Chardonnay & Pinot Noir – contrasting terroirs

The Côte de Beaune at Pernand-Vergelesses

The other day I was invited to present the Burgundy half of a masterclass tasting to contrast Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines from two very different regions.

In order to have a control and a focus we were using wines from a single producer in each country; Chile’s Viña Ventisquero and Louis Jadot from Burgundy.

My job was to give an introduction to Louis Jadot and to explain the terroir and conditions of Burgundy before leading the tasting. Ventisquero’s winemaker, Alejandro Galaz provided the same function for their wines.

The event took place at Vinopolis and Tom Forrest, their chief wine educator, prepared some food that we tried with the wines.

The rationale behind the tasting was pretty simple; Chardonnay can flourish everywhere, although with very different results, but its home is Burgundy so a comparison between classic white Burgundy and Chilean Chardonnay could provide a fascinating tasting. Particularly as we only tasted Chardonnays from Chile’s cool, coastal Casablanca Valley region.

Casablanca Valley vineyards

Pinot Noir, of course, is a more delicate grape and is a lot more fussy about where it can thrive. Burgundy is where it all began for Pinot and where the grape is most naturally at home, but in recent years Chile has shown that it can find sites that suit this most fickle of grapes, especially the Casablanca Valley.

We kicked off with 2 pairs of Chardonnays:

Louis Jadot Bourgogne Chardonnay 2007
Louis Jadot, A.C. Bourgogne, Burgundy, France

A lovely, elegant wine that performs well above its official status as a lowly Bourgogne Blanc – this is a regional blend that is based upon Côte de Beaune fruit including a good dollop from St Aubin.

Delicacy is the hallmark here, with nice fruit of the nectarine and green plum type with rich nutty and oily, almost creamy, tones from the oak.

Very good wine that balances little touches of richness and delicate oak with clean minerality and good acidity – 88/100 points.

£11.99 a bottle from Sainsburys and Tesco.

Ventisquero Reserva Chardonnay 2009
Viña Ventisquero, Casablanca Valley, Chile

Again this was a very good wine, but it was so different. There was no oak here, all the richness came from the ripe fruit that gives it a soft, tropical character, of mangos, and a round, creamy texture.

A much bigger and softer wine than the Bourgogne and much more about fruit, but his too was balanced by a nice cut of acidity – 88/100 points.

£7.99 a bottle – contact PLB for stockists.

Map of Chile's wine regions - click for a larger view

Followed by:

Louis Jadot Meursault 2007
Louis Jadot, A.C. Bourgogne, Burgundy, France

This was wonderful and took the same themes as the Bourgogne, but took them further.

There was more fruit, tight peach and nectarine characters mingled with the nutty, oaky oily, creamy oak texture and flavour all balanced by lovely minerality and a lively seam of clean acidity.

Superbly balanced and hugely enjoyable, this is really good now if you want more emphasis on acidity, but will get richer and nuttier with more bottle age  – 92/100 points.

£24.69 a bottle from Waitrose Direct.

Ventisquero Grey Chardonnay 2008
Viña Ventisquero, Casablanca Valley, Chile

Grey refers to the Southern Patagonian Lake, River and Glacier of that name

Another good wine, but very, very different – this was more concentrated and rich with much more flamboyant fruit characters of mango and pineapple, as well as creamy, spicy vanilla from the oak ageing.

Again, fruit was more important and dominant here, oak too. For me this needs a meal to tame the oak and spice  – 89/100 points.

£13.99 a bottle – contact PLB for stockists.

So, what did I learn? All the wines were superbly made, all were clean and they were all enjoyable and obviously of good quality. There was no clear favourite at the tasting, all the wines were enjoyed, however that changed slightly with the food matching.

Unexpectedly I found the Burgundies easier to get to grips with as the winemaking was very similar in both, with the Meursault being a progression of the Bourgogne, so I was not coming to each with a blank canvass. Whereas the Casablanca wines were each very different from the other.

With the white wines we tried an excellent dish that Tom had prepared:

Poached salmon with grilled vegetable couscous.

This went pretty well with all the wines, with the Jadots being an excellent foil for the fish itself, especially the Meursault whose acidity and natural weight balanced the rich, but delicate fish very well.

The weighty and fleshy quality of Ventisquero Reserva needed the couscous too, the extra padding stopped it dominating the food. The oakiness of the Ventisquero Grey needed the grilled vegetables to balance it with the fish and to stop it swamping the gentle flavours of the fish.

As for having a preference for Chile or Burgundy, it depends whether you go more for minerality or fruit? Because that is the real difference here, the Jadot wines deliver lots of minerality to your palate, together with balanced, but apparent acidity. There is richness of fruit in both the Jadots, but it is restrained and understated.

The Chilean wines deliver much more richness and fruit that sits between your senses and any minerality. So, it all comes down to how rich or how subtle you want the fruit in your wine to be.

The Côte de Beaune - click for a larger view

Then came two pairs of Pinot Noirs:

Louis Jadot Côte de Beaune-Villages 2007
Louis Jadot, A.C. Côte de Beaune-Villages, Burgundy, France
A blend of wines from communes including Chorey-les-Beaune and Ladoix.

This was an interesting one, it was fragrant on the nose rather than powerful, delivering nuances rather than fully formed aromas.

It was very light-bodied and pale, but delivered a nice weight of savoury earthy, mushroom notes as well as some attractive cherry and raspberry fruit.

Subtle, restrained and light, a proper Burgundy, this wine was not about fruit, but about delivering nuances of mushroomy character, light red fruit, supple tannins and acidity to your palate in order to balance food  – 88/100 points.

£11.99 a bottle from Sainsburys and Waitrose.

Ventisquero Queulat Pinot Noir 2008
Viña Ventisquero, Casablanca Valley, Chile

Nothing pale about this, or light either really. The aromas were of rich black fruit with some savoury there too. The palate was rich and supple with flavours that put me in mind of a black forest gâteau.

Again this was much, much bigger than the Burgundy with fruit being a much more important part of what this wine does  – 88/100 points.

£10.99 a bottle – contact PLB for stockists.
Followed by:

Louis Jadot Beaune 1er Cru 2002
Louis Jadot, A.C. Beaune 1er Cru, Burgundy, France

We struck gold with this wine, which is a blend of small 1er Cru vineyards including Tuvilains, Pertuisots and Sizies and it really showed the delicate, savoury Côte de Beaune style to perfection.

Medium-bodied with much more weight than the first Jadot red it showed all the same themes, just in a more concentrated and rich style.

A beautiful wine with real finesse and elegance – 92/100 points.

Contact Hatch Mansfield Agencies for stockists and price details, however a parcel of the 2005 is in Majestic at £19.99 a bottle.

Ventisquero Herú Pinot Noir 2007
Viña Ventisquero, Casablanca Valley, Chile

Again this was a big wine, rich and powerful with big ripe, black and red fruit, big toasty, spicy oak and rich savoury characters.

So very different from the Beaune that you could be forgiven for imagining it was not the same grape, in the same way that Syrah & Shiraz appear so very different- 91/100 points.

£19.99 a bottle – contact PLB for stockists.

With the red wines we enjoyed another excellent dish that Tom had prepared:

Rabbit casserole with prunes and wine.

If anything this combination worked even better than the fish and whites. The gamey flavours of the meat echoed the characters of the Burgundy while the sweeter notes from the prunes echoed those of the richer Casablanca fruit.

Interestingly the Côte de Beaune-Villages really worked well with the food, with the the combination being more than the sum of its parts. However the additional weight in the Beaune 1er Cru really made that work superbly in an integrated way while the exotic fruit of the Herú worked well in a slight dominating way.

In conclusion

This was a really grteat tasting, all the wines were very good and showed the amazing variety that is possible with just two grape varieties, two regions and two winemakers.

Our stated aim was to compare two terroirs and to see the differences. Well, I think we certainly did that. We saw the differences and enjoyed them, differences are what make wines interesting.

This very close examination of terroir  also made something gel in my mind, something that has been bubbling away in my head for a while.

Terroir and minerality are not the same thing, but are often confused for each other.

Some wines have a much bigger wine making imprint than others, just by their very nature. Winemaking, as well as ripeness of the fruit had a much more obvious effect on the Chilean wines than it did on the Burgundies. The wine making imprint in Burgundy must surely be amongst the lightest there is, along with Germany.

This is all part of the terroir, Chile produces much riper fruit characters than Burgundy, but it can also make it harder to pick up the natural characteristics in a wine. I could see a clear style in the Burgundy wines, as the climate puts a less distinct stamp on the wines and allows the minerality of the soils to shine through much more clearly.

However, I cannot yet really sum up the Casablanca Valley, in terms of style, for you – indeed our four wines varied enormously. The climate produces fruit that is more dominant, so masking minerality and this richness in turn can allow for the use of more powerful oak. The climate also allows for very different styles to be produced over a very small distance, whereas the differences in Burgundy are very subtle and more a matter of degree than being completely different.

All this is perhaps not very surprising as Burgundy has been making wine for a long time and certainly growing Pinot Noir since A.D. 400. Ventisquero have only been at it since 1998 and the Casablanca Valley itself has only been producing wine for little more than twenty years. So, let’s do it again in a few hundred years?

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