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February’s 29 days of Chardonnay

a collaborative project


Dreaming Salon: Blanc de Blancs and the Grape that Makes it Possible
by Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka

My Chardonnay Fantasy

Regularly I have the most wonderful dream. I am wearing one of the dresses from Husseyn Chalayan’s Spring/Summer 2010 Ready-to-Wear collection. It’s light, utterly Parisian focused. A close friend and I are sitting outside a café in mid-afternoon, late summer when it’s warm enough to enjoy being outside, but not so hot to sweat. We’re relaxed and happy. Then the waiter brings over the ice bucket, and in his other hand is a bottle of the 1996 Salon Blanc-de-Blancs Champagne, all Le–Misnil-sur-Ogre grapes, low production, steely, flinty, and crisp. The waiter pours it for me to taste. It is fresh, and minerals, with just enough yeast, toast, and lemon verbena on the nose to lure me deep into the pleasure of the glass. I smile, nod at him, and he pours a glass for my contemporary to enjoy, then a glass for me. He walks away.

The truth? I have never had this particular champagne, though I am a devotee of bubbles. A Master Sommelier gave me an important lesson long ago. He said, “many Americans believe that champagne is for celebrating. They are right. I like to celebrate every time I’ve made it through another day.” Amen. So, with such a love of sparkling wines made in the methode champenoise style, why does the Salon stand out as special?

In the early 20th century Eugene Aime Salon became convicted that the grapes of his small village could produce a single varietal champagne of chardonnay that would offer a crispness and finesse to lure us away from the more fruit driven tradition of a multi-grape blend. As such, Salon was the first to produce, and then market what we now know as blanc-de-blancs. In this way, Salon Champagne offers not only wonderful quality, but the birth of a new tradition, one that showcases the brilliant combination of sophistication and delicacy of which chardonnay is capable.

Considering the Grape

As widely grown as chardonnay proves to be, still in many ways it is one of the least understood grapes. Others with greater obscurity, or locality may not be as well-known, but the incredibly flexibility and range of styles that chardonnay has to offer go unseen by many general wine drinkers. In the United States it is often taken to be an oaky, fruit punchy white that drives either a passionate commitment, or certain dislike. California style generally takes such a description, as do Australian or New Zealand chardonnays. But in truth all three areas also offer more delicate, and complex, unoaked varietals of the grape as well. In warmer climates, the grape shows punchier fruit tendencies and less minerals with a fuller mouth feel. In cooler climates the grape tucks its fruit in tight and takes a flinty, focused mineral style. Production choices can turn on butter or nut flavors, and bring in hints of baking spice, caramel, or even smoke. Or, wine makers can avoid all these and keep the wine showing only the minerals, or just the fruit. While many people think of chardonnay as having just one style, it’s a grape that offers a world of wonders. With this common mismatch of possibility to reputation, chardonnay is one of my most-respected grapes.

Bio: Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka has been a commercial salmon fisherman, a college admin, a university philosophy professor, a poet, a runner, a mother, and a camel trainer. She now spends her time drinking wine, and drawing comics about it. To see more of her work check out her wine-review comics at http://WakawakaWineReviews.com