This one's a mystery, a Chardonnay that tastes like a cross between a Riesling and a particularly rich Sauvignon Blanc. I served it one summer evening in the Languedoc and the visitors who like Sauvignon loved it, and so did I because it gave me the same pleasure – massively revitalising plus aroma – as a Riesling.
It's the 'simple' white of Domaine Sainte Rose, a relatively new outfit near Beziers in the Herault acquired in 2002 and much renovated by Charles and Ruth Simpson whose account of the great deluge earlier this month you can read at Bordeaux starts early, Languedoc lashed by rain. They both had high-flying careers before falling in love with wine and the idea of making it and I seem to remember hearing that they happened on this idea when living in Azerbaijan and she's a member of the Grant (Glenfiddich) whisky family.
They make a very ripe, opulent Le Garrigue 2002 red blend, a Roussanne 2004 which has yet to acquire much in the way of varietal character, presumably because of the youth of the vines, and I find their richer, oakier Le Pinacle Chardonnay 2002 much less distinctive than this lovely unoaked wine.
We were all intrigue by the arresting but un-Chardonnay-like aromas of Le Sirocco Chardonnay 2004 – almost grapefruit – which set me asking the Simpsons which yeasts they had used. I am becoming more and more fascinated by the effect that various specially selected yeasts can have on flavour and here, it seemed to me, was an excellent example. (Another wine which shares some of this character is the Frontera Sauvignon Blanc 2005 from Concha y Toro in Chile, just £4.49 from Tesco.)
The Simpsons kindly obliged with full disclosure re winemaking:
The Technique: Similar to most years where we pick at night and protect the juice all the way from the vendange bin through to the press (I know James [Herrick who consults at this domaine] always tells us off for not oxidising the juice at this stage…an ongoing debate between him and Delphine [the oenologist]!). During fermentation we use a cliqueur (not sure the English word [dispenser?]) to ensure the correct amount of oxygen for maximum yeast efficiency.
The Yeasts: Two Types.
4F9: Just released for the 2004 vintage from an experiment used in ageing Loire Muscadet sur lie. Designed to help with body and structure.
QA23: Portuguese yeast designed to extract fresh citrusy fruit characters and to maintain acidity.
The Enzymes: Just skin softening enzymes so that juice extraction is eased i.e. increased free run and less invasive pressing.
It may have been the QA23 that has imbued this wine with my very attractive grapefruit aroma, and Chardonnay is certainly good malleable raw material, although 4F9 has been specially engineered to maximise the aromas of wines aged on lees. Yeast specialists Lallemand have a useful reference chart for the characteristics of various yeasts, and here's a good reference on 4F9 from Fermicru, presumably rivals of Lallemand. MW students, please note!
Wherever you are in the world, you can buy this wine direct from the domaine via their fine website at www.domaine-sainte-rose.com for £6.60 a bottle. There's also an impressive list of importers in the UK, Ireland, US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Switzerland, Norway, Netherlands and Denmark on the website. One particularly keen UK retailer is Leon Stolarski of Nottingham who is offering Le Sirocco at just £6.25.
This wine would make a fine aperitif but may well be a bit too assertive for drinking with food. It is certainly interesting for those intrigued by the effect of yeasts on wine flavour - or at least what I think is the effect of yeasts on wine flavour.