The Big Churn Chardonnay 2015 is a $6.99 Trader Joe’s exclusive sourced from grapes grown in more than one California AVA. TJ’s wines rarely have a great deal of technical information attached to them and the Big Churn is no different. But the main thing to know about the Big Churn is the producers “goal was the oakiest, butteriest, creamiest Chardonnay.” Chardonnay is a pliable grape, winemakers can make it clean, tart, and bright to huge, buttery and oaky, and it is the main grape used for Champagne. So, where does the butter flavor come from? If you want to learn about Chardonnay you must know about malolactic fermentation. Malolactic fermentation is routinely used in making Red wine and Chardonnay is one of the few White wine that can benefit from the process. What MF does is change the tart malo acid that is naturally in the grape juice to lactic acid which is a more rounded feeling acid. Think lactose in milk, fermented wine juice is not the same as cows milk so it will not have the exact same effect, but it is along those lines. Next is oak conditioning, a $6.99 wine may not see too many oak barrels. In value priced wine oak staves, oak chips, and even oak powder are often added to the stainless steel tanks. The species of oak used is critical, French oak imparts different flavors from American oak. How the oak staves or barrels are prepared, such as toasting the inside of the wood is critical, a light toasting will add vanilla and butterscotch, a heavy toasting adds dark chocolate (used for Red wine). Then there is aging the wine “on lees“, the lees are the dead yeast and bits of grape residue that stay with the wine during fermentation and aging. The lees add a creamy texture and flavor (the more you stir the lees the more pronounced the flavors become) along with a light cashew, nutty flavor. When you sip a Chardonnay that underwent malolactic fermentation and was aged with some sort of lightly toasted oak, while “on lees“, your brain says “hey this Chardonnay sure is buttery.” The alcohol content is a stout 14.5%.
The color is extra virgin olive oil yellow. The nose is pretty, lightly floral with lemons, vanilla, and Dutch apple pie baking in the oven. The Big Churn does have pronounced creamy vanilla and buttery flavors, but it is not as heavy as I expected. It tastes of creamy vanilla, pear, apple, Meyer lemon, and buttery pie crust. The mid-palate brings lemon/vanilla custard (not too sweet), tart grapefruit, spice, and guava. This is a surprisingly flavorful 7 buck Chardonnay. Smooth, reasonably rich, with well-balanced acidity (the malolactic fermentation reduces the acidic “bite” some White wines have). The finish is soft and fades before too long.
The Big Churn Chardonnay 2015 is a very likable Chard if you like buttery Chardonnay. Most of the big butter bomb Chardonnay’s on the market tend to be far more expensive (they are usually from Napa Valley). The Big Churn Chardonnay does an admirable job of doing butter on a budget.