in the near future we can try even more wines from regions of all corners of the earth.

To read about the International Wine & Spirits Competition and few the full results, click here.