In the US, Chardonnay is ‘KING’, the most popular of all white varietals. It is the most consumed white wine and sales are increasing every year. Go figure! So often I hear people asking for wines like Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc? Is it just an Oregon thing? I’m sure you’ve seen or at least heard the acronym once or twice…i.e. ABC – Anything But Chardonnay. Though I don’t hear that phrase much, what I do hear, a lot, is no thank you. Many people seem to cringe at the mere mention of Chardonnay. I understand this reaction but it doesn’t have to be this way.
To be sure, there are now many ‘cookie cutter’ Chards as every winery seems to be making some. Oregon & Washington are producing a few decent Chards but far more are mediocre. The sheer volume of production in California seems to have diluted quality as well. Perhaps it’s the ‘house wine’ in a lot of restaurants that gives Chard a bad name.
As a prior employee in the wine distribution business, I showed wine long enough to know that restaurant managers and owners are thinking more about glass pour prices rather than real quality.(sadly) Have your ever had a ‘really good’ house chardonnay? (No, I mean “really good”) I understand the difficulty of balancing ‘glass pour’ prices and giving the customer a good glass of wine but it’s really not about the retailer or restaurant. It’s about education. If people are going to continue to drink mediocre Chardonnay then wineries will continue producing it.
Sadly, during the prohibition era many growers (Chard) were forced to dig up their vineyards and plant studier varietals, only a few survived as in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, but planting of this varietal became popular again beginning in 1970’s, perhaps too popular. Have you ever been wine tasting event (at a winery) and found a long list of different wines to taste? This isn’t necessarily a good thing. You’ve heard the saying, jack of all trades, master of none. It’s the same when making wine. Winemakers, for the most part, are passionate about their vocation and make the best wine they know how but Chardonnay seems to be the least important on their production hierarchy. Chardonnay is adaptable to many climates and is easy to cultivate, thus producing high yields. High yields usually means poor quality. Wineries that produce exceptional white wine, especially Chardonnay understand that putting the same effort into their white wine production is as important as what they do with their red’s. They don’t cut corners and genuinely care about the results. This cannot be said for the casual Chard producer. Wine consumers can buy a decent (drinkable) Chard for $15.00 or $20.00 but can you buy something that you are going to remember? Something transcendent? Not likely. So, If you (and you know who you are) are not prepared to spend a little more for good Chardonnay then don’t expect anything to change. If you are content with mediocre wine, then keep buying what you always buy. (it’s OK) Not all Chardonnay’s are buttery and oaky, though that’s OK too. To be fair, being in the trade I’m around people that are perhaps more attune to a better glass of wine but from my experience it is evident that most people just haven’t experienced a good Chardonnay. I’d like to change that.
I feel that California (and few others) have found the right recipe for really good, even great Chardonnay. Please remember Carneros, Russian River, Sonoma Coast.
and Napa North Coast. These areas are where the good stuff comes from. Some can be very expensive and while I don’t advocate spending $80, $90 or $100 on Chardonnay
I do recommend spending $35.00 or so. There are good reasons you should be drinking Chardonnay. Quality Chardonnay is within your grasp! ♠ jp