Once upon a time, people drunk just ‘wine’. But it wasn’t long before they took in masses to Chardonnay and generic Chablis (unless they wanted Bordeaux or lighter red Burgundy).
Soon enough white wine simply became known by the C-word. Chardonnay’s following spread fast like a wildfire, from aristocratic, double-barrelled Corton-Charlemagne to hip California on the West Coast and China in the Far East, to the Canterbury Plains around Christchurch down south back up to Cornwall and even farther north of England.
Noble Chardonnay has upholstered vineyards anywhere in the world. And so in Malta, too. Here it’s the second widest planted green-skinned variety only after the native grape Girgentina.
Many wine drinkers have found comfort gathered around C-adorned labels. As elsewhere, the spell of darling Chardonnay is still strong. So great is its pull that many of us, who have since started to stray and experiment with other wines made from more trendy grape varieties, are compelled to rekindle.
As far as Chardonnay from the Maltese Islands goes, its story is no different to that of the white wines from any other country where the grape has taken root. There are good local examples being produced which offer true value for money and some are actually remarkably noble.
Two Maltese Chardonnays were released for sale recently by the Delicata winery. The 2015 vintage Victoria Heights Chardonnay coming from pocket-sized vineyards from Gozo is a gallant bottle and a must-try if you like the tropical fruit flavours the grape can offer. I remember really rejoicing at my first taste of the wine’s 2012 vintage which went on to win a Bronze medal at the International Wine Challenge, UK.
But it’s Delicata’s other release, the Gran Cavalier Chardonnay D.O.K. Malta Superior, also of the 2015 vintage, which grabs the attention this time. Expectations are high after the previous 2014 vintage won Gold at the Challenge International du Vin in France last year.
Clearly its successive release has also received the complete VIP treatment from vineyard to bottle. The latest 2015 vintage of the Gran Cavalier Chardonnay is the first bottling to have been crafted using a purposely built thermal-insulated hall for the fermentation of white wine. The label reveals that this flagship white has been left to ferment in barrique; it’s been brought up in the bespoke French oak barrels of world-famed cooperage that ornately clad the cooled vault at Delicata.
Award-winning winemaker Matthew Delicata remains rather tight-lipped as not to tell too many secrets to this knightly wine’s scrumptiousness. Perhaps the reason is that he seeks to express the footprint of the vineyard rather than the thumbprint of the winemaking. Talking to him, I sense that he made this wine fully aware of his role as a custodian of the precious vineyard bounty. The grape bunches were carefully hand-picked (on the eve of Santa Maria) from only two earmarked yet family-run parcels, one in Wied ta’ l-Isqof and the other in Tal- Buqana.
A bright, inviting and slightly minerally nose surges from the bottle with a pleasant whiff of wet gravel and dewy petrichor of rapidly drying hay. Do I hear the beautiful melodic cadence of batons stirring this Chardonnay’s lees? This well balanced fuller flavoured dry white wine has a creamy palate full of precise citrusy flavours with a sappy finish following the taste of apple and riper pear, enveloped in oaky caramel and toast with Meyer lemon jam.
Latter-day wine drinkers might exercise an unmitigated scorn for any Chardonnay in sight. But what if we were only all blind for the variety when tasting such wines? We would see so much clearer and come to respect again the nobility of the wine world’s capital ‘C’.
This article first appeared in The Times of Malta, Friday 26 February 2016