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Anything But Chardonnay!?

I still remember the first bottle of Chardonnay I ever tasted. My girlfriend and I were invited to some soirée at her manager's place in 1974 or 75. We were supposed to bring a bottle of white wine. I probably just went to a grocery store, but I really don't remember where I found the bottle of wine. The label said it was a Pinot Chardonnay from Christian Brothers' winery. I probably had a couple of glasses of the wine that evening and remember that I liked it immensely.

Thereafter for the next 20 years, my white wine of choice was Chardonnay. Of course I would drink other white wines; in particular I have always had a fondness for Rieslings and also sometimes would have a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Nonetheless, I drank far more Chardonnay than all other white wines combined. I even grew to love the super buttery, oakey California versions of the grape.

Then one night began to change my tastes in white wine. A friend of mine and I were enjoying a special dinner at the Sardine Factory in Monterey, California. We started with the bottle of Le Sophiste, a Marsanne and Rousanne blend from Bonny Doon winery. It went well with the food and I enjoyed its minerality and its structure. It was so good that we finished it before our main courses arrived, so we asked the sommelier - an older gentleman with a German accent, a black patch over one eye, and a tastevin around his neck - to recommend a nice big California Chardonnay to go with the main courses. When we began to taste the Sanford Chardonnay he suggested, it seemed flabby, simple, and uninteresting. I really missed the Sophiste.

This would be a better story if I said that I'd never again enjoyed Chardonnay, but actually it took a few years for me to come to the point where I no longer liked the flavor profile of that grape. Don't get me wrong, if you buy me a nice bottle of Chardonnay, I will find a way to drink it. If you serve a chard with the dinner over at your place, I promise I won't complain, but I no longer order Chardonnay, buy it myself, or even taste it in wineries.

Having given up Chardonnay has opened my mouth to a large range of other whites. NZ Sauvignon Blancs are probably my current dry white favorite, but I also have enjoyed all sorts of white blends, regained a fondness for Chenin Blanc, and discovered Torrontes, Alsatian wines of all sorts, Viogniers, Pinot Grigios (or Gris) etc.

In any case, my experience with Chardonnay leads me to ask you other hounds out there if you've had similar experiences to mine. Have your views of a varietal ever changed dramatically? Have you ever burned out on a grape varietal? How do you feel about Chardonnay? What are your favorite white varietals?

ed

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  1. I started boycotting chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon maybe 20 years ago because they had become such bad values compared with less-popular varietals.

    It's much more interesting to me to taste a new obscure varietal than yet another winery's take on one of the usual suspects.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Exactly! I can't remember the last time I drank a chard ... it was THAT long ago! I've heard that they've improved recently but don't know which ones to try. In any case, I much prefer a walk off the beaten path!

    2. I haven't seen you mention any of the Chardonnays I like. I never was much for the over the top new world style you've tired of. But here's a list for you to try, yes they are all 100% Chardonnay:

      1. Louis Michel Chablis. Try a fairly young one. An alternative would be Roland Lavantureux or Billaud-Simon, both also from Chablis. These have little or no oak, and show the mineral style Chablis is known for.

      2. A Blanc de Blancs Champagne. Yes, from Champagne. Salon would be special, but that's very expensive. So try someone elses.

      3. A St. Veran. Some of these are oaked these days, but most still have little or no wood to them.

      Now, for all of these, please skip the '03 vintage, that vintage was so hot it was like growing Chardonnay on the floor of the Napa Valley. And who would do that?

      I've skipped Cote d'Or burgs, but there are still good Chardonnays out there. St. Veran is even cheap, and Chablis is pretty cheap.

      At any rate, you see where I'm going - maybe it's just the style of Chardonnay you were drinking. Overoaked, flabby and overripe is the description of far too many new world Chards.

      And no, I've never given up on a variety, and I like almost all of them, if they're good wines. I tend to buy by producer (pretty much old world only) rather than grape variety.

      1. Good Chablis is around $30 a bottle, not what I'd call cheap.

        I've had some nice unoaked New Zealand chardonnays recently. Though for the price I'd rather drink Txacoli.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Lookin for a good Chablis at around $30. Can you name any (and the vintage)?

            1. re: Elvis Goldberg

              Elvis, Chablis hasn't had a stinker vintage since '94, and even those were ok in their youth. I named 3 producers above that you can find Chablis at or below $30.

              Where do you live? Garnet in Manhattan has '01 L. Michel Montmains right now for $23.99 per their website. Ready to drink.

            2. re: Robert Lauriston

              I didn't say 'cheap' I said 'pretty cheap', and the Sanford Chardonnay that Phoo D mentions above is around $20 at retail. At my local store, the '04 Lavantureux Chablis AC is $21.99 right now before any discounts are applied. Louis Michel costs more, but he's better known.

              The point wasn't whether it was cheap or not, the point is that it tastes different than California Chardonnay. It's just possible that Phoo D has an old world palate.

              If you want good cheap Chardonnay, look for the St. Veran I mentioned which start around $11-12, or Macon is even less.

            3. I personally find it unfortunate when someone thinks of any grape varietal (in this case Chardonnay) as "one thing" or as a "flavor". Chardonnay (or any notable varietal) is at it's best (in my opinion) is when it is allowed to reflect: the soil, climate (i.e. terrior) of the region that it originates, as well as the approach of the individual winemaker. And subsequently (and fortunately) this can lead to different tasting Chardonnays. No one would confuse a Chablis with a Meursault due to their relative micro-climates as well as for the use of oak by the vintner.
              So by saying "Anything but Chardonnay" you are essentially (besides succumbing to media and social "peer pressure") saying no to wines which on one hand can be stoney, minerally, and lean and on the other be buttery, rich and opulent (and to some wines that are in between). It's all up to (or a reflection of) the climate and the vintner.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Chinon00

                I think anybody who's been drinking chardonnay for 30 years knows that there are a lot of different styles of wine made from the grape--but also that most of chardonnay falls into a few identifiable categories of mediocrity.

                Overstating a case is a rhetorical device. I often say "I hate jazz," but I'm not talking about Billie Holliday or Miles Davis. In that sense, I hate chardonnay.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Over the past decade the American market (and markets beyond perhaps) has been inundated with flabby, oak-y, mass appeal styled Chardonnay from producers like Meridian, Kendall Jackson, Yellow tail, etc. One cannot find a wine list at a middle-priced restaurant that doesn’t have one or two of these available by the glass. For me these types of wines can serve as a transition from say White Zinfandel to more serious wines but they shouldn’t be considered “typical” examples of Chardonnay. But due to the price point ($7-$10) and their generous and obvious flavors they are exceedingly popular. For this reason (and others) they are considered “Chardonnay” by the general public when in actuality they are merely mass appeal styled constructs. Unfortunately too, much of the higher end Chardonnays, available to the American market relay a similar singular expression (bigness!).
                  So I think that it is simply more accurate to convey dislike for this particular approach to Chardonnay than to make the mistake of expressing dislike for Chardonnay as a whole.

                  1. re: Chinon00

                    I agree completely. However, on a trip, where we stayed at a casino/hotel, all of the higher-end restaurants had K-J as the only by-the-glass Chard (and little else to choose from). I complained to my wife over and over. On our last night there, we did the final restaurant in the resort. Oh man, was the wine list bad. I had to eat crow (not my main course) and state that for the first time in my life, I missed the K-J! Did that ever hurt?!?

                    With so many well-made Chards (US), it is a shame that that varietal is so poorly represented at so many restaurants, especially in the Deep South.

                    Hunt

              2. I like chardonnay, but for variety I also look for these white varietals: verdiccio and vernaccia (Italy), pinot grigio (also from Italy, but I look specifically for those from the Alto Aldige region), albarino (Spain) as long as it's not too sweet, sauvignon blanc (especially from California and New Zealand). Some of the white vin du pays from southern France, i.e. Languedoc, is also quite good. Decent versions of all of these can be had for $20 or under.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Mr. Cookie

                  I like many of your selections and I do enjoy New Zealand sauvignon blanc however I would also suggest sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley specifically Sancerre amd Pouilly Fume.

                  1. re: Chinon00

                    both excellent suggestions, love 'em. Loire valley reds from Saumur and Chinon are my new faves.