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   Share this article     Summary of Editorial column Wine Tasting 
  Editorial Issue 227, April 2023   
In Praise of Merlot and ChardonnayIn Praise of Merlot and Chardonnay  Contents 
Issue 226, March 2023 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 228, May 2023

In Praise of Merlot and Chardonnay


 I already imagine many of you, dear readers, after having simply read the title of this editorial, have made an expression of disappointment, even wondering why Merlot and Chardonnay can truly be deserving of praise. I imagine, not least, other readers who, reading the same title, agree with me and think – certainly yes – Merlot and Chardonnay are both deserving of praise. These two varieties – to tell the truth, not the only ones – are in fact among the most divisive in the discussions and preferences of wine enthusiasts. There are, in fact, those who see them as the absolute evil of enology, because of their enological characteristic of “homologizing” the sensorial qualities of a wine, while others recognize them extraordinary elegance and finesse. One thing is certain: Merlot and Chardonnay are distinguished by their enormous personality, such as to never go unnoticed when they are part of the composition of a wine, alone or blended with other grapes.


 

 After all, it is certainly not a fault to have a great personality, rather the responsibility goes to those who associate them, so to speak, with shy and modest grapes. It is evident that, in these unfortunate cases, Merlot and Chardonnay unequivocally prevail without giving any chance – at least, very little – to the unfortunate blend companions. As far as I'm concerned, Merlot and Chardonnay are two very great varieties, capable of producing wines of magnificent class and elegance. This does not always happen, of course, as these two varieties – just like all the others – in order to reach levels of excellence, require the existence and scrupulous adoption of equally excellent conditions. When this does not occur, Merlot and Chardonnay are capable of creating trivial, ordinary wines, even boring and without any emotion, except the fact of being however recognized for some sensorial characteristics which always accompany them. More than possibly blaming Merlot and Chardonnay, it is wiser to attribute the responsibility to those who have used them in such an inappropriate way.

 Because, let's face it, for years, indeed, decades, these two varieties have been used everywhere in the world with the hope of performing an enological miracle, as if they were endowed with who knows what magical properties such as to transform any wine into gold. Is a wine too thin? Without character and personality? Does it have faint aromas? Too edgy? No problem: just add Merlot or Chardonnay – according to style – and enjoy the magic. This has happened – and continues to happen – in every wine-producing country in the world, even in those in which the climate and soil are clearly not suitable for the qualitative cultivation of Merlot and Chardonnay. It is true these two varieties have a surprising ability of adaptation and that, for better or for worse, their presence in a wine hardly goes unnoticed. This does not mean their contribution is always positive or decisive. In some cases, after a quick tasting, in addition to being disappointing, is even “ridiculous” and inappropriate.

 This last and unfortunate case is not only recurrent in many wines produced with Merlot and Chardonnay, but it is also evidently the cause of the prejudices against these two varieties. In this regard, it could be made a virtually endless list of wines in which Merlot and Chardonnay are used – alone or combined with other varieties – with decidedly “trivial” results and which invade the wine scene of every country in the world with results that do not honor neither Merlot nor Chardonnay, much less their territories and producers. A phenomenon that began at the dawn of the 1900s – outside France, of course – when what were later called international varieties were introduced in many wine-producing countries of the world and, among these, Merlot and Chardonnay, of course. In Italy, up until a few decades ago, they were even defined as “ameliorative varieties”, with the firm belief their presence was enough to transform, or rather improve, any wine thanks to a magic of extraordinary excellence.

 When cultivated with high qualitative criteria, in suitable environmental and climatic conditions, vinified with no less high enological quality – ladies and gentlemen, hats off – Merlot and Chardonnay are absolutely and flawlessly capable of creating enological monuments of absolute class, finesse and elegance. If, at this moment, you are imagining that I am, in some way, alluding to, for example, Bordeaux and Burgundy, yes, certainly and unquestionably yes, you have imagined very well. I do not intend to say these two territories are the only ones in which Merlot and Chardonnay are capable of making great wines, as there are many wine-growing territories in the world in which these two varieties – thanks also to the right environmental and technological conditions – have largely proved peaks of the highest excellence. Will it perhaps be a coincidence, however, that wherever Merlot and Chardonnay are cultivated, with the intention of making wine, it is always and inevitably looked to Bordeaux and Burgundy as examples and references to “imitate”?

 The enological versatility of these two grapes is evidently indisputable. Both are capable of excellent enological results obtained both in the vinification in inert containers and – and even better – in wooden ones, with a particular preference for small sized ones, such as the barrique. Moreover, in wooden containers, they are capable of great things also with fermentation and not only with aging. Furthermore, Chardonnay is an impeccable interpreter of classic method sparkling wines, always generous with superfine class, finesse and elegance. Again, if you were imagining me possibly alluding to Blanc de Blancs Champagne, you guessed right. For my part, I imagine some of you could object arguing that both Merlot and Chardonnay tend to excessively round their wines, therefore contributing to an annoying and boring sensorial homologation of their wines and those where they are used in blend with other grapes. True. After all, it is undeniable, since it is clear and evident, these two grapes have also a decidedly round character.

 However, they are also much more than their roundness, in particular when all the other organoleptic qualities they have are considered and respected, when they are cultivated in the right places and, above all, harvested at the right time. Needless to say, properly vinified. Because it must be said – well yes – both Merlot and Chardonnay, in addition to roundness, also have acidity and any wine, regardless of the style, which should lack crispness, would always and in any case be unbalanced and certainly not very agreeable. Indeed, absolutely unpleasant. After all, in case Chardonnay were roundness only, its use would be totally improbable – and with huge worldwide success – in so many classic method sparkling wines. We can certainly quibble about the way, or rather the ways, used in the vineyard and winery with Chardonnay and Merlot, very often questionable. This is something that, undeniably, is true not only for these two varieties, but to all of them. Moreover, to claim the mere use of two grapes, and not only Chardonnay and Merlot, can in some way and without further effort lead to the creation of a quality wine, is not only highly questionable but also the proof of improbable viticultural and winemaking skills of those who believe in it and are even convinced of it. This, however and in any case, does not in any way harm the real reputation and greatness of Merlot and Chardonnay. Two great grapes and mothers of great wines, magnificent examples of class, elegance and enological beauty.

Antonello Biancalana



   Share this article     Summary of Editorial column Wine Tasting 
  Editorial Issue 227, April 2023   
In Praise of Merlot and ChardonnayIn Praise of Merlot and Chardonnay  Contents 
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