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The problem(s) with Chardonnay


I completely agree with Laurie Daniel’s column today in the San Jose Mercury News about the dismal state of California Chardonnay. “A lot of the wines are downright undrinkable, with noticeable alcoholic ‘heat,’ too much residual sugar and/or oak that’s way too aggressive,” she wrote. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

I’ve said many times that I’m a Chardonnay lover. Never have been an ABC guy, never will be. And when I say Chardonnay, I mean Burgundian Chardonnay: barrel fermentation, new oak, sur lies and battonage, the whole works. Chardonnay is the world’s greatest white grape and wine (along with Riesling) and there’s no way I’d ever dismiss the whole category, categorically.

But! Let us get real here. When you taste as many Chardonnays as I do — 500 last year? something like that — you reach the point where you want to tear your hair out and scream (and with what little hair I have left on my head, that’s not a good thing). I hate to single out particular wines for criticism on this blog, but in this case, I will, because it’s a poster child for sweet, flabby Chardonnay. It was Geyser Peak’s 2007 (Alexander Valley), and here’s what I wrote: “Sugary sweet, simple and over-oaked, this Chard has one-dimensional flavors of pineapple candy, vanilla and smoke. 83 points.” Granted, it was only 13 bucks, but I might have said the same thing, or something similar, about Robert Stemmler’s 2006 Chardonnay (Carneros, $34) or Frank Family’s 2006 (Napa Valley, $32) or ZD’s 2007 Reserve (Napa Valley, $55). Buttered popcorn, caramel corn, sugary sweet, candied — what’s going on?

Someone or something has to take the blame, but who or what? Well, first of all, there are places Chardonnay simply shouldn’t be grown because it’s too hot. I’ve seldom encountered a great Chardonnay from Paso Robles or Lodi, although there are other factors in those places that limit the wine’s potential. Large tracts of central and northern Napa Valley also are unsuitable, as is Sonoma Valley as you move north from the Carneros.

Whenever I get a distressed wine the question arises in my mind, Did the winemaker do this on purpose, or did he not know this is dreadful? When in doubt, choose the more compassionate interpretation: the winemaker did it on purpose. Why would a smart winemaker make a sweet, oaky Chardonnay he, himself, probably wouldn’t drink? We know the answer to that one: THE MARKET DEMANDS IT. Or so it’s said: Americans like their Chardonnays gooey.

Laurie also wrote: “I made the observation that a lot of the wines seemed to be made to a recipe. The winemakers who churned out some of these wines couldn’t possibly have been proud of them. I suspect that the marketing departments determined that their wineries needed to have an $18 chardonnay in the portfolio, so the winemakers just did what they were told. The wine was treated like a commodity.” Exactly.

I’d love to hear from people who actually sell Chardonnay, particularly merchants. Is this true? Does the average consumer really prefer a flabby Chardonnay to a dry, crisp one? Certainly, California is capable of producing very great Chardonnay. Bjornstad, Au Bon Climat, Hartford Court, Williams Selyem, Gary Farrell and Failla come to mind. They have the richness, mind you, but also the sleek acidity and dry finish for balance. Unfortunately, they’re expensive. It may be that California is unable to produce reliably inexpensive Chardonnays that are also of high quality. That’s the case with Pinot Noir. We may have to face the facts. If my budget was limited to, say, $15 for a bottle of white wine from California, I doubt if it would be Chardonnay, even unoaked. More likely Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris or Gewurztraminer.

  1. You hit on something that I am constantly struggling to figuring out:

    Is a good wine one which fits the tastes of those who demand it?

    In this particular case, you seem to be saying NO. Well, then if everyone in the world (yourself included) liked a flabby Chardonnay, wouldn’t these types of wines receive the highest scores? I guess my point is just that there is a level of subjectivity involved in judging wine. Is it possible for one or even several people to decide what’s considered good and what’s not?

    I’m curios to know your thoughts…


  2. Steve, here are some observations I shared with Laurie:

    American consumers want a Chardonnay before they want a Sonoma, Santa Maria, Nigara (?) or Long Island Chardonnay. If that Chardonnay is outside the parameters of their stylistic expectations or preferences, they will reject it. What producer in their right mind would want to take that risk?

    When the pretty and popular starlet declares that she loves a buttery Chardonnay and is labeled in the article as a “wine buff” what do you expect her fans to think? So, of course, these wines WILL be “made to a recipe”. This is very much a phenomenon of the brand equity of generic Chardonnay.

  3. You should look to the Willamette Valley instead of California if you are in search of a more Burgundian Chardonnay. The growing season is similar to parts of Burgundy, and producers tend to do more barrels fermentations, sur lie, and battonage in oak (although it seems more of it is neutral than new). Bergstrom’s Sigrid Chardonnay is a wonderful example of this region’s capability. These are some of the most underrated white wines in the country(and as a result, they are also some of the best bargains).

  4. Wine buff! lol.

  5. Randy, you asked a great and eternal question, to which the eternal answer is: It depends.

  6. Yet another example of “experts” being completely out of step with consumers. The disdain heaped on 7-11 for carrying vino is nothing compared to the put downs by wine writers of the booboisie who enjoy buttery Chard. But such high priests will ultimately be toppled by our more participatory times.

    The Geyser Peak is just mediocre wine. The more successful wines in this mode, e.g., Rombauer, will continue to dominate. And I must note that the 2007 ZD Chardonnay garnered a median score of 90 among wine enthusiasts (lower case of course) on my beloved CellarTracker. Ditto Frank Family and Robert Stemmler over several vintages.

    There is a velvet revolution occurring in many sectors of society. Power to the people.

  7. Just because something is popular or it sells by no means justifies that it is good. Just look at the food industry. Would you consider Chili’s, Applebee’s or Outback Steakhouse to be good food? Yet these are all very popular dining outlets? You can definitely find a much better meal for the same price in most markets. The product success is more through branding and consumer training.

    Speaking of good Chardonnay I had a Bottle of Walter Hansel RRV a few weeks ago and that was fantastic as well.

    As for “What the consumer wants” this is true but that does not mean you are making good wine. When did business lose a backbone? Make a great product and educate consumers why your product is better otherwise all you are doing is riding coat tails.

  8. Is there demand for bad versions of the buttery Chard style? Yep.

    As long as the demand exists, the wines will be made.

    Let us then go to the source – the demand – and help to change it (one consumer at a time…).

  9. From 1WineDude’s mouth, wisdom.

  10. I rather enjoy the buttery, carmel corny chardonnay style. As do most my family and friends.

    Question: Stylistically speaking, would it be correct to call these chardonnays “new world”?


  11. I know a number of winemakers who would argue with Steve’s point about Chardonnay being the greatest white grape (whether along with or next to Riesling).

    There may be a reason that Chardonnay is the white grape that is not usually left to stand on its own merits but is given the help of ML, oak, et al. And that reason may be that on its own, it doesn’t have a hell of a lot to offer.

    Just sayin’…

  12. If you applaud 7-11 for introducing “the masses” to wine then don’t you have to do the same with buttery, sweet Chardonnay producers?

    Just as many of us grew tired of that generic style years ago, in time those currently demanding it will as well and soon graduate to drier whites then perhaps even reds! Then the pendulum will begin to swing back again, as it already has in some cases.

    But if this style is what initially hooks the newbies and increases per capita consumption then perhaps it should be applauded (as much as I hate to say that).

    Of course it would also help reverse the trend if critics quit giving those types of chards such high scores! not to mention the high scores they give Pinots that are more similar ripe, high alcohol Zins, but that’s a rant for another day…

  13. Mark, you’re right, there’s a little contradiction between me applauding 7-11 and then knocking Chard. I guess what I’m saying is, I’m glad that Americans drink wine of any quality and that 7-11’s making it available cheaply. Speaking for myself, life’s too short to drink bad wine.

  14. Steve, thank you for the complements on Pfendler Chardonnay in your recent Wine Enthusiast review. I especially appreciate our wine being described as “Chablisian”. We are actually on our first vintage of Pfendler, but so far the response to our style of elegant Chardonnay has been very good. Regarding pricing, our Petaluma Gap vineyards are the cornerstone to our wine’s style, but they are also in need of constant care and attention. Petaluma is an incredibly windy region, and the fluctuation between sun and fog creates temperature swings of 40 to 50 degrees a day. On one hand, this allows us to grow Chardonnay grapes with layers of flavor and a lively acidity, but it also requires a lot of time and attention in the vineyards. During the growing season, winemaker Greg Bjornstad is working in the vineyards every day. This does not come cheap, but it is necessary to make the style of wine we’re looking for.

  15. Well, Steve, the great chardonnay debate continues. As the former owner of a wine bar I discovered a lot of interesting things about consumers. If they like a wine they will buy it, period. Women tend to prefer buttery chardonnays, they also consume chardonnay as a “cocktail” wine not with a meal. We would often try to educate customers on why balanced chardonnays were a better choice, sometimes this would work other times it did not. One of the best ways to educate who done by serving food; crab served with a buttery chardonnay was beautiful; chicken picata served with a buttery chardonnay was usually overwhelmed. Trying the chicken picata with a more balanced, higher acidic chardonnay spoke for itself, it was complementary.
    Many consumers got it and would purchase more balanced wines, but many just like big over the top buttery wines.
    No one is right, no one is wrong…it’s all a matter of personal choice.

  16. I thought I liked California Chardonnay until I had a bottle of Chassagne-Montrachet. That soured me on all California Chard’s going forward. I have never found a CA Chard that could match the balance of the French product.
    I’m wondering if the California winemakers have been influenced by the popularity of K-J and also if this is over buttery style is being taught at UC Davis.
    I do not pretend to be an expert, but I have always thought some those young winemakers coming out of UC Davis may have a cookie cutter mentality in their wine making. It would be interesting to hear other opinions.

  17. I remember Josh Jensen (Calera) once told me that when he was hiring his first asst. winemaker his only qualification was “must not be a UC Davis grad.”

  18. Dan Updike says:

    Steve brought up a great point that a lot of us already know but you never see printed; IT’S TOO HOT in many areas of California to grow great Chardonnay without proper intervention. Now we’re starting to see all of these Rieslings coming from there. It’s WAY TOO HOT for that varietal too! I’ve been pimping Riesling from my native Finger Lakes (NY) for years, but was afraid to always include Chardonnay in the discussion because the style was disparate to the California Chards many seem to love. Personally, I now see it in a completely different light. The bottom line is that I wouldn’t encourage my customers to blindly buy varietal wines from places where they SHOULDN’T be grown/made.

  19. Good post. Living in and around thousands of acres of Chard here in the RRV, I’m finding folks are picking thier chard later and later in the season. As I drive by local chard blocks in late September and early October, I’m watching as the clusters hanging along the bi-lateral cordons change their form from firm, ripe fruit to shriveled “late harvest” condition. Why one might ask?

    Two possibilities: Money or high scores.

    Money: As growers continue to get paid by the pound, wineries are telling the growers, “there’s no room in the tanks”, or ” the mature flavor profiles aren’t quite there yet” meanwhile, the late season sun cooks their poor skins, dehydration of the juice begins to set in and suddenly, there’s 18-22% less weight. @ $3,000 /ton for good RRV Chard, the wineries put back about $600/ton into their pockets before the fruit has even arrived at the crushpad. They think they can hydrate the juice and add (fake) tartaric or citric acid to reconstitute the juice, but it’s too late. They’ve at best been able to “freshen up” very very ripe grape.

    Worse yet, it’s like, “monkey see monkey do” where neighbors see neighbors’ chrad still hanging and they think to themselves, “well so and so has a good contract and their fruit receives high scores, so maybe if I hang my stuff out there as well, I’ll get that sweetheart contract too.”

    High scores: Most major review folk like high octane reds with low acid/high ph and lots of oak. Period. There are exceptions, but most high scoring Chard have all kinds of things done to it in order for “mature flavors profiles” to shine. Shame really. The bigger-is-better mentality is destroying yet another once delicate, pretty variety.

  20. As a Davis grad I can say that there was no effort made to teach a cookie cutter method to winemaking (with Chardonnay or anything else). We were taught the chemistry and biology that are involved with winemaking. Its a science degree not a craft course.

    For instance, I learned all about what malolactic fermentation involved and what to do to encourage or prohibit it. It is ridiculous to think that a professor is lecturing to his class on the “correct” way to make a California Chardonnay.

    The point at UCD is to learn HOW and WHY things happen in the winery. The decisions a winemaker makes are based on their own experience and trial and error on the job.

    BTW- my Chardonnay is 0% ML and 33%stainless steel fermented, apparently despite by Davis background!

  21. We should all listen to Maureen. She speaks the truth. There are places for rich, buttery Chardonnays and there are places for high acid Chardonnay. To suggest that my wife, who likes rich Chardonnay as an aperitif, is as wrong as wrong can be. She simply does not see the value in drinking lemon juice without food–because as good as Kim Pfendler’s Chardonnay is, and Greg Bjornstads’ own wines–they are difficult aperitifs for some people–and many of those people are knowledgeable wine folks.

    Furthermore, the list of CA Chards that are made in a high acid style is quite long, thereby making rants like the one we are talking about somewhat misleading. Does anyone really expect $13 Geyser Peak to taste like hyphenated-Montrachet?

    It is just too damn easy to criticize CA Chards generally and not look at the big picture. Maureen gets it. Good on her.

  22. Building on Karl W.’s link…
    lots of great chardonnay in Willamette (no, we don’t make one- so NOT a sales pitch). The last chardonnay that I bought was Domaine Drouhin. Chehalem has two great styles of Chard., and although tt was several years ago, I used to run a wine shop and we sold the bejeezus out of Adelsheim Chardonnay. NONE of them are too reliant on oak… worth a try .

  23. My Northwest colleague at Wine Enthusiast, Paul Gregutt, is lucky to taste the wines of Oregon and Washington. He is constantly telling me how their wines are more Burgundian than California’s.

  24. I like Thomas’ comment on Chard perhaps not being the greatest grape. When ripe (not over or under) it has the backbone to support a particular style of elevage that produces a complex, age-worthy wine. But Chardonnay is ill suited to most of CA. So those who rebel choose to do stainless steel fermentation with no ML to keep the borderline unbalanced grapes from going over the top. They are already plenty rich without the oak and lees.

    But I generally find the stainless Chards boring compared to other varietals. OK, they retain good acidity and have some tropical fruit unburdened by burnt popcorn flavors. Yet I’ll still gravitate towards the oaked style assuming the grapes are from a cool climate.

    It’s like producers are stuck with the “Chardonnay brand.” Pick a style, but it must say Chardonnay. I agree with Steve: if I choose a $10 or $15 white wine, it won’t be Chardonnay. Even at $25 or so, where the oaked style can have some balance, there are exciting Alsatian and Rhone-styled blends that are often more exciting.

  25. Greg, completely agree.

  26. Hey there Steve, I am really curious to know what you think of the Santa Maria Valley Chardonnays. Byron, Cambria, Volk etc?
    Fellow bloggers, please let me know your expert opinions as well.

  27. You mean people still make Chardonnay?


  28. Brett: in general I think very highly. They retain acidity even while getting ripe.

  29. If you haven’t already, try some Chards from the Southeastern New England AVA. They’re much closer to the French style, but they’re probably impossible to find outside of New England. Many of the growers here have planted Dijon clones, and when the weather behaves, they produce crisp and fruity wines balanced with nice acidity, which makes them not only acceptable to drink by themselves but great to pair with food. Most wineries generally use oak judiciously with mostly 2 , or 3 year old barrels, or make unoaked Chards.

    Customers in my tasting room have two reactions when presented with Chardonnay and are both variants of the same theme: I don’t drink Chardonnay (because it’s too oaky and sweet) or they ask does it have a lot of oak? I find that many customers are tired of California Chards and have switched to Sauv Blanc or Pinot Grigio. When they taste a New England Chard, they’re pleasantly surprised. As a winemaker, I want to make wines that consumers will buy and enjoy, but I also want the fruit to speak through the wine.

    I think the latest disappointment, post Sideways, is west coast Pinot Noir. What we see on the east coast from California and Oregon, for the most part, is generally over saturated new French oak with a hint of fruit in the background. What I don’t understand is why some wineries will spend many thousands of dollars a ton to buy premier fruit, vinify single vineyard wines to accentuate the terroir, then put them in way too much new French oak and cover up all that great fruit and the very terroir they hoped to capture. The only terroir they capture is some forest in France! And the same for many Cabs!

  30. Greg comments that most of California is ill-suited to Chardonnay. Hard to argue with that, and certainly, that situation is why it is hard, not impossible, to make crisp and deep Chardonnays at low prices here.

    But, most good Chardonnay in California comes from coastal vineyards, and whether one likes the richer styles of Santa Barbara or the brisk styles that come the right areas in Sonoma, Mendocino and Carneros, it is a measurable fact that half or more of all the massive Chard plantings in CA are in demonstrably cool locations that will produce Chardonnays with ample acidity.

    But, it is also a demonstrable fact that not everyone wants to drink one of those wines every time one wants to drink Chardonnay. Steve and I have both rated the Pfendler wine well above 90 points. We have seen lists of high acid Chardonnays presented in this discussion.

    Now, no one is required to like any wine from anywhere. And it is perfectly OK to say that your palate does not run to CA Chardonnay. But, some of the commentary here acts as if CA were one monolithic place with one monolithic style–and, folks, that is just not correct.

  31. A few quick points before going off to punch down some grenache and mourvedre bins:

    Ted is spot on – those of us who went to Davis did NOT learn cookie cutter techniques to making any wines. We learned the chemistry and biology of grape growing and wine making, and learned what will most likely happen from vine to bottle. PERIOD. Getting tired of the ‘UC Davis does not turn out creative winemakers’ statements . . .

    Chardonnay – love it or hate it, it’s hear to stay. And who ever said that ‘great’ equals high scoring?!?!? This somewhat goes to the heart of the fact that ‘objective wine review’ is an oxymoron – Steve admittedly does not like a certain style of chardonnay, and therefore, when one shows in a tasting, this will come out in his score …

    Is this ‘wrong’? Of course not. Are these wines ‘bad’? To some they are, but to many many more, they are not. They fit their idea of what ‘chardonnay’ is – not what it CAN be, but what it IS.

    You ask a great question about whether winemakers WANT to make these wines, or whether they are dictated down by those above (or in other departments) . . . No finite answers here – only what I experience at my ‘day job’ – make the best wine possible using the winemaking teams’ skills and the crop that gets into your hands each year. Period. But I suspect this is not the case everywhere . . .

    I personally think there should be a market for all types of chards because each has its place – and none of them are ‘wrong’ – just different strokes for different folks .. .

    Reminds me of the white zin argument – many will ‘poo poo’ the variety, yet it contains to be ever so popular among the masses . . . Does not mean you are forced to drink it, but I certainly will not condemn those who enjoy drinking it . . .

    It could be worse – they might choose to only consume beer and no wine at all!!!!


  32. Greg,

    It’s a well-kept secret that Chardonnay has the name recognition, but many other white grape varieties have more interesting component profiles. I liken it to our way of keeping celebrity aloft despite the fact that the celebrity may prove to be mediocre when compared to the up and coming or the simply unacknowledged oldsters.

  33. People are going to buy the wine they like. However, people’s tastes in wine do change (thank goodness). Maureen’s comments about pairing the style of the Chardonnay to different foods are right on!

  34. Steve, thanks for the plug. I blogged on the great OR chards a few weeks back – they have improved dramatically during the past decade. I agree with most of what you say. CA can certainly make brilliant chard – but generally at very high prices. I am less certain about chardonnay being the greatest white grape. As Thomas Pellechia says, if it’s so great, why does it need so much help? Outside of Chablis, where does the grape show any character of its own? I’d rank chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc – hell, I’d take semillon! – over chardonnay any day of the week.

  35. Chenin Blanc?!?!

  36. Harry Hansen says:

    Being both a Chardonnay winemaker and a Davis graduate, this is all interesting to me. Davis graduates generally work together in a very few appellations, and I’ve always thought the mindset, if it exists as many allege, is shaped by common industrial (postgraduation) experiences here in CA. Certainly I cannot recall a single class in which we discussed how wine styles “should be” or even the concept of stringing together a sequence of techniques to achieve a style.

    As for Chardonnay, wines exist because people buy them, and Darwinian logic dictates that wines will not exist where people do not buy. That there are many styles of Chardonnay and appellations producing it is cause for celebration, not hand-wringing. This is still a great grape!

  37. Tom P.

    That is an interesting tree up which you are barking–Chardonnay is not a great variety because it likes sauces.

    Funny, I feel the same way about morels and pasta.

    I get your comment about componenet profiles. Sure, I would rather drink unadorned Riesling than unadorned Chardonnay. Indeed, I might even argue that Riesling is the “greatest” grape from my perspective.

    The problem with your argument is that it ignores the reality that some foods are better off with seasoning and some not. I am happy to eat a white peach out of hand. I have yet to eat an unadorned bouillabaise.

    The capability to yield complex, layered wines is one of the reasons why Chardonnay is so popular. I don’t see how that trait can be dismissed as irrelevant, and, thus, I don’t how Chardonnay can be dismissed either.

    Not liking a grape is one thing. I don’t like Gruner, no matter what minority that puts me in, but I don’t dismiss it because I think it pales by comparison to Riesling.

  38. I import and sell an unoaked Chardonnay from Pelter winery in the Golan in Israel. It’s crisp, minerally, refreshing, you can taste the sunshine in it. People seem to love it since they feel they can actually taste the fruit and earth (and to your point, it’s usually covered up by oak etc). It’s funny… I have had more than one consumer tell me “this can’t be Chardonnay!!” to which I usually reply, “well you have never really tasted Chardonnay perhaps even though you have drunk a lot of it!”


  39. Yessir. Chenin blanc. But not from CA – or anywhere in the U.S. for that matter. The great wines of the Loire Valley, from bone dry, to ultra sweet, are frequently 100% chenin blanc. And they are brilliant wines.

  40. Steve Boyer says:

    Chardonnay is so ubiquitously planted across the world because it is easy to nurture and a hardy planting in the face of a variety of conditions, producing drinkable juice from almost anywhere. Rather than just talk about the vast amounts of average to poorly made chard, we should be discussing which varietals would be more appropriate for the places unsuited to growing balanced and delicious chard. Sense of place rather than a sense of market share
    Without a doubt there will always be oceans of mediocre wine made because ” it is what the consumers want!” While this is a fine thing in and of itself, it is also a fine thing to want to increase the diversity of offerings available and increase exposure of other (perhaps more suitable to the vineyard site) varietals to consumers palates.

    On a separate note: Good Call Tom P on the chenin blanc.
    a grape with character and age worthiness on its own and yet able to handle a variety of treatments that allow it to show even more character.

  41. Steve,

    I make and sell Chardonnay. Unless I am familiar with the label, typically I will stay away from California Chardonnay, for fear of, as you put it getting a “gooey” one. In my opinion that is rather sad, we live in such a great grape growing state where so many people are concerned about Chardonnay! Why? It’s Chardonnay, it should be great, always. For me, it’s more about creating something that works well with food, something that I can enjoy without second guessing the first sip. I think if more winemakers had to physically go out and sell their wines, the feedback they received could only result in raising the bar.

    On that note … I just stopped fermentation on my last tank of Chardonnay this morning, with 0.5 RS, hope that’s not too much popcorn for you!

  42. Steve,

    You obviously haven’t tasted many Chenin Blancs from the Loire.


    I never said that Chardonnay is irrelevant. In fact, I claim that it ought not be so relevant and it certainly should not be given the status as the greatest white wine grape.

    To your point about seasoning food: I’d rather make that comparison with blending same with same as in wine with wine, food with food. Spices and herbs are food, but oak is wood and ML is an attempt not to add something but to purposely change the profile completely.

    We agree on Riesling. So what? Who are we anyway? Just two old wine drinkers that won’t Tweet…

  43. Tweet !! There, now I have done it.

    Tom, trying to hide behind bad analogies does not change the fact that winemaking is more than about clean, fruity fermentations. Think of it this way. Chardonnay juice is the building block to great wine. Now, does that not feel a lot better than “change the profile completely” and all the pejorative meaning that you imply? Good. I knew you would see the light. And now, please send money for an oak barrel I would like to sell you.

    Seriously, Tom, the end product is the issue here. We get to end products all kinds of ways, including wood in food. Ever hear of smoked fish or salmon cooked on hickory planks or molecular gastronomy. In food, we measure by how something tastes, aside from the obvious health hazards of some additives. Wine is the same thing. So, if you do not like Pfendler or Benoivia or Chasseur or Ramey or ABC or Hobbs or Farrell or……….. etc, etc, Chardonnays or hyphenated Montrachets, OK, I have no argument with that, but to dismiss them because of the use of oak is to miss the point in my view.

  44. Note to Jason–

    If you have no problem with RS of 0.5% in your Chardonnay, I don’t get your “fear” of all Chardonnay. You make wine in Mendocino. Not many gooey Chards up there or in Sonoma or Napa or Monterey or Mendocino–especially at the $22 price point at which your Chard sells.

    I would argue that you are worrying for virtually no reason at all in that very, very few coastally grown Chardonnays selling over $20 will have residual sugar at 0.5% and above. Sure, there are some. Tom Merle mentioned Rombauer recently, and that wine does have RS. But, I am not sure I worry about that anyhow. Riesling has RS and I drink it all the time. I do not expect RS in most Chards, but than again, I don’t experience it in most of the 500 or more Chards I review every year.

  45. Charlie,

    We are talking on two separate planes…or plains, since it’s about Chardonnay!

    Steve ventured that Chardonnay is the great white grape, although he allowed that Riesling might be as great.

    Placing it next to Riesling was an interesting choice, as that grape variety needs little help to reach greatness–as I think you agree.

    My main point is that there are many other white grapes that also need little help to reach their greatness but Chardonnay just isn’t one of them. I make this claim after having produced Chardonnay myself among a few other wines, including Riesling.

    But hey, if you want to consider Chardonnay great, who am I to argue? Go right ahead. Just don’t call it the greatest. Besides, the word “great” is too damned subjective to get worked up over.

  46. My use of the word “great” in relation to Chardonnay may be archaic. I was “raised” on English wine literature, in which the writers of the 19th and 20th century referred to 4 “noble” varieties: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Riesling. This was of course based on their knowledge of Burgundy/Chablis, the Medoc and Germany. Syrah was considered somewhat brawny, and as for Italian wines, the Brits were barely aware of them. They liked Port, of course, but it was not made from a single variety. It’s probably time to expand the list of “great” or “noble” varieties, but I would always include Chardonnay on it.

  47. note to Charlie,

    I should have specified, in that most of my concern is usually based around oak and malic, not specifically RS. I am ok with some malic, but really not a fan of heavy oak. It seems there is an abundance of the later on the market.

  48. I agree that there are other areas in the US that produce great Chard for the money. WA has a few, but Oregon has more than a handful of excellent, balanced CH for a good price. Just look at Chehalem, Adelsheim or Evesham Wood, they all make delicious Chard, mostly less than $20 bucks.

  49. Steve,

    In this context, great and noble are not the same thing, and yes, the Brits missed a few Italian nobles like Nebbiolo, Falanghina, Sagrantino and the Spanish Temperanillo, the Portuguese Taurigo, the Hungarian Furmint, the American Catawba–shall I go on?

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