In Defense of Chardonnay

In Defense of Chardonnay

Faith Durand
May 22, 2008

Poor old Chardonnay wines! They are the victims of so much bad press. How often have you heard someone say "Anything but Chardonnay"? Indeed many an article has been penned with said same title. I have also had people say to me, "I hate Chardonnay but I love Chablis". Well, Chablis wine is 100% Chardonnay! So what are all these Chardonnay opponents really saying?

It's the oak, or rather too much of it. As Chardonnay became hugely popular, the predominant style was big and bold, with lots of toasty oak treatment. An oaked wine is one where the wine has been in contact with oak (barrels or barrel alternatives) during its fermentation and/or ageing. The type of oak, and how long the wine has been in contact with it all influence the level of oak aroma and flavor. In the 80's and early 90's we simply could not get enough oak – so winemakers gave us what we wanted – in spades, - so much so that many wines became overwhelmed with oak. Soon wine drinkers began to tire of this powerful International style and guess what? They blamed the poor old Chardonnay grape!

Despite all this Chardonnay remains one of the world's favorite wines. Yet, many Chardonnay drinkers find it difficult to describe the character of the grape. Grown in almost every winemaking country, Chardonnay, if cropped too high or not planted on suitable sites can yield wines that are dull and boring. However Chardonnay is the grape in the greatest white wines of the world such as Grand Cru Burgundy and Blanc de Blanc Champagne.

Chardonnay's strength is its structure and its ability to age rather than its aromatic intensity. In general Chardonnay wines are medium to full bodied, with medium acidity and an attractive creamy, buttery character on the palate. Alcohol levels can be high but if balanced with enough ripe fruit the wines can handle 14% and 14.5%. Aromas and flavors range from citrus, green apple and pear in cooler climates to more stone and tropical fruit in warmer climates.

While prized Chardonnay wines command high prices, you don't have to spend hundreds of dollars to get a well-made wine. Below I have listed some that I heartily recommend and won't break the bank. Given the range of Chardonnay styles available, they pair with many different foods. Try the ones below with freshly shucked oysters, smoked salmon, grilled trout with fresh herbs and a squeeze of lemon, sautéed wild mushrooms, spinach and cheddar soufflé chicken satay or even Thai green curry.

• 2007 Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay, Marlborough, New Zealand ($18)– inviting aromas of stone fruit, apple and pear. Long smooth finish.

• 2006 A to Z Chardonnay, Oregon, USA ($15) – Packed with ripe stone and tropical fruit. Rich texture across the palate, with notes of pineapple, peach and cream.

• 2006 Chablis, Gilbert Picq, AC Chablis, France ($19), – Crisp, clean and very minerally. Flavors of green apple, grapefruit and a touch of chalk on the finish. Classic delicious Chablis

• 2007 Danie de Wet "Limestone Hill" Chardonnay, Robertson, South Africa ($16) – Refreshing with aromas and flavors of lemon and green apple. Smooth and creamy on the palate, with attractive smoky and herbal notes on the finish.
Sherry–Lehmann (Manhattan, NY), $16 (Orange, CA)
Astor Wines (Manhattan, NY)
Fine Wine House, (Passadena, CA)
MacArthur Beverages, (Washington, DC)
Total Wine & More (various cities, FL, NC)
The Grape Merchant, (Weston, FL)
Wine Legend (Livingston, NJ)
Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PA)
The Corkscrew Wine Emporium, (Springfield, IL)

So until next week enjoy some of the lighter, fruitier styles of Chardonnay.

-- Mary

Direct Shipping – Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is a control state. Both the wholesaler and retailer is the state-owned Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB). According to their website wine consumers in Pennsylvania may buy wine over the Internet. However, there are many restrictions:

• Only wines not available in Pennsylvania Wine & Liquor stores may be purchased
• Purchases have to be shipped to a Wine & Spirits store in PA (and not to the consumer's home)
• Wine must be purchased from a licensed Direct Wine Shipper and consumers may not purchase more than 9 liters per month from a single Direct Wine Shipper
• The Direct Wine Shipper is liable for a shipping charge, and must add a $4.50 handling fee, Pennsylvania's 18% liquor tax, 6% sales tax (and 1% sales tax in Philadelphia & Allegheny counties).

Because the regulations are so complicated many carriers (FedEX and UPS) will not ship wine into Pennsylvania, and the Wine Institute still lists the state as a no ship state.

(Images: bourgogne19 by Flickr member Claude-Olivier Marti and Šira ispred vinarije by Flickr member both licensed under Creative Commons)

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