In the 20 or so years that I have worked in the restaurant biz, trends in wine-making have come and gone and come back again. One of the most interesting and most commonly changing trends is the use of Oak in chardonnay. What’s really interesting about this trend is how it seems to divide people – like maybe you’re a fan of Gucci or maybe you’re a Louis Vuitton kinda gal. Whatever the case and whatever your preference, there is a chardonnay for you. Winemakers are making virtually every style of Chardonnay these days for any palate and any taste and the good news is that at Gaslight, we have them all.
So what happened?
Back in the day the very best chardonnays from Burgundy were always oaked. The best quality received new oak and the lesser quality wines were aged in older barrels. As oak barrels age, they lose their flavor – those spice and vanilla notes that we love or hate so much. The main benefit of aging in oak and the practice of doing so comes not so much from the fact that it flavors the wine, but that oak is a porous substance that allows the wine to mellow out by slow and gradual exposure to oxygen. That’s the same concept as decanting a young wine so that it can “breathe” and allow the aromas to open up. The compounds in wine that make wine smell and taste good are released when they oxidize.
Along came California centuries later. After the famous tasting of 76, winemakers jumped on the chardonnay train and started to make wine that imitated French counterparts in hopes of putting their winery on the map. Domestic wine quickly became fashionable in this country and consumers starting drinking oaky chardonnays by the gallon at dinner. When more and more jumped on the bandwagon, the idea of oak became exaggerated and some (not all) winemakers went overboard. Sooner or later, people started loving those vanilla and spice flavors so much that some chardonnays started tasting like licking a two-by-four. The French kept doing what they’d been doing so well for centuries ignoring this American trend. In the meantime however, in our country brands like Kendall Jackson and Toasted Head were born and those producers took their money to the bank. We loved their wines – and why wouldn’t we? They tasted delicious. Still do!
Well… time passed and suddenly consumers and critics alike got bored (pun intended) with drinking wine that tasted like a trip to home depot so some producers started making completely un-oaked chardonnays. (Guess what… Kendall Jackson and Toasted head starting backing off the oak too!) The crisp clean style appealed to many and the naked chardonnay was born in the new world. Chardonnay suddenly tasted like citrus and green apple instead of movie theater popcorn doused in a caramel.
Nowadays, California wine producers are starting to think about balance all over again really considering the Burgundian model. Does that wine really need oak? Will the spice flavor profile enhance the delicate fruit profile or overpower the clean aromas? Should I add some more chili flakes to my tofu stir fry? Whatever you’re into, there is a chardonnay for you. Below are the ones we offer ranked from no oak to oakapalooza – French wines mixed into the spectrum as well. Stop in to sip and swirl with us soon and let us be your chardonnay Sherpa. Ask for me… Greg. See you soon!
La Fruitiere, Loire Valley
Christian Moreau “Vaillons”
La Chablisienne “Chablis Grand Cru”
Olivier LeFlaive Chassagne Montrachet
Oliver LeFlaive Meursault
Thevenet St. Veran
Stag’s Leap Napa Valley
Cheveau Pouilly Fuisse
LeFlaive Les Setilles
Patz and Hall Sonoma
One of the best parts about being the General Manager at Gaslight is that I am lucky enough to curate our wine list. It’s not always as fun and exciting as it sounds, but certainly rewarding! I’ve kissed an awful lot of frogs before meeting the princes, but occasionally, I find a wine that kisses back in the princely-ist of ways. A week or so ago, I was privileged enough to find a wine that did just that, so naturally, I snapped it up and added it to our list. Come check out Domaine de Beaurenard’s exquisite “Gran Partita” 2012 Chateauneuf du Pape. Not only is this wine stunning, but it has a great story that matches the quality of the adult-grape-juice inside the bottle.
But first a little about Chateauneuf in general. One of my favorite regions, Chateauneuf du Pape exploded onto the wine scene in 2000 when Guigal’s offering was the Wine of the Year. A somewhat obscure and ignored region became highly collected and praised… one might even go so far as to say a household name entering the canon of Champagne, Bordeaux, and Burgundy in terms of French regions of note for wine enthusiasts. Guigal’s wines are inky, dark, brooding, and full bodied with massive tannins and lifespans of 15+ years depending on the vineyard site. But one of the coolest things about Chateauneuf du Pape is that there can be a huge amount of variety in the style depending on the producer and the blend of grapes used (they can blend up to 13 varietals) although most people focus on either Grenache of Syrah. If Guigal’s wines are the beast, Beaurenard’s are the beauty.
Domaine du Beaurenard is doing something really cool and innovative and maybe a little nostalgic with their 2012 “Gran Partita”… That is, they are using all 13 varietals, but only in the best years when all 13 of the varieties of grapes get to optimal stages of ripeness and ultimately contribute to the complexity of the wine. I was blown away when I learned this and tasted the wine, and can definitely say that this is one of the most complex and interesting Chateauneufs that I have had the joy of drinking. A ripe dark berry nose is followed by a silky mouthfeel and layers of earthy goodness that go on and on with a finish that won’t quit like Kardashian curves.
But wait, there’s more and here is the really cool story that tied it ALL together for me!
The name “Gran Partita” references a multi-movement work by W.A. Mozart with the same title. The connection comes in not only because of the poetry of the piece of music, but also because Mozart’s “Gran Partita” is scored for 13 instruments. Being a classical musician by training myself, I was instantly pulled in by the reference. If you’ve ever seen the movie Amadeus, you will probably remember the scene when Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) encounters Mozart (Tom Hulse) for the first time. Abraham delivers a beautiful soliloquy about the third movement of the Gran Partita that sums up the qualities of Beaurenard’s “Gran Partita” IMHO. Click the link and check out this amazing scene and then come in and have the wine for yourself. I think you’ll agree that at first the wine is deceptively simple, but as you taste and drink the layers of flavor unfold on the palete and the finish stays with you long after you’ve downed your glass/bottle.
Stop by soon! We were only able to purchase six bottles to share with you. Ask for me, Greg, when you’re here. I would LOVE to introduce you to this stunner. I know you’ll be hooked right away just as I was.
For the month of June we will be serving a special menu featuring the best seafood available to us through our network of local purveyors. Chef Michael Zentner has planned an array of dishes that will change nightly with optional wine pairings selected by our sommelier and general manager, erectile Greg Dickinson. Lobster, clams, oysters, mussels, crab, and the freshest catch of the day will be the center of the specially priced menu paired with crisp whites and savory rosés. Reserve a table with us online or by calling 617-422-0224. We look forward to seeing you soon!