Dispelling the Myth – Anything But Chardonnay?
In every tasting we do that involves a Chardonnay it splits the room. 50% will like it, 50% won’t.
What we used to do in our “Intro to Wine” tastings was to try a Chablis with people and then follow that with an oaked Australian Chardonnay. The result? Most liked the Chablis, half liked the Australian, but always half would say they didn’t like Chardonnay under any circumstances (often despite having enjoyed the Chardonnay from the Chablis region moments earlier).
In this week’s blog we’re going to have a look at “The ABC Club” which stands for Anything But Chardonnay.
When did it become trendy to hate Chardonnay?
Chardonnay has always been one of the most popular white grape varietals in the world. It’s popular among viticulturalists due to it’s resilience and it’s preference for poorer quality soils.
It’s popular among winemakers because of it’s adaptability to different winemaking methods and the amount of different flavours it can develop. And it is of course popular among wine drinkers because, quite simply, it’s delicious.
There was a huge boom in Chardonnay plantings in the early 80’s as more and more people were drinking wine. The subtly oaked Chardonnays of Burgundy were proving popular, but they were expensive and not a lot was produced.
New world winemakers saw an opportunity to cash in on this boom of Chardonnay drinkers by using oak ‘staves’ or ‘chips’ in production to replicate the oaky flavour. The problem was that some overdid it.
It’s a classic case of popularity. “Thing A” excites people, businesses try to mass produce “Thing A” to make more money, mass produced version of “Thing A” is poor quality so noone wants it any more.
This is what happened with Chardonnay. As overoaked wines with names like “butterball” and the like hit the shelves, customers got fed up and the ABC philosophy was born.
Not only that but as Chardonnay became the popular wine for people who didn’t really like or know much about wine, there was the inevitable snobbery backlash which can be all so prevalent. People who liked and appreciated wine wouldn’t order these new world Chardonnays as they were seen to be too sweet and simple.
Is it coming back?
In reality it never went away. The vines were never pulled, the wineries kept producing, and bars and restaurants everywhere kept Chardonnay on the menu.
The effect the ABC movement had was that Chardonnay was taken from higher end menus and wine lists. This hit to their reputations made wineries rethink their approach to Chardonnay.
The effect this had was that more dry, sharp Chardonnays hit the shelves. Oak was sent back to the background and the fruit once again took centre stage.
What should I look for?
The trick with Chardonnay is to buy for your own personal pallate. If you don’t like oaked whites then steer clear of any Chardonnay that features the word “vanilla” or “toasty” as these are flavours that traditionally come from oak aging.
For unoaked chardonnay, cooler climates are your friend. Chablis, Loire Valley whites (actually labelled as Chardonnay), and Margaret River Chardonnay from Western Australia are usually unoaked.
If you prefer the oaky stuff head to warmer climes. South Eastern Australia, California and Argentina will all produce the rich buttery Chardonnays you’re looking for.