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Blog: Difference between Chardonnay and Beaujolais

Posted: Monday, 03 September 2012 15:10

Blog: Difference between Chardonnay and Beaujolais

September 03 : A recent article in a newspaper comparing Chardonnay with Beaujolais sounded really absurd and is only one example of the journalists using wine terms rather loosely, who would do well to understand before bandying about the various terms, creating uncalled for confusion in the minds of wine novices who are usually overawed by the wine terminology and depend on newspapers as an important source of reliable information about wines.

The recent article in Indian Express made me sit up and take note of what I think was a blunder; although it did achieve the intended purpose of catching my eyeballs. The article said, ‘though most well-heeled and well-travelled Indians know their Chardonnay from their Beaujolais….’. Was it a ploy to see if the reader can make a note on comparing apple with Darjeeling? Chardonnay is a white grape whereas Beaujolais is a region in/near Burgundy (which is itself another wine subject for discussion!) that produces red wine using Gamay grape. So where is the connection?!

Is it simply a lack of wine knowledge on the part of the journalist or an assumption that Indian readers are mostly wine illiterate? Chardonnay is a white grape while Beaujolais is a wine producing area near Burgundy, known for making fruity red wines. The grape used to make a ‘Beaujolais’ wine is Gamay whereas the grape for the Burgundy red is Pinot Noir. Similarly, the white varietal in Burgundy is Chardonnay; the term used generally when only a single grape is used in making a wine. Technically even this is not quite correct. Most countries accept 85% of the same grape to call it a varietal. 15% of other grapes, generally prescribed, may be added to make the wine well-rounded, to add colour, body or change any characteristics in the wine.

The writer could perhaps have written, ‘most well-heeled and well-travelled Indians know their Chardonnay from their Chablis’ and one would have appreciated the comparison though I am not sure if most Indian wine drinkers in this category know the difference today. Chardonnay is the grape used to make white wine in and around the town of Chablis in the northern part of Burgundy.

Generally in the Old World wines, especially in France, Italy and Spain, the name of the grape is not allowed to be mentioned on the bottle. Therefore, a Burgundy white wine will not mention chardonnay but has its own appellation laws that indicate whether it is a simple wine (generic), Village wine, Premier Cru or Grand Cru in which case the name of the vineyard is also allowed to be mentioned.

Every day one can learn something new about wine-even from this article; for instance, it pointed out - and I did not know - that wine is made in Iceland!! I could not suppress my urge to learn more about the country as a winemaker and found myself googling it. Incidentally, according to a website there is one winemaker there who produces wine, even though it is a fruit wine. It is made from organic crowberries, wild blueberries and rhubarb (as a rule of thumb wine writings refer to wines produced from grapes only).

Fermented not brewed

While on the subject of producing wine, I am sure I will find some article between writing and publishing this Blog, talking about ‘brewing’ wine. While it is not illegal to use the b-word one generally uses the f-word for wine - fermenting. Brewing is used for beer or even for tea ( it could even be trouble brewing for me as I write this blog!). Liquors like whisky and Vodka are distilled; so are the products like brandy and grappa that use wine or the residual must (the left-over of grape skins and pips after fermentation) as the base but nevertheless distilled.

There are a host of words used to describe wine - like nosing (and not smelling), crisp or acidic (and not sour). There are thousands of sites that publish free wine vocabulary. It may be well worth the effort for the budding wine journalists to sink their teeth in them before comparing between Chardonnay and Beaujolais.

Subhash Arora



Subhash Arora Says:

Thanks Rajesh. A minor point to note- these days wines can reach alcohol levels of 15.5-16.5% too. Amarones can reach 17%.I tasted a Primitivo wine recently in Puglia, Italy with alcohol of 19%!! Although not normal, it depends upon the sugar levels in the juice which are increasing because of global warning and also certain kinds of yeasts.

Posted @ September 04, 2012 11:08


Rajesh Swarnakar Says:

Yes, i do agree with both of you. recently i had written a letter to the editor of THE SHILLONG TIMES in regards to how loosely and randomly the WINE is used by the writers and journalists. i am posting below copy of the same..... Of Wine stores Editor, Very often we comes across the word “ Wine Store” used extensively all over India and particularly in the North East. But have we ever realized what it actually means to display or paint the word WINE on every store selling alcohol based drinks? The word has been used randomly irrespective of whether shops sell the said product or not. This a common sight in Meghalaya and Assam. Let me explain what exactly the word ‘WINE’ means. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, a wine is described as “alcoholic drink made by fermentation of juice of fruits or berries”. By extension, this general definition can also include products of fermentation of sugar solutions flavoured with flowers or herbs, but it normally excludes those of hydrolysed barley starches involved in brewing and the products of fermentation of sugar containing liquids destined for distillation. So, the narrower definition relevant to this explanation is that wine is “ the alcohol;ic beverage obtained from the fermentation of the juice of freshly gathered grapes ” However, to most of us wine means any beverage with alcohol in it. This is an incorrect definition. Whisky, Rum, Vodka, Gin, Tequila, Brandy, Bourbon, Absinthe, etc including our own local Khasi brew( Ka Kyiad Lieh) don’t fall under this category called Wine. They are all obtained from distillation process and basic raw materials which are used in the production of these products are malted grains. They collectively fall under the category Liquor or Spirit and generally have high alcohol content ranging anywhere from 20% to 50% ABV, whereas wine will have much lower levels of alcohol between 7% – 15% abv. If this upper alcohol limit is exceeded in wine then it falls under the category of “Fortified Wines” such as Port etc. So, my argument is how can we call any shop or establishment selling alcoholic beverages as WINE STORE? In reality most of these shops will have large stocks of spirits and beers and hardly three to four brands of Wines will be on display. Some, don’t even bother to keep bottles of wines and will have only spirits and beers and still they have signboards with the word WINE STORE . In my opinion the correct terms which should be used on the signboards of these establishments are- SPIRIT, BEER & WINE Store. Yours etc., Rajesh Swarnakar, AIWS Wine & Spirit Educator and Trainer,

Posted @ September 04, 2012 11:06


Niladri Dhar Says:

I read this article too and once again felt that at least the national dailies can do better with the quality of their content. Apart from the Chardonnay and Beaujolais difference, one more piece caught my attention. Consider this statement "Guests often turn down the sommelier’s combination" - this in my view is both irresponsible and a bit contradictory to the very premise of the story. If a professional sommelier's recommendation is 'often' turned down, why highlight their skills at first place? Seems the comment is only meant to spice-up a sommelier's specialist but 'difficult' role! Cheers, Niladri

Posted @ September 04, 2012 13:53


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