The demise of 'real' Chardonnay

Just a few decades ago, Chardonnay was a wine that had a complex and rich taste with notes of oak, butter and caramel. Now, the Chardonnay has been recreated to please the American taste: it has become light, with notes of citrus, peach and apple.
Chardonnay is a cross between two ancient grape varieties, the Pinot noir and the Gouais blanc. The Pinot noir, a red wine variety, is a very ancient variety that was already grown in Burgundy (France) in 100 AD. It may be only one or two generations removed from the wild vines (Vitis sylvestris). The Gouais blanc is said to have been introduced in France by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus (276–282) and the variety is thought to originate in Central Europe, with Hungary, Austria and even southern Germany as the most likely candidates. The name Gouais remains something of a mystery, but it is most probably named after a place name: Gouaix, Gouais-les-Saint-Bris, Gouex or Goix. All four are situated in central northern France.

The buttery taste in Chardonnay is the result of so-called malolactic fermentation. Malic acid is the acid you taste in a green apples. Chardonnay contains a lot of malic acid. During its fermentation, the wine is inoculated with a bacteria that converts that malic acid into lactic acid. The compound created from this process is called diacetyl, a yellow or green liquid with an intensely buttery flavour. So, if you do not inoculate your Chardonnay with that specific bacterium, you end up with a light wine.

The Chardonnay grape takes on the minerals of the soil, which means that if you transplant the vine to, say, another continent, it will taste somewhat differently. Furthermore, the grape can be easily 'trained' to express other tastes. And this is what happened in recent years.

We, Europeans like our wines having robust traditional tastes. The Americans are like children and like their wines to be light and fruity. As they are the largest market of wines, the producers of Chardonney followed suit. As mentioned above, the Chardonnay as we knew it hardly exists anymore. It has been replaced by a ghost of itself. Light and not nearly as tasty.

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