Chardonnay is grape people love to hate and hate to love.
Many remember dreadful times in the 80s and 90s when chardonnay was all about oak and butter. ABC (“Anything But Chardonnay”) resistance groups sprang up.
In those dismal days, winemakers gave people what they wanted. Then people didn’t want it anymore and winemakers changed. That is how it works.
Chardonnay is one of world’s most neutral grapes. Where it grows and how it is treated determines how it tastes.
Today, you easily can get un-oaked chardonnay made in stainless steel and concrete vats. You also can enjoy responsibly oaked chardonnay that doesn’t leave wood splinters in your mouth.
Stainless steel delivers pure fruit notes, lighter wines, more terroir expression. Concrete vats are neutral like stainless steel, but concrete’s porosity allows air interplay, producing more body and texture.
Climate plays a significant role. Cool climate chards from places like California’s North Coast, Edna Valley, Oregon, Burgundy and northern Italy deliver green apple, pear, citrus, melon with zippy acidity. Warmer climate chards from places like Paso Robles, California’s Central Valley, South Australia, and southern Italy deliver pineapple, yellow apple, peaches, mango, banana and less acidity.
In addition to vineyard location and fermentation vessels, malolactic fermentation significantly influences chard. With malo there is softer acidity and less fruit, replaced by buttery mouthfeel and hazelnut. If you like flinty, acidic, food-friendly chard, look for stainless, no malo from cooler regions. If you want rounder, smoother pours to serve more as a sipper than a food buddy, think warmer climates plus some oak and malo.
Chardonnay is the world’s second-most planted white wine grape and—regardless of color—is planted in more wine regions than any other grape. With its abundance and versatility, you will find a bottle to enjoy. Easy as ABC.
• Rotari Brut Trento DOC NV: Italian sparkling; méthode Champenoise; 100% chardonnay; great value. $13-14
• Edna Valley Vineyard Fleur de Edna Chardonnay 2014: Pure expression of California Central Coast chard, restrained oak, elegant. $27
• J Vineyards & Winery Chardonnay 2014: Classy Russian River chard, complexity. $26-30
• Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2014: Straightforward, medium body, appropriate oak, creamy. $28-30
Last round: By the fifth glass, is it still considered a “wine tasting?”