Opus 1,500: What is wine and what is it for?

This is the one thousand-five hundredth post I have published on Elitistreview – if I lack anything in reasonableness and balance I more than make up for it in terms of output and opinion! Rather than a simple tasting note to celebrate this stunning milestone, I want to write a tasting note that covers a wider subject, namely: what is wine and what is its purpose? I discuss this in the following tasting note.

Black Chalk Classic 2015Classic Sparkling Wine 2015, Black Chalk

Perhaps the most obvious point to make its that wine is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented fruit. In this case the fruit used are the grape varietals Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier. These are the normal grape varietals grown to make sparkling wine in Champagne, but in this case they have been grown in Hampshire to produce a sparkling wine.

The varietal Chardonnay dominates this blend and it is obvious on the nose and palate. Rather than the red/dark fruits one detects in fizz blends dominated by the two red varietals, this has delicious elegant lemon and lime fruits of the white Chardonnay varietal.

This wine is made from selected plots of older vines in Hampshire and that has given the wine a real depth of fruit flavour – there are layers upon layers of complex citrus aromas that, with a bit of breathing, have shown more lime and grapefruit characteristics than the normal lemon one would expect from Chardonnay-based wines. There is almost a hint of Riesling to it!

The red grapes do give more character to the wine than just the citrus fruits from the Chardonnay, there are hints of raspberry which are quite delicious and add complexity to the already involute nose of the powerful Chardonnay fruit.

I am sure that some of the power of this wine comes from using red grapes in the blend, it may smell light and fruitsome on the nose, but as you slurp it about your palate there’s a real sense of density that pervades its layers of fruit flavours. The fruity characteristics of this fizz are simply glorious!

Fruit alone is not responsible for making this wine as it is. The fruit was grown in specific, selected vineyards with chalky soil. The chalk that runs through Hampshire is the same vein that the white cliffs of Dover are made from. It also goes under the the channel and pops out again to make the best soils where Champagne is grown. Those sparkling wines and this one have more in common than just grape varietals.

Chalk soils are alkaline and generally speaking, alkaline soils produce wines with higher acidity. Do not ask me the biochemical processes that cause this – I was never that kind of biologist! This wine has ample acidity, it is a lively, vivacious wine made thrilling by its acidity (and bubbles, more on them later).

Chalk soils are also considered ideal for the grape varietals that constitute this wine. They are thought to allow the varietals to show at their best. Indeed, this wine is full of complex fruity flavours and one gets sensations which years of tasting have enabled one to recognise that this wine is grown on chalk. The biggest clue is that as you swallow, and this is so good even in a tasting I would not spit, you feel a stony grip at the back of your palate, a type of hard astringency that holds your palate and makes the flavours persist for a long time. Black Chalk Classic 2015 has certainly benefited from being grown on felicitous soils – the finish is commandingly impressive.

So the wine is made from the same grapes as Champagne and grown on the same chalky soils as Champagne – so does it taste like Champagne? Well, not really… It is obviously a sparkling wine so has similarities, but it is a Hampshire sparkling wine.

2015 may have been a warm year in Hampshire, but Hampshire is further north than Champagne so is cooler. Therefore, Hampshire grapes do not get as ripe as the grapes in Champagne and so the resultant wine has less alcohol. Hampshire sparkling wines are lighter in character and alcohol than the sparkling wines of Champagne.

I have talked about the strong citrus fruit characteristics of this wine and it is generally true that Hampshire sparkling wines have a light, elegant fruitiness that is quite different from the toasty, brioche characteristics of those from Champagne. The character of the fruitiness of this has been unique amongst Hampshire wines I have tasted, but it is still possessing a light, elegant fruitiness that I associate with Hampshire fizz.

Like all good wines, this is the product of a particular place, and the character the place possesses is imparted in the final wine. It is true that if one thinks of some Chardonnays from, say, Australia or Chile, they can taste remarkably similar. This is because those wines are made from unremarkable fruit, grown in unremarkable locations, made with competent but unremarkable winemaking skills. Such wines may be perfectly acceptable if all you crave is an inoffensive alcoholic drink to get you a bit drunk at the end of the day.

However, I find the very inoffensiveness of such wines offensive. You may as well be drinking an alcopop cooked up in a factory if you are drinking such wines. They are definitely not what wine is about, at least for anyone with any aesthetic sensibilities. Quality wine is more than a medium for getting you drunk, it is the product of quality fruit chosen to be harmonious with a specific area where it is grown, which also imparts its own characteristics, as expressed by the process of winemaking. If you do not subscribe to such a philosophy, you are wasting your time reading Elitistreview. I will never review the cheap, filthy plonk you drink to get pissed, as it is beneath contempt and not worthy of even the seconds it would take to review, and you can get the hell off my site now!

As you can see, we reach the core of what wine is, with hints of what it is for. However, before proceeding further down the latter line I have a few words I need to say about how this wine was made.

Wine is one of those foods known as a partially-spoiled product; like ham is partially-spoiled pork and cheese is partially-spoiled milk, wine is partially-spoiled grape juice. The original product has characteristics that can be preserved or even transformed by the winemaking/partial-spoiling process.

Such partial-spoiling techniques were invented by humans to allow food to be stored. Even though I do not think this is a wine for keeping for very many years, it has already lasted longer than untouched grape juice would.

Quality sparkling wine undergoes a primary fermentation. With Black Chalk Classic the grape juice has its sugar turned into alcohol by yeasts. A part of this fermentation is done in large wooden barrels. The barrel fermentation is part of the reason the final wine has such a profound depth of flavour and is so pleasingly complex.

Quality sparkling wine also undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle it is to be sold in – it is this fermentation that gives it the sparkle. This fermentation has clearly been carried out at a cool and stable temperature as the mousse, the character of the bubbles, is very fine and smooth.

Furthermore, there has been a long storage of the wine on the yeast remaining from this fermentation, and a long storage on cork after disgorgement. This has produced complex bready, doughy flavours in the wine; they are very attractive indeed. I have only given a few points about the winemaking but let me summarise by saying the winemaker was clearly very skilled in dealing with the juice of those particular grapes from those particular locations.

Therefore, this wine is a brilliant expression of particular grapes of specific varietals grown in selected, felicitous locations as interpreted through the winemaking process. It was damned fine. What is it for?

I have already dismissed from my wonderful site the dreary and generally loathsome wine is just a drink-brigade. Such an artfully constructed beauty is more than a mere medium in which to get alcohol into a drunkard’s bloodstream. If you are a drunkard who still is of that opinion, go and piss off now – I have no desire to interact with or waste my prose on you! To answer this question correctly we must look at how, why and the process of The Editor and I drinking it.

Black Chalk Classic 2015The Editor and I had just had some delicious Sirloin sandwiches made from the peerless beef of Beechcroft Farm just down the road from Elitistreview Towers. As we were finishing I reminded The Editor that it was the eighteenth anniversary of him moving to England from Sweden. He suggested some wine and I suggested this brilliant little number.

This very quickly suggests some functions for wine. The first of these is perhaps the most obvious: wine has a great association with food. It may be more usual to have a bottle of red wine with a delicious beef sandwich, but in all honesty almost any dry wine goes with almost any food. All these books and websites devoted to food and wine matching are just a pile of old toss. Drink what you like with what you like. Often you find that you are drinking the wine and eating the food as separate but almost contemporaneous events, rather than washing the latter down with the former, so anal matching of one with the other is definitely not necessary, even if the two are, in theory, being enjoyed together.

Secondly, wine is a celebration. Every time one opens a bottle of quality wine one feels a surge of happiness at the pleasures one is going to indulge in. Tradition dictates that sparkling wines are doubly celebratory, and therefore I opened the fabulous Black Chalk Classic 2015 in honour of The Editor’s eighteen years in England. The fine quality of the Black Chalk made it a particularly celebratory bottle.

Some people sit down at their kitchen table with a bottle of wine, alone, scribble down a note with as number at the end. That is not what wine is for!

No matter how much you delude yourself about lack of score compression or the possibility of repeatability it will simply not be the same as if you shared the bottle with a wonderful companion or several, enjoying it together. Such experiences are totally impossible to score, unless you have terrible problems with an Autistic-spectrum disorder and feel you can award points concerning your level of friendship and degree of sociability. Wine is for enjoying with people, the closer those people are to you, emotionally-speaking, the more fun you will have enjoying some wine together.

Furthermore, a wine that has interest-value, which is to say it is something beyond just a drink, will provide more for you and your friends to enjoy. Black Chalk Classic 2015 was a deeply engaging bottle of fizz. The Editor and I had a wonderful time discussing its complex fruit characteristics and its sense of place. Proper wine is fun to drink with friends!

Now we have turfed the cheapskate drunkards away from this organ we can admit to a point they make is almost valid (but, as discussed copiously above, wine is more than just this). Wine is an alcoholic beverage. This means it is a fantastic disinhibitor and social lubricant.

In addition to that fantastic intellectual pleasure Black Chalk Classic 2015 allowed The Editor and I to enjoy it also, even with its low 12% booze quotient, got us slightly drunk! We felt happy to be enjoying the wine, happy to be discussing it in an uninhibited way and happy to be together! Once again, I suggest that such a rich and complex panoply of pleasures, all derived from The Editor and I sharing a wine together, cannot be scored in any meaningful sense that expresses how much the wine pleasured us and how suitable it would be for pleasuring us or other people in a different situation.

And that, my friends, is why we drink wine: to experience a complex, aesthetic product from a specific place, made by a skilled craftsman, in order to have fun, to pleasure yourself and those you share the bottle. The Black Chalk Classic 2015 pleasured me and The Editor in a rich, broad and involute set of ways, most of all enjoying it together. We loved that bottle!

Davy and The Editor love Black Chalk Classic 2015!

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