Naturally, right after writing an article about how oak is not to blame for the butteriness of Chardonnay, I end up running a tasting with a buttery Chardonnay that is not oaky. Full disclosure: the wine is only available at BevMo, and I happen to work for BevMo (part time, retail wine specialist). Implied conflict of interests aside, I promise to be fair in my assessment of the wine.
The Quimay Chardonnay is full of both varietal rhyme and locational Q’s, hailing from the exotic-sounding and deceptively-easy-to-pronounce Argentine region of Neuquen (Wikipedia has directed me to pronounce it as “new ken”). This is the first wine I’ve had from the region, which is evidently arid yet cool–or at least cooler than its confederate Argentine regions–giving the wines produced there characteristics unique from your typical Mendoza wine.
And the Quimay Chardonnay is certainly unique. Right off the bat, you get a lot of earthiness and minerality off the nose, with wet hay and limestone coming up strong, along with a good dose of green apple, nectarine, and a decided yeastiness, which–according to the tasting notes–comes from the natural yeast fermentation used in the production of the wine. Take a sip, and right away you notice how heavy and creamy the texture of the wine is, though in spite of that creaminess the wine still retains a medium-high acidity and is quite dry, with crisp green apple and grapefruit peel coming in hard and fast, along with a hint of lemon custard and pineapple. The finish is fairly long and mouth coating, echoing with hints of toasty meyer lemons. Visually, the wine sits rich yellow in the glass with a slight green tinge to it.
All of these flavors combine into something I can confidently describe as “intriguing.” This is not a typical Chardonnay by any stretch of the imagination, and indeed, you can spend a lot of time pulling aromas and flavors out of it, a sign of the wine’s complexity. This is definitely a wine where the terroir comes through loud and clear, with only 3 months of used French oak aging to interfere with the natural character of the vineyards as expressed by the Chardonnay. The wine underwent a fairly serious regimen of malolactic fermentation (70% of the juice, to be specific) which is the most obvious element of winemaker meddling, but it gives the wine less of a heavy butter flavor and more of a permeating oiliness, bestowing it with an almost Viognier-like quality.
One of the most complex elements of the wine was deciding whether or not I truly enjoyed it, or if I was merely fascinated by it. On the one hand, it is completely atypical of what you would expect from a Chardonnay, with unique character and a lot of really interesting flavors. On the other hand, I had to pass through a layer of bitterness with the first few sips to get to those flavors, and elements of the finish reminded me of mineral water, and I never could get into mineral water. However, I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that this is still a very young wine, and could probably stand a year or two of age, given its structure. A little bit of cheese probably wouldn’t hurt, either…
All in all, I would say this wine falls under the category of “advanced Chardonnay”–dry, complex, and unexpected, something to discuss with friends over dinner or to slot into a private tasting to shake things up and make your tasters look up in surprise. It’s the kind of Chardonnay people who boastfully hate Chardonnay tend to enjoy, and it’s a great example of how a wine with almost no oak can still be buttery.
Just don’t expect it to taste like La Crema. You came to the wrong corner of Argentina if that’s what you’re looking for, pal…