Just figuring out a title for this story is hard to place on my computer screen (i.e. ‘pen-to-paper’ so to speak). Symbolically, I might write the title with arrows pointing at and away lots of question marks and several exclamation points. Say the word Chardonnay and it seems to be a charged word–and for some positive, others greatly negative filled with yesteryear memories of an abundance of butter and oak. But instead Chardonnay just needs to be written with no need for apologies or being shy about it.
I have heard other wine writers complain that Chardonnay is such a neutral grape… a ‘why bother proposition’. If you had never had Chardonnay before and heard only neutral position comments about Chardonnay one might think it is only water and alcohol. Chardonnay can present with weight, a bit of viscosity, and ranging from very dry and nuanced to apple-citrus, floral, spice and other characteristics.
And yet I know some people who enjoy Chardonnay and figure it to be their go to and central wine. The memories of overly oaked Chardonnay linger on many a mind and yet there is a whole revision within California itself. A revision… a reformation— except for mass market Chardonnay where buttery-oaky is a given. The reformation is to distance and move away from new oak… not necessarily oak entirely and others just using stainless steel–malolactic fermentation can be there or even partially so. The stylization can be getting to the ‘heart of the matter’ as I like to say– a nuanced characteristic i.e. letting the fruit speak for itself. And lets tackle the neutral discussion—and I do think it is an unfair assertion. To believe that Chardonnay is neutral is to starting pining together other wine varieties that might be thought of the same way– and yet there is no mention of this neutralness of flavour in other varieties.
I do enjoy a sparkling with with a kiss of Chardonnay or a lot in the case of a Blanc de Blancs a lot. I start almost every meal white and end red–the white wine portion can and does include Chardonnay on occasion— I like a very dry Chardonnay and I truly enjoy the nuances. And I am certainly not in the neutral wine camp. I am enjoying a stainless steel or slight touch of oak from California, Oregon, Australia or Chablis. I’ll talk about Chablis in another story– a very unique area: one grape–one region and true and un-meandering tradition.
And the reformation or a better said renaissance is here–winemakers are being more bold or just not feeling no need to apologize for producing Chardonnay. So many wine producers are backed into a corner “why do you make a Chardonnay?” and if they don’t produce one “why don’t you produce one?”
Beauty and gorgeousness in the bottle is a legacy we have today not just in Chardonnay but in all wine varieties today. These are amazing wine times to enjoy wine and relook, retouch and reconnect with Chardonnay once more.
James the Wine Guy
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