What is the world’s Number One white wine grape variety? As you might have guessed (or knew all along), the answer is Chardonnay (shar-don-AY).
In Burgundy, this grape produces some of the greatest dry white wines in the world and it’s also one of the main grapes used in Champagne. In contrast, Chardonnay is also converted into vast amounts of very ordinary commercial wine, usually sold under the name of the grape. Some of it is pretty dismal stuff indeed and has probably put many people off Chardonnay for good. But let’s begin with a very pleasing example from the South of France.
J. P. Chenet Chardonnay Vin de Pays d’Oc (white), France. (Friendship, Bt. 480)
You’ll notice that no year is mentioned, so that’s a clear give-away that this wine is a blend of grapes from different vintages and possibly different sources. The wine comes in rustic dumpy bottles with an indentation on the side, as though something has gone seriously wrong during the manufacturing process. The odd-looking bottle was designed by Joseph Helfrich which, for reasons which are not entirely obvious, he named a “Joséphine”. Although the Chenet Company was formed as recently as 1984, its wines are now sold in over 160 countries. They sell more French wine than anyone else.
Bertrand Praz, Head Wine Maker for J. P. Chenet.
The wine is a lovely pale gold with hints of green. There’s an interesting floral aroma of pineapple and tropical fruits; a touch of fresh green apples and a hint of cucumber. I wouldn’t lay money on it mind you, but I’m pretty sure there’s a faint smell of cucumber in there somewhere. The wine has a rich and well-rounded flavour of tropical fruits with citrus overtones. A good dash of acidity gives it a lively refreshing quality. The lemony finish (the length of time the taste stays in your mouth after swallowing) is quite long, usually the sign of a well-crafted wine.
If you like, try this as an apéritif, because at an easy 12.5% alcohol content it would make a good party-starter. I tried some of it with a Chicken Kiev and they went well together. Yes, I know Chicken Kiev is just so 1960’s, but I can be very old-fashioned at times. Ask any of my dogs.
PB Valley Khao Yai Reserve Chenin Blanc 2009 (white), Thailand. (Best, North Pattaya, Bt. 490)
PB Valley Wines come from vineyards near the Khao Yai National Park, a little to the south of Nakhon Ratchasima. A few weeks ago, I told you about their delightful Sawasdee PB Valley Chenin Blanc (SHEN-ihn BLAHN), available for a staggeringly cheap Bt. 295. This Khao Yai Reserve is Sawasdee’s big brother (or big sister, if you prefer). Made from carefully selected hand-picked grapes, it is a delicate straw colour with hints of green. When the rich and complex aroma emerges (and you may need to give it time), you’ll probably recognise the smell of fresh pineapple, peach, melon and banana. This is a medium-bodied wine with a most pleasing, almost tender mouth-feel. There’s lots of fruit on the taste and a really satisfying citrus acidity, which balances the fruit perfectly. It has a very satisfying finish too, which seems to go on and on. At 12% alcohol, this is an elegant wine to drink on its own, but with its refreshing touch of acidity, it would go well with chicken or fish dishes served with a mild creamy sauce.
This is a really splendid wine that could hold its own against many imported products. Try it on your friends, if you still have any. They will probably be surprised and delighted when you announce that the vineyards are “just up the road”. Well, three hours’ drive up the road actually, if you feel the need to be really honest.