White, Chardonnay, Champagne, WINE

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Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape variety used to make white wine. It originated in the Burgundy region of eastern France, but is now grown wherever wine is produced, from England to New Zealand. For new and developing wine regions, growing Chardonnay is seen as a "rite of passage" and an easy entry into the international wine market. A peak in popularity in the late 1980s gave way to a backlash among those wine connoisseurs who saw the grape as a leading negative component of the globalization of wine. Nonetheless, it remains one of the most widely planted grape varieties worldwide. The Chardonnay grape itself is very neutral, with many of the flavors commonly associated with the grape being derived from such influences as terroir and oak. It is vinified in many different styles, from stainless steel and concrete fermentations to new oak barrel fermentions, from zero malo-lactic seconardy fermentation to full malo-lactic fermentation. Climate and topography also play decisive roles in the style of the wines.

Chardonnay is the dominant white grape in Burgundy. In addition to Chablis, Chardonnay is found in the Côte d'Or (largely in the Côte de Beaune), as well as the Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais. The apex of Chardonnay is found in the grands crus — Montrachet, Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet, Bâtard-Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet, and Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet, as well as Charlemagne, Corton-Charlemagne, and Le Musigny. In addition to being the most expensive, the Burgundy examples of Chardonnay were long considered the benchmark standard of expressing terroir through Chardonnay. The Montrachets are noted for their high alcohol levels, often above 13%, as well as deep concentration of flavors. The vineyards around Chassagne-Montrachet tend to produce wines that have a characteristic hazelnut aroma to them, while those of Puligny-Montrachet have more steely flavors. Both grand cru and premier cru examples from Corton-Charlemagne have been known to demonstrate marzipan, while Meursault wines tend to be the most round and plush examples. Well-made examples of white Burgundy from the Côte d'Or need at least three years in the bottle to develop enough to express the aromas and character of the wine. South of the Côte d'Or are the Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais wine regions. The villages of Mercurey and Rully are the most prominent producers of Chardonnay in the Côte Chalonnaise, with the best-made examples rivaling those of the Côte de Beaune. In the Mâconnais, the full-bodied wines of the Pouilly-Fuissé have long held cult wine status with prices that can rival the grand cru white burgundies, while the elegant, mineral-driven wines of Viré-Clessé are gaining increasing recognition.

Chardonnay is the only permitted grape in the Chablis AOC. The region's famous Kimmeridgian limestone soils give the wines their trademark austerity and racy vibrance. The French describe this soil as argilo-calcaire, a composition of clay, limestone, and fossilized oyster shells. The most expensive examples of Chardonnay from Chablis come from the seven Grand Cru vineyards — Blanchots, Bougros, Les Clos, Grenouilles, Preuses, Valmur, and Vaudésir. The wines from these crus most often capture the goût de pierre à fusil or "gunflint" quality that is characteristic of Chablis wine. The Chardonnay made in the Chablis region is one of the "purest" expressions of the varietal character of the grape due to the simplistic style of winemaking favored in this region. Chablis winemakers want to emphasise the terroir of the calcareous soil and cooler climate that help maintain high acidity. The wines rarely go through malolactic fermentation or oak treatment (though its use is increasing).

In Champagne, Chardonnay is one of three major grape varieties. In the Côte des Blancs (white slope) district, Chardonnay thrives on the chalk soil. The three main villages around the Côte grow Chardonnay that emphasizes certain characteristics that the Champagne producers seek depending on their house style. The village of Avize grows grapes that produce the lightest wines, Cramant makes the most aromatic, and Mesnil produces wines with the most acidity. The Côte des Blancs is the only district in the Champagne region predominately planted with Chardonnay, which accounts for its reputation as the finest of Blanc de Blancs wines in the region. Chardonnay grapes in Champagne rarely attain full ripeness due to the low annual mean temperature of the region. Therefore, the Chardonnay grapes do not fully develop their fruit flavors, and the still wines of Champagne are typically so lean and acidic as to be undrinkable. Consequently, the element in Chardonnay that Champagne wine-makers look for is the finesse and balance of acidity that it brings to the blend. Some flavors that can emerge, particularly with extended time on its lees, include creamy and nuttiness with some floral notes.

Chardonnay in the New World is indisputably defined by the California style, which focuses on advanced ripening and densely concentrated fruit profiles, all of which are often enhanced by full malolactic fermentation and aging in new oak barrels. These practices, especially as expressed in Napa Valley versions of Chardonnay, give the wines their characteristic highly alcoholic butter and vanilla profiles that made them so widely popular with US consumers over the past three decades. However, recent years have seen a shift toward more nuanced, balanced expressions from the state's cooler AVAs, such as Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Maria Valley, Sta. Rita Hills, and Sonoma Coast. Producers throughout the New World have repeatedly tried their hands at Chardonnay cultivation with mixed results. Some of the most successful projects have emerged in other cool-climate regions, such as Margaret River in Western Australia, and the Western Cape regions of South Africa. New World Chardonnay as a whole is characterized by tropical and tree fruit profiles, noticeably lacking in the strident minerality and indicators of terroir so commonly found in Old World styles from France.

Thanks to its fairly neutral palate, Chardonnay provides a canvas for winemakers all over the world to practice their techniques to varying results, which explains its role as a cornerstone varietal of the white wine world.

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96 points Antonio Galloni (Vinous): ...another riveting wine from Pascal Agrapart. Here, too, the interplay of textural richness and finesse is utterly captivating. Lemon confit, white flowers, mint and orchard fruit all develop, but it is the wine's feel and stunning balance that make it impossible… ...
AG 96
WA 95
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Agrapart Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne L'Avizoise 2012  (#335111)

Vintage Sparkling Wine from Côte des Blancs, Champagne, France

96 points Antonio Galloni (Vinous): ...another riveting wine from Pascal Agrapart. Here, too, the interplay of textural richness and finesse is utterly captivating. Lemon confit, white flowers, mint and orchard fruit all develop, but it is the wine's…

750ml Bottle | In stock, 11 available
AG 96
WA 95
JS 95
96 points James Suckling: The nose is floral, delicate and has chalky-mineral accents with a fine edge of yellow citrus fruit. The palate has a super fine, smooth and focused line of lemon, lime and green-mango flavors. Long and taut. Chardonnay at its elegant, powerful best! Blanc de blancs, 50/50… ...
JS 96
WA 95
AG 95
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Agrapart Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Mineral 2012  (#335110)

Vintage Sparkling Wine from Côte des Blancs, Champagne, France

96 points James Suckling: The nose is floral, delicate and has chalky-mineral accents with a fine edge of yellow citrus fruit. The palate has a super fine, smooth and focused line of lemon, lime and green-mango flavors. Long and taut. Chardonnay at…

750ml Bottle | In stock, 7 available
JS 96
WA 95
AG 95
*(*) Peter Liem (ChampagneGuide.net): ...dark and stony on both the nose and palate, de-emphasizing its fruit flavors, yet it avoids the vegetal character typical of the vintage, instead feeling savory and strongly chalky even to the point of bitterness, albeit in an appealing way. It grows in… ...
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Agrapart Extra Brut Champagne Blanc de Blancs Mineral 2011  (#333884)

Vintage Sparkling Wine from Côte des Blancs, Champagne, France

*(*) Peter Liem (ChampagneGuide.net): ...dark and stony on both the nose and palate, de-emphasizing its fruit flavors, yet it avoids the vegetal character typical of the vintage, instead feeling savory and strongly chalky even to the point of…

750ml Bottle | In stock, 3 available
96 points Antonio Galloni (Vinous): Here in its first release, the 2014 Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Les Grandes Crayères is another fabulous wine from Aurelien Laherte. Powerful in the glass, the 2014 possesses striking textural depth and resonance. This is an especially potent, structured expression… ...
AG 96
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Laherte Freres Extra Brut Champagne Les Grandes Crayeres 2014  (#334642)

Vintage Sparkling Wine from Champagne, France

96 points Antonio Galloni (Vinous): Here in its first release, the 2014 Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Les Grandes Crayères is another fabulous wine from Aurelien Laherte. Powerful in the glass, the 2014 possesses striking textural depth and resonance.…

750ml Bottle | In stock, 4 available
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