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I have cracked open a bottle of wine tonight, and it has sparked me into review mode. I am really impressed by it, but I will explain that later. First off, I need to review the main grapes in the wine. I think that it is important to understand a wines make-up, in order to appreciate it fully.
The semillon grape is considered to be one of the fine white wine grapes. It, along with muscadelle, and sauvignon blanc, is one of the three grapes that are considered good enough to be white wine grapes in Bordeaux. It is relatively easy to grow, and is hardy to most disease. The worst that it gets as a vine, is a touch of rot. Similar to chenin blanc, it is very thin skinned. This makes it prone to sunburn. Unlike the chenin blanc, However, it is full of flavour. It is low in acid, and very sweet to the taste. This natural sugar in the grape, will eventually become high alcohol in the wine. After all it is the fermentation of these natural sugars that makes the alcohol.
When the grape ripens, it turns slightly pink. The vines themselves yield very high quantities of grapes, which makes it a very good grape to use, in terms of profitability. They are a variety that ripens early, and due to the low acidity, and almost oily texture, they tend to age very well. The wines produced, will tend to be a lot less dry than other white wine grapes. They also play an important part in the production of one of the most famous desert wines, the sauterne.
The grape is predominantly grown in France, and Australia. However, there are still vines in south Africa, and Chile. The grape has always been thought of as a blending grape. There are few varietal semillon wines. Mostly the grapes is used to soften chardonnay, or sauvignon blanc. Semillon, on its own is, in my opinion, bland. Although it is inoffensive, it lacks complexity. It makes wine, that someone who Knows nothing about wine will like. However, it appears that the vintners know what they are talking about. The grape, although plain on its own, has a great ability to compliment other varieties. Why this is, I still don't understand. How can a plain jane grape, make others better? The only suggestion I have is that it mellows sharper, dry wines. It also imparts its natural
ability to age well. This characteristic is something that is not as common in white wines, as it is in reds.
In conclusion, this type is pleasant, but no world beater. It will never be great on its own, but it flourishes with company. Truly great winemakers, can use its qualities to make other grapes deeply complex. It often comes with an apricot bouquet. The wine itself will be softer, and less dry than a classic chardonnay (a white wine grape with which it blends perfectly.), and the sugars keep the acidity in check. In terms of food, it is perfect for simple meals, ranging from salads to fish, from pork to lamb. Its is not suitable for anything spicy. Neither is it suitable for strong meaty flavours like steak, smoked salmon or game birds.
Now we're talking! When it comes to white wine, there is only one type that I keep going back to. Chardonnay is seen as being one of the noble wines, and is used to make a wide range of wines. From Chablis to Champagne, chardonnay is found in almost all of the big white wines. The most unusual thing about it, is that the grape itself is seen as being neutral. It has very little that sets it apart from others as a grape, but it is on vinification that it takes shape. You see, the major asset that the chardonnay grape has, is that it takes on characteristics better than any other grape. By this. I mean flavours of oak from a barrel, or 'terrior'. Terrior is a term used to denote that the wine has a sense of location. It takes on the characteristics by the climate, and the location. You really can tell where a chardonnay grape has been grown.
On this note, chardonnay grapes are grown wherever wine is made. It is seen by many of the newer wine producing countries, as an easy way to gain a successful wine, as it is easy to grow, and so adaptable that the wine will be distinctive from others. Originally, it is thought that the grape was born in the Burgundy region of France. It has spread far and wide, and is now the single most widely planted white grape in the world.
The vine itself is very dense, and leafy. The sheer amount of leaf cover to the vine would hinder its growth, so the vine must be nurtured, and controlled with heavy pruning. Grapes grow in large clusters, so rot can be an issue as moisture gets trapped between the grapes themselves, and goes bad. The grape must be picked at the right time, as the grape loses acidity rapidly on ripening. And, as any wine drinker will know, it is this acidity that eventually becomes the dry, crisp taste that we associate with all good chardonnay wines.
The grape is a major part of the Burgundy, Chablis, and the champagne regions, and it forms a major part of the famous wines made from these regions. To a lesser extent, it is grown throughout the rest of France, where it also is used in great quantities, to produce some really good white wines, but for me it is the wines of these three major regions that are the best. Looking outside of France, chardonnay is grown in almost all countries that produce wine. The major producers outside of France would be California, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, and Canada. Although all of these places have produced wines of some merit, it seems to be that as in so many cases, the French produce the best.
When it comes to making the wine, major decisions made by the vintner can drastically change the resulting wine. Wines tha are made by allowing the grapes to ferment naturally by rotting, will adopt a much more sweet, vanilla style to the wine. Wines that are produced by adding synthetic yeasts, will end up with a really crisp taste of green apples, or a slightly citrusy note. The other major decision is how much influence will be given to the use of oak in the aging process. Chardonnay will take the use of oak very well, and wines created in this way will age incredibly well for a white wine
Due to the range of different ways in which a chardonnay can be brought to life, so to there is an incredible range of resultant wines. The wines will be dry, and sharp. Clean and crisp. Apart from that, the end taste results on the wines upbringing. Supermarket chardonnays should be avoided, as they tend to use the grapes that have been forced through quickly, in order to make profit. These tend to be very bitter, and the green apple taste can be overpowering. My advice is to go for oak aged, French chardonnay. These will be softer, and more complex. They will have smoky notes to the taste, and be slightly sweeter. In some cases, the wine will have an almost buttery taste, with after notes of vanilla. No chardonnay offers too much for the nose. As I said earlier, the grape is very neutral at birth, and so it remains on death. Simply the wine will smell clean and fresh.
The scale of different types of chardonnay wines, makes it one of the more difficult to pair with food. The same simple rules still apply though. Lighter types, with no level of oak maturity will do well with salads through to fish, through to poultry. Whites tend not to work so well with game birds, or beef. Wines that have a lot of maturity through oak, will tend to overpower lighter fish dishes, but the smoky nature that the oak gives them would make them perfect for smoked salmon.
The best way to get to know the different types is to try them. I tend not to suggest chardonnays for meals, as they are generally wines that are best appreciated on their own. If you get into the way of it, you will soon learn the way that your chardonnay was brought up. You may even get good enough to be able to tell where it was brought up. It has many nuances, and is more complex than most.
We can see from what we have learnt, that these two grapes should complement eachother perfectly. However, in many of the wines of this type that I have tried, it so often doesn't work. That cannot be said for the Hardy's version. It seems to me, that they have found a way to marry the two perfectly. The Chardonnay is very complex. a big full flavour. However some of the strength, and fulness of flavour has been mellowed by the semillon. This is usually a bad thing, but in this case it has worked perfectly.
The chardonnay is not as overpowering as it can be on its own, yet still it is packed with nice mellow flavour. great notes of citrus, and a great fruity bouquet are combined with a touch of smoky oak. The oak, might I add, is not strong enough to take over the flavour, and it really is a well balanced wine. The bottle is not too dear, and can often be found on offer in most supermarkets for around the five pound mark. If I was to pair the wine with food, I would stay away from the red meats, but it would perfectly match pork or chicken, as long as they are not cooked in anything to spicy. Failing that, the wine is great to drink on its own.
So I suggest you go out and grab a bottle, and put it through your own form of rigourous testing, and see if, like me, you find it to be a really great little white, at a really reasonable price!!