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Blind-tasting chardonnays is a good way to learn

| Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, 9:11 p.m.

Chardonnay, the chameleon of white-skinned grapes, offers diverse wine styles to suit every taste. And in France's Burgundy region, Chardonnay finds its spiritual home by vividly displaying all its intriguing incarnations.

Terroir, the French term for the collective influences of climate, soils and each winemaker's approach, holds the key to the diversity. Tasting examples of the various styles provides the best way to appreciate the differences.

To start the journey of discovery, try a blind tasting of several chardonnay-based Burgundies. Have a friend pour each wine side-by-side in similar glasses. Then, taste each wine without knowing its identity in advance. Record your impression before learning each wine's identity.

The process offers a fun way to develop your palate by learning sub-regional styles. But no betting though, please. Start with the following trio available at PLCB Premium Collection stores:

In southern Burgundy, cooperatives in the Mâcon region produce oceans of Cchardonnay-based wines. Independent grape growers typically maximize crop quantity before selling their harvest to cooperatives, which ferment the fruit on a collective basis. The process reduces the winemaking capital costs, but it results in a homogenous, often undistinguished, final wine style.

With the 2011 Domaine Jean Manciat Mâcon-Charnay “Franclieu,” France (Luxury 30813; $16.99), winemaker Jean Manciat takes a different tack. He independently cultivates about 12 acres of vines while focusing on creating high quality rather than maximum quantity.

By limiting yields through detailed, meticulous vine pruning, Manciat enhances the fruit's concentration of aromas and flavors. Hand-harvesting allows careful selection of only fully ripened chardonnay for winemaking. Manciat uses herbicides sparingly, again to frame the fruit's purity and vibrant acidity occurring naturally from the region's chalky soils.

Fermentation with native yeast in stainless-steel tanks captures the fruit's best traits without an overlay of oak-barrel influences. Prior to bottling, the wine ages on the lees, i.e., spent yeast cells, to add creaminess.

The wine's light, golden straw color offers bright green apple and pear aromas. Ripe, juicy apple and citrus flavors balance with pleasant creamy notes. Refreshing acidity balances the dry, fruity finish. Highly recommended.

North of Mâcon, the Côte Chalonnaise region traces deep winemaking roots to the Roman era. The region's chardonnay-based wines resemble those of the famous Côte D'Or just to the north.

As in Côte D'Or, the best Côte Chalonnaise whites come from limestone-laden vineyards. The resulting wines have terrific acidity and longevity. Well-made examples — such as the 2009 Domaine Michel Goubard et Fils Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise “Mont Avril,” France (Luxury 38796; $17.99) — provide excellent value.

Michel Goubard and sons Pierre-François and Vincent cultivate around 75 acres near the hamlet of Saint-Désert in the center of the Côte Chalonnaise. Their chardonnay vines in “Mont Arvil” grow in a mix of clay and limestone. Like Manciat, the Goubard's practice sustainable cultivation to promote vital vines yielding distinctive fruit.

This wine's light golden color offers apple aromas with distinct earthy notes. Vibrant citrus flavors with just a touch of oak and earthiness unfold in the glass. The crisp, well-balanced finish lingers pleasantly. Recommended.

In Burgundy's most northern reaches, well-made chablis wines carry trademark flinty aromas and crisp style. The traits arise from the region's singular Kimmeridgian clay soils. Limestone-rich gray chalk features fossilized tiny crustaceans from ancient seas that once covered the area.

The 2009 Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis Vaulignot Premier Cru, France (Luxury 39641; $23.99) presents a classic version. Winegrower Louis Moreau represents the sixth generation of a family that has produced chablis since 1814.

Today, he and his wife, Anne, manage an estate boasting plots in several of chablis' best sites, including the Vaulignot premier cru. The vineyard's southeastern orientation allows maximum sun exposure to permit the chardonnay grapes the best opportunity to ripen evenly and completely.

Close pruning, hand-harvesting and careful sorting ensures only quality fruit goes into the stainless-steel fermentation vats. In the spring, Moreau enables secondary, malolactic fermentation to convert a portion of the Chablis' naturally high malic acid into softer lactic acidity.

The resulting wine offers engaging apple and flinty “gun smoke” aromas. Rich apple and mineral flavors meld with smoky, earthy accents. Zesty acidity balances the elegant and crisp, dry finish. Recommended.

Dave DeSimone is the wine writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at ddesimone@tribweb.com.

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