A long-standing joke amongst sommeliers is the one about a customer who states that they dislike chardonnay – but love Chablis. The joke being that Chablis is made from the chardonnay grape.
In fact about 99% of all white Burgundy is chardonnay –Mâcon, St Véran, Pouilly-Fuissé, Meursault, to name but a few. The differences being very slight climatic and soil variances between villages and how the winemaker likes to make his wine.
Chardonnay is a very easy grape, it does not mind being manipulated. New oak barrels are usually used to ferment and age the wines in; they are often slightly charred or toasted inside. The amount of toasting and the age of the barrel will have differing effects on the style of the wine made – from light biscuity, toasted brioche, vanilla scented aromas to rich toffee and caramel. As opposed to Australian or Californian chardonnays the Burgundian equivalent is usually subtler. The final blend contains much less wine matured in new oak, which gives just a hint of the toffee and vanilla. Instead they look for more minerality, since most of Burgundy lies in limestone soil (particularly favourable to chardonnay) a mineral and lean stone taste is often favoured.
The winemaker also has the choice to perform battonage (stirring of the wine sediments in barrel to add flavours and texture) and how much air contact he allows the wine to have by leaving an air space in the barrel (giving oxidised characteristics and richness).
This is how these wines can taste so diverse from one relatively small region. The greatest white wine villages in the world are from this region – the towns of Chassagne and Puligny share the Grand Cru vineyard of ‘le Montrachet’ and are therefore called Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet respectively. Here the Grand Crus of Bâtard, Bienvenue-Bâtard, Criots-Bâtard, Chevalier and Le Montrachet make tiny quantities of extremely complex long lived wines. Aromas and flavours are fleeting and evolve over time in the glass from fresh figs and melon, tropical fruit aromas to slately wet rock and minerally hints with gunsmoke and chargrilled limey citrus fruit. Toasted brioche or baked bread and sweet butter or crème brulée like caramel and vanilla.
Never serve these wines too cold (this will mask the complexity) serve at about 14 degrees centigrade; at a temperature that forms very little or no condensation of the outside of your glass. Decant if possible.
To drink these top Burgundies is always a privilege so spoil yourself with the food that you match them with them – lobster, scallops, sweetbreads, simple foie gras terrines, turbot or seabass.