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Monday Manifestos
The Chardonnay Wars—A Frontline Report

By Charles Olken

I have never wanted to be a war correspondent, but I inadvertently blundered behind the other side’s lines in the Chardonnay Wars.

The shock troops were everywhere, and their long knives were out. Ostensibly, they had gathered to celebrate their love of some not-so-well known white varieties, but they could hardly get a word out of their mouths without casting some slur, directly or indirectly, at Chardonnay.

Here are just a few of the unforgettable phrases.

• “In my restaurant, people are tired of Chardonnay and are looking for something new”.
• “I am happy to present my new wine tonight. Can you believe that is it is just 10.9% alcohol?”
• “Look at the orange color on this baby. Try doing that with your Chardonnay”.

I had come to the party to join in the fun of tasting something new. It was clear from the outset that there was not going to be anything like Chardonnay on the menu, and that was just fine with me. People do not live on Chardonnay alone. So, all well and good—until I set foot down on the ground and discovered that large parts of people’s attention were not being directed at varieties new to California but to Chardonnay.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum. Instead of coming to bury Caesar, I ran into a variety of folks who quietly disagreed with that Caesar was dead and decided to praise him instead. It started when one of Connoisseurs’ Guide’s long-time friends came up to us at the event and said, “You know, I am beginning to drink Chardonnay again”.

Not long after that, I discovered myself next to a man whose vineyard has yielded some of the best wines in California. He was there because he had decided that parts of his vineyard were better suited to making a lighter white wine. He was not there to bury Chardonnay either. He makes full-throttle, albeit very balanced, Chardonnay. He thinks Chardonnay is just fine, and while he has become part of the search for lighter, brighter, brisker whites, he sees no reason why the increase in those types of wines should do anything but make wine drinking more exciting. I asked him if he felt like a subversive element in the midst of this Anything But Chardonnay war party, and he just smiled.

I rather enjoyed the event once I realized that I was not going to be lynched for holding heretical views. It is true that some of the practitioners of the “new grapes” would view me as misguided, and, frankly, that was how I was beginning to view many of them for their surprisingly narrow views of the world.

As I was taking my leave, one of the most widely known “new” winemakers came up to say goodnight. I had met him earlier at another of these “new” wine events and had soon realized that he was not “anti” anything but in favor of “letting a thousand flowers” grow. So, I put the question to him, “Why is so much of the rhetoric, and energy, here directed at Chardonnay?”

His answer sent me on my way back home full of smiles because I knew then that the other side was not going to win the war. Said he, “ Charlie, I don’t understand it. I love a good, rich Chardonnay”.

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today's post
by Steve Heimoff
Posted on:7/23/2012 10:36:31 AM

Silly argument. There are so many more important things to discuss than "is Chardonnay dead?" Not it's not. When made well it's a fabulous wine IMHO but if some people don't like it, fine.

by TomHill
Posted on:7/25/2012 11:50:33 AM

Hmmmmmm, Charlie....sounds like a fun event.  :-)

I'm finding lots to like in Chard these days as well. A lot more diversity in styles than there used to be....back in yours & my hey-day. Alas, have we've been told about Zin back then and Syrah, now. This diversity of style leaves the poor consumer confused so that he doesn't know what Syrah is "supposed" to be...and hence a malaise in the marketplace for these wines. Will this also happen now w/ Chard??? Probably not.

   For those folks making low-alcohol and alternative variety wines, I don't think it's being anti-Chard or anti-Cab that attracts them. I think it's about offering the consumer an alternative and making something that pushes their boundaries, expands their engage their intellect and not get stale.

   Actually...there's no reason any of them couldn't make a a skin-contact or orange Chard. I'd love to try them myself.

Good to see you last week, Charlie.



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