While most wine drinkers start on white wines and then ease into tannic reds, I ventured full-steam-ahead into the land of red wines, falling in love with–of all varietals–Petite Sirah. Don’t ask me how or why my first favorite red wine became one of the most tannic varietals. To each her own?
All those bottles of red wine later, I had trained my palate to love BIG wines. I drank Syrahs, Cabernet Sauvignons, and Zinfandels, and I became so used to heavy-bodied wines that when I attempted to switch to the world of white wine, the only one that caught my attention was the oaky, buttery Chardonnay of California. I think my taste buds searched for flavor, flavor, FLAVOR without stopping to appreciate the intricacies that some delicate white wines offer. Needless to say, it took some palate training (and, twist my arm, a few bottles) to finally appreciate the beauty of other white wines, including French Chardonnays like this Oliver Leflaive “Les Setilles” Bourgogne.
If you are new to French wines and haven’t yet learned to decipher the labels, you may be asking yourself, “How do I know that this is a Chardonnay when the wine is labeled ‘Oliver Leflaive “Les Setilles” Bourgogne’? The “Rosetta Stone” of cracking French labels is to know what grapes are typically grown in each region. Then, by looking at the name of the region, you can assume which grapes constitute the wine. For example, this wine is “Bourgogne”, or “Burgundy” in English. White wines from Burgundy are Chardonnay. It’s that simple! Oh, and notice how the bottle is “fat” on the bottom, and not straight, like some wine bottles? A good indicator, from a distance, that the wine is Chardonnay, as they tend to be bottled in this style of bottle in France.
If your palate is like mine was, it is accustomed to heavy, almost “chewy” Chardonnay from California and sometimes Chile, Argentina, and Australia. (In all fairness, there are TONS of great not-so-oaky Chardonnays in these regions, but the style typically tends to be that of a lot of oak in each of these countries. And, for the record, on any given day, I just might be inclined to crave this style!) You may have to train yourself, like I did, to recognize the intricacies of a French white, and also to pick out some of my favorite characteristics in French whites: nuttiness and vanilla. There is just something magical about French Chardonnay: it smells like hazelnut and warm butter on the nose, with hints of vanilla (one of my favorite aromas in the world). And then, on the palate, the wine is a beautiful mix of citrus and vanilla; it is weighty but with a crisp finish all at the same time; it’s just…. beautiful. Sigh. I love French white wine.
What is best about French Chardonnay is that it pairs well with so many things. I love it with salads; it provides some depth against an otherwise boring mixed greens, and the acidity of the wine makes it a great companion to creamy or cream-based dishes because it cuts the richness of the cream. The same goes for rich foods, like lobster: the wine almost cleanses your palate after a bite, begging you to take another bite (and another sip!) and repeat the process.
Perhaps I am a bit sentimental about French Chardonnay… but I can’t but be. To me, the wine represents how far I’ve come as a wine drinker since I first sampled that Petite Sirah, and is the next piece in my little wine drinking journey. We all grow and change, and our tastes do, too. I wonder: will I always love French Chardonnay? Or is there a new love waiting around the corner?