Novellum – Value from the Sunny Side of France

My “Great Wine Values” tastings continue with a Chardonnay from the south of France, specifically the Languedoc-Rousillon region.

This 2017 Novellum Chardonnay cost $12.99 on Wine.Com. It got a 92 score from Jeb Dunnuck (a breakaway critic from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate). That means that the Novellum’s price-per-point is an insanely low $0.14!

When I drink whites from Languedoc-Rousillon, roses from Bandol or whatever from Provence, I’m expecting sun-in-a-glass. Other than that, wine-making styles vary wildly.

Boom! When I swirled this in the glass, I smelled candied pineapple and papaya before I even brought it near my mouth! In terms of flavor, it was very ‘sunny’ – tropical fruits, very limited oak impact, and good acidity with a touch of sweetness.

A Long Way from Burgundy

My wife liked it – though she told me it didn’t taste like a Chardonnay to her at all. “Certainly not a French Chardonnay.”

She thought it was a Riesling! And I can understand why – there was a surprising aromatic quality to the nose that made me think there was some Viognier or Marsanne added to the Chardonnay.

Later, I was chuffed to discover that I was kind of correct: 80% of the Chardonnay was aged in tanks on Viognier lees.

I’m not such a huge fan of this style, to be honest. I like the limited oak, I like the fruit but overall I don’t think I could drink four glasses of this. I don’t think I will include this one in the upcoming WineKnow tasting event. But you might love it! Different strokes for different folks!

WineKnow Facts:

  • The large wine regions of Languedoc-Rousillon and Provence are (in terms of location) very similar. The Rhone River flows into the Mediterranean near Arles, which is bang in the middle of France’s coastline. Just remember Two Ls: Languedoc-Rousillon is to the “Left” (i.e., to the west of Arles and the Rhone, stretching towards Spain) while Provence is to the east of Arles, stretching towards Italy.
  • Vines in the Languedoc get MUCH more sun than in Bordeaux or Burgundy. So you’d expect a Languedoc (or Provencal) Chardonnay to taste a lot ‘sunnier’ down than classic white Burgundy (Chardonnay). And they do. They are generally fruitier, less acidic and less complicated.
  • Languedoc (and further west, Rousillon) is a great area for value wines in France. The reds tend to be GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blends like in the Rhone Valley, while the whites are a mix of aromatic Rhone varieties like Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne or international crowd-pleasers like Chardonnay.
  • Stylistically, these wines are all over the place. Some are overtly copying the “New World” model of super-plush or heavily-oaked wines. Others are as restrained as they can be given the climate. You just have to try them until you find a few you like. Good news is, they’re cheap!

Rombauer 2015 Carneros Chardonnay

What a treat when a “mystery bottle” is actually kinda famous!

I’m pretty sure I didn’t buy this, so it must have been a gift bottle brought during our first WineKnow Chardonnay tasting.

This is a highly-respected producer. But I’m not much of a fan of Californian Chardonnays. Even the wines that retailers tell me have a light touch on the oak aging taste like butter bombs to me. Even the unoaked Calfornia Chardonnays still taste vanilla/butterscotch rich due to malolactic fermentation and high grape ripeness.

OK, so this wine was good. I’d even say it was great – for the style. It had been so long since I’d drunk a CA Chardy that I didn’t mind the flavor profile. And admittedly, this bottle had a lot less overt oakiness then so many of the other ones.

WINEKNOW FACTS:

  • There is nothing inherently oaky or buttery about Chardonnay grapes.
  • All that oak, butter, vanilla and butterscotch comes from winemaker decisions, chiefly: 1) how much new (especially American) oak the wine ages in, and 2) whether the second, malolactic fermentation was done
  • I keep reading in wine magazines that Californian winemakers have turned away from the rich, buttery styles but I don’t know what they are talking about. It’s still almost impossible to find an unoaked Chardonnay that tastes anything like Chablis
  • Any CA Chardy you buy from a supermarket will almost certainly be in this style: rich (high alcohol), oaky, buttery. Think about some of the names! Buttercream, Butter etc.

Millier – White Wine Blend (Lodi)

I love “mystery” white blends. They are so much fun to taste blind and guess the mix!

The success of the “Conundrum” label has shown that you don’t have to reveal everything. If the wine tastes great, consumers don’t need to know what grapes went into it.

This is another wine from my http://www.nakedwines.com introductory case.

The grapey grapeness was a giveaway that Moscato was a key part of the blend. The floral nose had me thinking southern Rhone white variety – but I didn’t guess Viognier. I totally missed the Chardonnay. I thought there might be Chenin Blanc in there instead.

Anyway, this is a nice white blend with a unique nose, a perception of sweetness and a somewhat bitter, almondy finish. I enjoyed it. It doesn’t taste like everything else, thank God.

Medium acidity means it wouldn’t be a great throw-in-the-Igloo-cooler summer wine. But would be an awesome seafood wine.

I love “secret” blends. It’s so much fun to try to guess which grapes are in there!

Benjamin Laroche Chablis 1er Cru Beauroy 2016

A lot of people think that talking about the color or smell of wines is just pretentious balderdash.

Here’s an example of why that is wrong.

If I hadn’t known that Chablis is made of 100% Chardonnay grapes and almost always fermented in 100% stainless steel tanks, I might not have known that there was something wrong with this bottle of wine.

Impressively, Naked Wines immediately credited my account for the bad bottle. And as you can see from the winemaker’s response, he didn’t have any doubt either – even though he had never seen my particular bottle!

Typical colors and smells help you identify if a bottle is bad (corked, premox, bad storage etc.) I am certain that there other people who received bad bottles but just didn’t realize it.

As soon as I work through my last case, I’m going to order a different bottle of this Chablis. A bad bottle doesn’t mean a bad wine.

*** My review and rating of the wine on nakedwines.com

2 Stars

Unfortunately, I am quite sure that this bottle had premox. [Premature oxygenation = too much air got into the wine too quickly.] 

It was as yellow as an oaked California Chardonnay when I poured it. It smelled and tasted like an old Riesling. Not what you would expect from a 2016 Chablis.

Chablis is my favorite Chardonnay region in the world, and one of my favorite whites, so I know the typical style very well.

I am certain that this was an individual bottle problem as I cannot imagine a Frenchman with the last name Laroche would make a Chablis that doesn’t taste like Chablis! 

As such, my rating of 2-Hearts is not really fair. I am sure that I would love this Chablis if the wine was in pristine condition.

*** Reply from the Winemaker

“Dear Scott, indeed, there [must] be a problem [with this bottle]. The color at first speaks by itself. My wines are pale yellow with greenish hints. Wine is a living product so problems sometime occur….You should contact Naked customer service and they will exchange the bottle. Sorry for that. If you are a Chablis lover, for sure you should not be disappointed [with my wine].”

WineKnow Facts:

  • Chablis is in Burgundy. If a wine is white and says Bourgogne or Burgundy on the label, it is almost always 100% Chardonnay
  • Chablis is almost always 100% unoaked. It’s fermented/aged in stainless steel tanks.
  • These wines should be pale yellow to clear, have great acidity, lemon-lime fruit and a difficult to describe mineral or saline quality.
  • Chablis is my favorite type of Chardonnay. In fact, it’s probably my favorite white wine period. (Although Godello is my current fling.)