Chardonnay, s’il vous plait

chardonnay2 Chardonnay, s’il vous plait
No two Chardonnays are the same, not even those produced within the same village. Of course the age of the wine carries some weight, as it certainly does with cheeses. One reason for the huge popularity of the Chardonnay grape is its success with many foods, cheeses included, as well as being a perfectly suitable wine to enjoy on its own.

I had the great pleasure of tasting two Chardonnays within a range of six wines recently. They were both Puligny-Montrachets, one was a 2006 and the other was a 1988. Though a twenty-three year old white Burgundy such as a Puligny-Montrachet might seem to be pushing it, this one was still very much alive, vibrant, resplendent with good fruit and not oxidized. On the other hand, the 2006 might sound like a youngster, as the Montrachets don’t usually come into their own until they have had a few more years in the bottle.

The seven cheeses we tasted with these two beautiful wines were perfectly ripened; all the cheeses happened to be French – a request from the host. The younger wine was a smashing success with the first four cheeses we tasted: Roves des Garrigues, Brillat Savarin, Abbaye de Belloc (a bit of a surprise) and the Epoisses (a no-brainer) and it also paired well with the Cantal and the Carles Roquefort (yes, this match can work). The 2006 Puligny-Montrachet was only okay with the Raclette, which was gorgeous by itself but a little too pungent. The older 1988 Puligny was beautiful with the first two cheeses yet the matches brought out different aspects. The 1988 was good with the Abbaye de Belloc and more successful with the Epoisses, nice with the Cantal and the Raclette, but only okay with the Roquefort.

The way these white Burgundies married with each of these cheeses brought out different nuances, from the wines and from each of the cheeses. None of the matches were disappointing. Overall, the cheeses scored as well with the wines as they did with the 2003 Sauternes!

It is little wonder that Chardonnay is such a popular varietal; it plays well with many foods, cheeses especially. I recall a few mismatches with this grape but they are rare. The quality of the cheeses helped make these pairings work well, no doubt. Few Epoisses can match the peak where this one was, semi-soft with just a little of its “heart” remaining in the center. When I first looked at the several wheels of Epoisses I thought they might be a little too liquid, a little overripe. Instead they were buttery, creamy, pungent, smooth, only slightly salty and aromatic, and recognizably cow. This cheese is one whose care we provide is unsurpassed.

I have to admit: those Puligny-Montrachets were not too shabby either. To have aged out as well as they had is a testament to the care they received. For anyone who rebukes Chardonnay should try a nicely aged white Burgundy, preferably one of the Montrachets; and then to bring out the best that those wines can offer, pair it with a few of the cheeses mentioned above. It becomes a little more difficult to tolerate a lesser Chardonnay once you’ve had one of the best but these cheeses can elevate the lesser Chardonnays just fine.

Max McCalman

Spread the curd!
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