Thursday, May 31, 2012

Getting Wild with Chardonnay at Roanoke Vineyards

Roanoke Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island has a Chardonnay called The Wild! that provides flavor, satisfaction, and a little bit of funk.  I recently tasted the 2010 vintage of The Wild!, which goes far beyond the typical flavor profile of new world Chard, which, to my palate, tastes fruity but often comes up short.  The Wild! has a nose of limes and peaches. When I drank it, I immediately responded to the its full body, and I loved the complex flavors, which were tart and somewhat citric but also had hints of grass and a satisfying, long finish that was reminiscent of mushroom.  This really is a wild child Chardonnay!
The name is a nod to the use of wild yeast in the fermentation. Now, playing with wild yeast can be a bit of a crap shoot for a wine maker.  To give a small bit of scientific background, yeast is the living organism found naturally on grapes that eats the sugar in the grape juice and produces alcohol - that's the fermentation process. In modern winemaking, it's common for winemakers to kill the natural yeast and instead start fermentation with purchased yeast. That's because, in addition to causing fermentation, yeast also produces compounds that contribute to the wine's flavors.  With purchased yeast,  they know what flavors the yeast will bring to the wine.  With mother nature, you don't know how it will turn out.  Using purchased yeast can produce a consistently palatable wine.  However, that consistency can be a little bit predictable, a lit bit bland.
While problems with using wild yeast exist - fermentation may stop before it's done, off-flavors can develop - many winemakers recognize that it can provide layers of complexity to the wine, and that was certainly the result here.
I like the label of The Wild!, which features energetic swaths of colors and also the use of the explanation point in the name of the wine. This winemaking technique is exciting, and the results are too.  I've said before that it takes a special Chardonnay to win me over, and this is one of the rare ones that does.

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