What Am I Tasting?

Can you figure out this lean, firm white displaying apple, lemon and oyster shell notes?

April 23, 2015

Our blind tasting game—without the tasting! Can you identify a wine just by reading its tasting note? We post real Wine Spectator reviews. You use clues such as color, aromas, flavors and structure to figure out the grape, age and origin. Good luck!

Tasting Note: A lean, firm white, this displays apple, lemon, oyster shell and earth notes. Balanced, with fine length and a lemony aftertaste. Think oysters.

And the answer is...


Variety

Here we have a mineral-driven white with good length to the finish. We’re told that it’s lean, aided by lemony notes, suggesting at least moderate to high acidity. The fruit flavors, however, are fairly streamlined with just lemon and apple noted.

Riesling has naturally high acidity and it can express an intense minerality, a quality for which it is prized. However, it also tends to be effusive, with fruit flavors ranging from the citrus and apple we see here to honeyed tropical and stone fruits, which we would expect to be prominently mentioned in a tasting note for an aromatic variety such as Riesling.

Gewürztraminer is another aromatic variety, typically associated with exotic notes like spices and lychee. Our wine doesn't really have the fruit intensity of an aromatic grape, so we can rule out Gewürztraminer as well.

Sauvignon Blanc tends to show high acidity. Depending on where it is grown, it might display bold fruit notes in warmer climates, or it can also show a marked thread of minerality in cooler climates. However, no matter where it’s from, Sauvignon Blanc tends to give itself away with a green streak, be it through a touch of grassiness, a more intense green bell pepper or even a jalapeño note. We’re not seeing anything on the green spectrum here, so we can rule out Sauvignon Blanc.

We’re left with Melon de Bourgogne and Chardonnay. The fruit notes of lemon and apple are consistent with both of these grapes, as are the marine notes. As well, it’s possible for these grapes to have considerable freshness when grown in the right climate or soil types.

This note holds a few clues to the quality level of this wine. While the fruit notes are fairly straightforward, there is complexity here. We have a couple of layers of mineral flavors unfolding with earth and oyster shells. We can also see that it has some structure, as it's lean and firm. We’re told that the wine is balanced, which should lead us to consider that this is a well-made wine, and it could potentially be from grapes from a particularly good site. We’re also told that it has fine length and flavor that continues through, leaving a lemony aftertaste. That combination of balance, structure, acidity and length all suggest that this wine was made with an eye toward aging.

Melon de Bourgogne tends to be fairly neutral in flavor. It can often gain complexity by aging it on its lees, the yeast cells that die off during fermentation along with other particulates such as seeds, stems and pulp, which can make the wine smoother and creamier and add more complex flavor notes. However, Chardonnay can also be aged on its lees. While there are excellent examples of Melon de Bourgogne being made, the majority are made for early consumption, as that is when it tends to be most fresh and attractive. Of these two grapes, Melon de Bourgogne is the less likely to be made in a style intended for aging.

On the other hand, a well-made Chardonnay with structure and length has excellent aging potential.

This wine is a Chardonnay.

Country or Region of Origin

Chardonnay is made just about everywhere winegrapes are grown, so this is going to take some whittling down.

There is one area we can knock out fairly quickly. While Chardonnay is made in Germany, it accounts for a very tiny percentage of the total vineyard area.

This has a very pronounced mineral component, which should immediately have us thinking of the Old World, where we're more likely to find this type of wine. Moreover, when combined with the sleek structure and acidity, we should also begin to consider that this is most likely from a cool-climate region. Even wines vinified in stainless steel from California or Chile would tend to have riper fruit notes—we even might start to see some more opulent flavors like melon or stone fruits. We can rule out California and Chile.

We have two Old World possibilities left: Italy and France. Italy is warm in the south, but does have cool, mountainous regions in the north. The northern regions of France tend to be very cool as well.

The detail we need to focus on is that not only is this wine mineral-driven, but that minerality has a very specific signature. Oyster shell is a fairly typical marker for wines grown on Kimmeridgian soil. This soil is made up of a mixture of clay and limestone that dates back to the Jurassic period and is laced with fossilized oyster shells—the remnants of ancient seas that have long since receded. The wine regions most famous for this follow a ridge that runs from the town of Kimmeridge in England, under the English Channel and through sections of the Loire, Burgundy and Champagne in France.

This Chardonnay is from France.

Appellation

We’re in the homestretch now, having already eliminated Germany's Mosel, Italy's Alto Adige, California's Napa Valley and Chile's Casablanca.

Among our remaining options we have two French appellations: Muscadet and Chablis. These two regions produce wines that have some similar characteristics: straightforward fruit flavors, fresh acidity and minerality. In fact, the grapes from both of these appellations originated in Burgundy.

However, despite these similarities, the Muscadet AOC, in the Pays Nantais subregion of the Loire, is devoted to Melon de Bourgogne.

Chablis, on the other hand, is a classic region for fine Chardonnay. The Kimmeridgian soils that run through this area are celebrated for giving the wines their signature minerality, which is amplified by winemaking styles that showcase the characteristics in our tasting note (for example, aging in neutral oak or steel tanks to allow the Chardonnay's terroir to shine through).

This Chardonnay is from Chablis.

Age

The fruit in this wine is straightforward but fresh. Beyond that, the principal aromas are of minerals and earth, which are more markers of the wine’s terroir than of its age. There are no secondary or tertiary aromas here, so we can rule out the 6- to-9-year-old and 10 years or more age bracket.

There are no major indicators of the age here, nor do we see any overt suggestions of wood aging. However, as discussed earlier, this seems to be a wine that was made with the intent to age. In France, particularly in the areas most famous for producing high-quality Chardonnay, wines are often aged in older oak or in inert vessels to give the wine’s components time to integrate. Given this, it is likely that this wine was given some time to settle and mature, so we can rule out the 1- to 2-year-old age bracket.

This wine is from 2011, making it four years old.

Wine

This is the Albert Bichot Chablis Les Vaillons Domaine Long-Depaquit 2011, which received 91 points. Chablis can be expensive, but values can still be found. Les Vaillons is a premier cru site and this wine demonstrates all the attributes we would expect from this area, making it a reasonable value at $40.

This wine's oyster shell signature from the Kimmeridgian soils, combined with the crisp acidity and citrus notes, makes it a perfect pairing for, as the tasting note says, oysters, not to mention other fish and shellfish. For more on the wines of Chablis, see Wine Spectator's two-part video series, Chablis 101.

—Nicole Ruiz Hudson, assistant tasting coordinator