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Trials and Tribulations
We Don’t Drink Chardonnay Anymore

By Charles Olken

Here in California, we like to think that we start trends and the rest of the world follows. And among the trend-setters, both real and self-appointed, there has been a sort of “We don’t drink Chardonnay anymore” snobbism. It started with might be called Chardonnay tedium born of the unending wave of offerings that all but succeeded in pushing other white varieties from the stage. It took on a second life when Chardonnay become riper and riper still in approach until too many of its ilk were fat and sloppy with depth but no vitality, with richness but no finesse. And then it reached the third stage when I ran into a bunch of eastern wine people who said that if it was good enough for California to ignore Chardonnay, it was good enough for them. After all, they reasoned, all trends start in California and proceed eastward.

Today, two new manifestations of this loud but inaccurate meme were heard in our fair land. The San Francisco Chronicle, which has been among the most outspoken critics of the local efforts, praised the grape in its Sunday wine editorial. To be sure, the writer believes he was speaking only of those Chardonnays that reflect the new sensibilities of lower ripeness, higher acidity and freshness for the sake of freshness when he made those remarks. But he tied them to the “cool” vintages of 2011 and 2012. More on that later, but the second manifestation was far more interesting to me personally because it came from some overeducated English folks visiting with us. These are winedrinkers--when they are not drinking tea, which they do at all hours of the day when they are not drinking wine. They are happily consuming my Pinot Noir and my bubbly, my Port (proving that they are proper Englishmen) and my Calvados and Cognac. But when it comes to white wine, they eschew Chardonnay as if it were a bad smell—which, to them, it is. Now, I accept that many trends do start in California and make their ways across the country, but I had not been aware until now that those trends also afflicted the English. You learn something new every day.

Back to 2012 for a moment. It is true that 2010 and 2011 were unusually cool vintages here in California but not 2012. The very first Chardonnays of that vintage are only now finding their ways to market and while they are certainly balanced to crispness and freshness, their styling has little to do with vintage and everything to do with the fact that they are the first Chardonnays to appear. The longer-aged wines are still in barrel here, as they are in France, and they will tell a more balanced, richer tale. But, what struck me as the single most interesting part of the comments about the new Chardonnay vintage here was that it sounded almost like Chardonnay was no longer an unwanted stepchild to those who think they are the trendsetters. Could it be that Chardonnay is on its way back? And if so, should I tell my English friends?


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No Subject
by Pat F
Posted on:10/16/2013 12:43:04 PM

I'd be suprized if much '12 CHD is still in barrel now, on purpose anyway. By this time yeast autolysis would well under way and turning the fruit into toast. 

by Matt
Posted on:10/24/2013 11:56:27 PM

I don't understand the first comment about 12 Chard being out of barrel already.  It is quite common for high end chard to spend more than a year in barrel.  Any 12 chard on the market today would have seen a max of about 8 months in barrel.  Fine if you are shooting for a lighter style but far from taking it to full rich development.  Also keep in mind that 2012 was a bumper crop that saw many growers bringing in up to 50% of their norm.  Heavy crops kept the sugars low as the vines struggled to support the load. 

No Subject
by gabe
Posted on:10/25/2013 7:44:39 PM

All trends eventually reverse themeselves.  I'm making a little chardonnay this year, and it's pretty fantastic so far.  I don't know who drinks what, but I know what tastes good.  And chardonnay is good

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