Thursday, 14 May 2009

Montagnac Chardonnay and White Asparagus

Asparagus and wine are one of the hardest food pairings to make but Montagnac Chardonnay would accompany it very well indeed. Chardonnay is the grape responsible for some of the world’s greatest white wines, has become so fashionable and familiar to consumers it is now an international brand. In bars and restaurants all over the world you hear people asking for "a glass of Chardonnay" – but it doesn’t all taste the same!

In fact, the variety of styles of Chardonnay continues to increase as winemakers experiment further and it is planted in an ever growing number of locations. Although it is planted everywhere now, from Lebanon to Argentina, some of the best value Chardonnays are produced in areas such as the Languedoc in the south of France.

You can see how wide the scope of the Chardonnay grape is when you realise that many of the world’s best sparkling wines, including Champagne, rely on Chardonnay as part of their blend. Chardonnay is also used to make the Chablis wines in Burgundy. The fact that Chardonnay grapes are used to make Chablis surprises many people who dislike the Oaked Chardonnays that have been mass produced using oak chips (Montagnac Chardonnay is un-oaked, crisp and fresh – and half the price!)

One of the great advantages of wines from the Chardonnay grape is the ability to take on oak flavours from the barrels in which they are matured and sometimes fermented. However this was over-milked and some wine producers over oaked their Chardonnays – this was particularly the case in Australia and California, which went through a phase of producing wines so over-oaked that it was difficult to detect the flavour of the grape. Although the consumers are now discovering the beauty of un-oaked Chardonnay there are still some wines that are drastically over-oaked, however; sometimes, one suspects, to obscure the mediocrity of the underlying wine.

When you contemplate buying a bottle of Chardonnay, read the front and back labels carefully. Somewhere there will usually be a statement of the oakiness to be expected. Look for phrases like ‘barrel fermented' and 'matured in oak barrels'. Only tasting the wines will tell you whether they have got the balance right or to your taste.

Whatever style you prefer, you are guaranteed to see more progress and developments in the type of Chardonnay produced around the world in the future.

Montagnac Chardonnay comes from Hérault in the Languedoc. The Languedoc-Roussillon region shares many terrain and climate characteristics with the neighbouring regions of Southern Rhone and Provence. The region stretches 150 miles from the Banyuls AOC at the Spanish border and Pyrenees in the west, along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea to the Rhone River and Provence in the east. The northern boundaries of the region sit on the Massif Central with the Cévennes mountain ranges and valleys dominating the area. Many vineyards are located along the Hérault River. Some of the vineyards are laid on top of ancient riverbed stones similar to those of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Due to its location its terroir produces wines with some dense and complex aromas reflecting the diversity of the terrain. With the mountains on one side and the Mediterranean the other side the Languedoc is becoming a popular wine growing region.

The history of Languedoc wines can be traced to the first vineyards planted along the coast near Narbonne by the early Greeks in the 5th century BC. Along with parts of Provence, these are the oldest planted vineyards in France. The region of Languedoc has belonged to France since the thirteenth century and the Roussillon was acquired from Spain in the mid 17th century. The two regions were joined as one administrative region in the late 1980s.

From the 4th century onwards the Languedoc had a reputation for producing high quality wine. In Paris during the 14th century, wines from the St. Chinian area were prescribed in hospitals for their "healing powers”. During both World Wars the Languedoc was responsible for providing the daily wine rations given to French soldiers.

The region's Mediterranean climate is very conducive to growing grapes. The tramontane inland wind from the north west often accentuates the dry climate. The composition of soil in the Languedoc varies from the chalk, limestone and gravel based soils inland to more alluvial soils near the coast.

The wide range of growing soils, as well as the winemaker's influence, produces a diverse spectrum of Chardonnay wines with varying characteristics. Their flavours can be described as buttery, creamy, nutty, smoky and steely; popular fruit descriptors include apple, lemon, melon, and pineapple.

Montagnac Chardonnay is pale gold in colour, crisp and fruity. It produces flavours and aromas of summer flowers, green apples, tart lemons and vanilla. In the mouth it is smooth and simple with good acidity and plenty of fruit flavours coming through with the added attraction that there is no presence of oak! It leaves you with a “clean” mouth feel unlike the Oaked Chardonnays at the other end of the spectrum which are heavier and has gone through a process called malolactic conversion/fermentation to give it a thicker, more viscous feel in the mouth.

The Chardonnay grape’s origins are believed to be from the Pinot family on one side and Gouais Blanc (a nearly extinct grape variety) on the other. The Gouais Blanc grape originated in Croatia and is believed to have arrived in France with the Romans. The Chardonnay grape is also called Beaunois, Gamay Blanc, Melon d'Arbois, and Pinot Chardonnay. A ripe Chardonnay grape is a golden yellow in colour with plenty of juice. Grapes are small, fragile, thin skinned and require careful handling during harvest.

The ideal foods to pair with Montagnac Chardonnay are Tuna, Oysters, Chicken and Pork. It’s ideal for summer salad dishes and BBQs. Sea food products are an essential part of the Languedoc Roussillon cuisine and their wines marry with the local produce.

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