Four years ago, I wrote a column about how it is time to love Chardonnay. Here we are four years later, and Chardonnay is still one of the most widely planted grapes, as well as one of the world’s most popular grapes. It is the queen of the white wines. And yet it is still one of the most maligned grapes. While many people say “ABC”, meaning “anything BUT Chardonnay”, I say “always bring Chardonnay.”
Just as I was writing this story, a friend posted a query on Facebook asking, “What makes a perfect Chardonnay perfect?” But he asked for people to answer only with the incorrect answers. There were close to 100 comments in which people described Chardonnay as “buttery popcorn and little oak bits floating on top”, “tastes like liquid wood,” “freshly sawed plywood from Home Depot”, and “smell of Liquid Gold and of the same viscosity.”
For years, that is how Chardonnay, especially in California, tasted. And while many of us know better, there are still many people who refuse to drink Chardonnay and have yet to discover its beauty.
According to The Nielson Company and Gomberg-Fredrikson & Associates, with 93,148 acres reported in 2018, and 711,668 tons crushed, Chardonnay is the most planted white wine grape in California. And Chardonnay sales in the U.S. continue to increase in sales every year, representing an estimated 18.6 percent of table wine volume purchased in U.S. food stores in 2018.
Chardonnay is an exceptionally diverse wine grape. It can be produced in very hot regions, as well as cooler regions. In addition to being grown in its original home, Burgundy, as well as California, Chardonnay is grown in Oregon, Washington, New York, Michigan, Canada, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Switzerland and England, as well as Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Moldova and Romania.
Chardonnay is a neutral grape. It is not an aromatic grape like Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc. Chardonnay reflects where it is grown. It also responds to winemaking techniques, including malolactic fermentation, maturation in oak barrels and extended lees contact. Chardonnay can be lean and crisp with green apple and mineral notes or it can be lush and buttery with tropical fruit notes. No matter how a winemaker chooses to make their Chardonnay, the key is to maintain balance and not have a heavy hand.
Chardonnay is used to produce a diverse range of wines. In addition to still wine, which can be in a range of styles (as noted above), Chardonnay is also used in sparkling wines around the world, including Champagne. And, Chardonnay can also be found in late-harvest, sweet botrytized, and ice wines.
My weekly virtual wine group chose Chardonnay as our theme recently, in celebration of #ChardonnayDay, an annual event celebrated on the Thursday before Memorial Day. As we each selected a bottle of Chardonnay to share with the group, the majority of us agreed that we had all once maligned Chardonnay. But we have all since seen the light, well most of us.
Everyone shared their diverse selections.
Jim VanBergen selected a lean 2018 Drouhin Vaudon Chablis, as well as the Sébastien Dampt “Les Beugnons” Chablis 1er Cru 2016.
Kelly Cohen also selected a Chablis with the 2017 Louis Michel & FIls Vaillons Chablis.
Kathy Wiedemann opened a Louis Jadot Domaine Gagey 2015 Beaune, which she said was bold in style and would pair with a cream sauce.
Both Jason Stubblefield and Thea Dwelle opened both the 2017 Aurora Cellars Chardonnay from Leelanau Peninsula in Michigan. For a second wine, Jason opened the 2016 J. Bookwalter Double Plot Chardonnay from the Columbia Valley in Washington and Thea opened the 2017 St. Innocent Chardonnay, Freedom Hill Vineyard from Oregon.
Both Michael Wangbickler, and Amber and David Burke opened the 2015 Miner Family Wild Yeast Napa Valley Chardonnay which they described as rich but elegant, with balanced acidity and not over oaked.
Patrick Llerena-Cruz, who recalled first falling in love with Chardonnay while tasting the Chalk Hill Chardonnay from David Ramey while working on Capitol Hill, enjoyed the Roadhouse Winery 2017 Sonoma Coast Sangiacomo Vineyard.
Mary Beth Vierra enjoyed the lemon verbena, saltiness and persistence of the Read Holland Chardonnay 2017 Peter Martin Ray, Santa Cruz Mountains produced from 40-year-old vines.
Barbara Barrielle opened the 2018 Alexander Valley Vineyards, Alexander Valley Chardonnay.
Megan Kenney selected the 2015 Unoaked Pellegrini Russian River Valley Chardonnay, and Cindy Rynning opened a Lambert Bridge Chardonnay from Sonoma County.
Erin Korpisto shared a Liquidity Wines Chardonnay from Okanagan Falls in British Columbia and Christine Campbell chose the Domaine de L’Aigle Gérard Bertrand Limoux Chardonnay 2018 Organic and Demeter-rated. Jeff Kralik opened a Clos Pepe Chardonnay from the Sta. Rita Hills and I opened the La Voix Hear and Heaven 2015 Chardonnay also from the Sta. Rita Hills.
One of our friends had still not been converted to a Chardonnay lover. Mykha’el Wilson was hesitant at first. His experiences had been either with Chardonnay that was too oaky or not integrated or with unoaked Chardonnay that he found boring. In advance of the tasting, he ordered a bottle of Chablis. As we were all online, we watched him open and take a sip of the Chablis. He said it was like a first date and the verdict was that he loved it. He found the wine to be balanced and beautiful with lovely acidity. We converted another one!
Christine Campbell summed it up best. “What I love about Chardonnay is it is malleable. In its natural state, it is a gorgeous beauty. It can be austere and hippish or steely and voluptuous with texture and mouthfeel. Ultimately, it is up to the winemaker.”
There have been a lot of bad examples of Chardonnays but there are also so many great examples. There are so many styles and there is a Chardonnay for everyone. So, it is time to stop saying “anything BUT Chardonnay” and instead find your way to Chardonnay and “always bring Chardonnay.”
Allison Levine is owner of Please The Palate, a marketing and event-planning agency. A freelance writer, she contributes to numerous publications while eating and drinking her way around the world. Allison is also the host of the wine podcast Wine Soundtrack USA. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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