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Is Chardonnay “back”? No, because it never left. Plus, a comment on wine writing



There long has been a lot of Sturm und Drang about an “anything but Chardonnay” movement, but it was all talk and no action. As usual, elite “gatekeepers” pronounced Chardonnay passé (and felt all the more elite for doing so); meanwhile, hundreds of millions of Americans, apparently not having gotten the memo, continued to love Chardonnay. It never “went” anywhere, so how can it “come back”?

Well, it has, according to this article, from the drinks business, that says “consumers are getting into [Chardonnay] all over again”—at least down in Australia, with “the Chinese” poised to “go wild” for it “in time.”

In this country, if grape growers thought that Chardonnay was a dying variety, they wouldn’t continue to grow it. While it’s true that, between the years 2004-2013, Chardonnay increased only very modestly in acreage in California, at least it increased (unlike Merlot and Zinfandel). It’s still the top-selling wine in this country, red or white. So can we please begin looking at Chardonnay for what it really is—a noble variety that’s being made better and better all the time, not as buttery, oaky and sweet as it used to be, but much more balanced? Take it from me: You don’t have to be ashamed for loving Chardonnay anymore, because—it’s baaak!

And speaking of Chardonnay, one of my faithful readers, who read this post from last week, sent in the following comment:

You mentioned that Boomers saw the cultural “wisdom” of their elders as prejudiced and outdated.

Many young wine drinkers see the wine “wisdom” of their elders as prejudiced and outdated.

Three examples:

  1.  The way establishment wine writers view the wines of “The Other 47 States.”
  2.  The Hegemony of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
  3.  The bias against pink wines as ‘not-serious.’

Well, let me address each of those. I suppose it is true that “establishment wine writers” view the wines of the other 47 states (presumably, California, Oregon and Washington being the exceptions) as in a lesser light. How could it be otherwise? California wine, in particular, has dominated the national scene (and the quality scene) for, like, forever! But I, myself, am acutely aware that I’ve never had the privilege of tasting wines from about 44 of the 50 states, so I would never presume to say they’re not as good as ours. But if you think about it, a wine writer has to make a living: and there are multiple reasons why the wines of other states get overlooked. One is it’s hard to get tasting samples. Another is it’s hard to find outlets to write about them (you can write an article but if a reputable magazine won’t publish it, what’s the point?). If I write an article on “Napa Valley Cult Cabernet” a lot of people are going to want to read it. If I write an article on “The Tempranillos of Tennessee,” I doubt if anyone would even click open the link. So you need an audience and, in the case of most U.S. wine, there just isn’t one for most of the wines of the other states except for places like OR, WA, NY, VA and a few others (although that is changing). Cold, hard fact.

The Hegemony of Cabernet and Chardonnay. Well, this is a true accusation, and it’s one I’ve bemoaned in the past. Still, the truth is the truth: These are America’s top varieties. The customer is never wrong. Cab and Chard also are two of the world’s “noble” varieties and while we can argue about what that means, one thing I think we can all agree on is that Cabernet (whether you like it or not) is one of the world’s greatest red wine grapes and wines, and Chardonnay (ditto) one of the greatest white grapes and wines. So, again, articles and reviews concerning Cab and Chard are simply of more inherent interest than they are for many other varieties.

The bias against pink wines. Look, pink wine—rosé—has had more favorable press in the media over the past few years than any other wine type! “Brosés” are all the rage; blush wine is everywhere! So you can’t say pink wine isn’t getting its fair share of publicity. Now, is pink wine “serious”? What do you mean by “serious”? It doesn’t fetch the price of luxury reds or whites, but then pink wine is often saignée wine, or made from younger or lesser quality grapes, so it’s not meant to be “serious.” What it is meant to be is seriously good and easy to drink and with the right foods, the best possible wine. So I’m not a rosé basher, and neither is any other reputable critic I know. Would the other critics give a rosé 99 or 100 points? Probably not. You can make a case they should, but if you were a critic using the 100-point system (or puffs, or stars, or letter grades, whatever) you probably wouldn’t give a rosé your highest rating, either. In wine reviewing, there have to be standards: wine is not like the children of Lake Wobegon, where they’re all above average. Some wines are average, some are below average, some are above average and some are way, way above average, “average” being an abstract quality tier that exists in the wine writer’s mind. Rosé in my experience is never “way, way above average.” I admit I haven’t reviewed a lot in my years (maybe 1,000 or so), but I can’t actually recall a single one that blew me away—the way I can for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, or various European wines.

Anyhow, it’s very easy to knock wine writers if you’re not one!

  1. Bill Haydon says:

    You’ve framed this almost solely from a domestic viewpoint. Those “elite gatekeepers” didn’t turn their backs on Chardonnay. They turned their backs on overly ripe, oaky California Chardonnay as their lists and shelves were still full of Chablis, the Macon and, of course, the Cote de Beaune. Even newer regions for the grape showing great promise (i.e. cool climate & limestone!) for balanced, mineral driven versions such as Monferrato and Patagonia found favor with them.

    I would argue that the movement wasn’t so much ABC: “Anything But Chardonnay” as it was ABCDE: “Anything But Cookie-Cutter Domestic Egojuice” It was the same movement that relegated cult Cabernet to the oenological equivalent of a leisure suit.

    As for the slam on Tempranillo. Of course, nobody cares about Tennessean Tempranillo. Any serious student of wine would, however, certainly put it up as one of the world’s great, noble wine grapes. Rioja? Ribera del Duero? Just because a grape hasn’t been successfully planted and commercialized by the Cali industry, doesn’t relegate it to non-noble status.

  2. “Now, is pink wine “serious”? What do you mean by “serious”? It doesn’t fetch the price of luxury reds or whites”

    I won’t argue if rosé should be considered “serious” but I hope you don’t feel wine can only be “serious” if some vintners have highly inflated prices for the wealthy to use as status symbols.

  3. *Anyhow, it’s very easy to knock millennials if you’re not one!

    corrected. you’re welcome.

  4. Dear Peter Bourget, I do not believe that wine can only be serious if it’s expensive. But I do believe that when a proprietor charges a ton of money for his wine, he sets himself up for particular criticism if the wine is only as good as a far less expensive wine. Unfortunately, I seem to be in the minority on this. Most critics, IMHO, seem to take expensive wine more seriously than inexpensive wine–which producers understand, and it’s why they price their wines so high.

  5. Steve, I agree with you that it appears many critics take expensive wine more seriously and this is where I have an issue. I have visited wineries in many countries and I must be missing the ones these professional critics go to. I tasted many wines I felt were excellent while in South Africa and the majority are at reasonable prices. The same for a recent trip to Sicily where we visited six wineries while drinking other vintners wines in restaurants. However, when I read articles about the same areas the majority of high scoring wines are $75 – $100 and above, almost as if high priced wines were searched out. It would be interesting to have double blind tastings of these wines and see if the professionals still score them by price.

  6. Nice work Peter! But if you are looking at the investment perspective, you can invest in a few good bottles of wine and wait till its price goes up and then sell it off for a good profit!

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