Sunday, May 5, 2013

Black Ankle Vineyards Chardonnay (2011)

Chardonnay has become a worldly grape. Although the grape was first cultivated in the Burgundy region of France, Chardonnay vines now stretch beyond the borders of the French Republic, across the European continent and around the world, reaching out to the United States and as far away as Australia. 
Despite the seemingly omnipresent nature of the grape, there are definitely regional differences when it comes to Chardonnay wines.  For example, in the Chablis region, winemakers produce Chardonnays that have a sort-of "goût de pierre à fusil" or gunpowder flavor, which is simply a reference to the mineral elements in the wine's flavor.  These Chablis wines are also aged in stainless steel, never touching the side of a toasted barrel.    By contrast, in California, many winemakers followed a trend of aging their Chardonnay wines in barrels, lending flavors of  oak and vanilla to the wines. 
In Maryland, the winemakers seem to plot their own course between Chablis and California.  Take, for example, the Chardonnay wine produced by Black Ankle Vineyards.  The vines grow on north-facing slopes of decomposing slate that is laced with veins of quartz.  After the Chardonnay grapes have been harvested and the juice is extracted, the winemakers blend the Chardonnay with just a little Muscat and ferment the wine for six months in French oak barrels (of which 40% are new).

The Black Ankle Chardonnay, which is produced with 96% Chardonnay and 4% Muscat, pours a clear, fresh and light golden color.  The winemakers describe the aromas as having elements of smooth pineapple, lemon custard, and honey.  I could definitely sense the pineapple and honey.  As for the taste, the winemakers describe the Chardonnay as complex and well-balanced on the palate, with flavors of lemon, white cake, peach, and mineral supported by light oak flavors and a lingering citrus finish.  I think that the citrus was definitely in both the front and the finish of the wine, with the lemon and some grapefruit.  There are definitely other fruit flavors, such as the peach suggested by the winemakers.  And, there is definitely a little oak from the aging of the wine.  This wine is nothing like an oaked Chardonnay from California.  Instead, the winemakers expertly keep the oak flavors far in the background.   In so doing, Black Ankle strikes out its own path between the gunpowder flavors of the Chablis style and the buttery oaky style of some Californian Chardonnays.

The absence of the buttery, vanilla oaked character makes this Chardonnay very food friendly.  So friendly that it could be paired like a lighter wine, such as a Viognier or Pinot Grigio.  This wine goes very well with any seafood or vegetable dish.  On this particular occasion, I paired the Chardonnay with my version of Maryland crabcakes and the pairing was perfect. 

Only 170 cases of this wine have been produced, which means it is difficult to find.  If you come across a bottle, it is definitely worth a try (and a second one, and a third one, ...).  I purchased this wine at the vineyard and have not seen it at any wine stores. 


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