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Back in the late aughts following the big bang of the enoblogosphere, there was probably no word more maligned, no term more associated with the wine establishment as “Chardonnay.”
“Oaky, buttery, California Chardonnay.” It spoke to everything we nouvelle vague wine lovers despised about the wine world hegemony.
And as Tracie and I began to date, Chardonnay avoidance with dramatic flair — à la “Sideways” — was a bona fide whereby you established your cool.
Yes, we were amenable to the grape variety if it showed up in the form of a racy blanc de blancs pas dosé or a hitherto unknown but acceptably “acidity-driven” Chablis. But the mere mention of the apelonym was enough to make you heave… well… maybe not heave but wince.
So how is that our most recent online, curbside mix-and-match order from the Houston Wine Merchant was literally replete with Chardonnay? California Chardonnay and French Chardonnay! Egads!
One of the key moments in my own personal Chardonnay sea change was my repeated visits in pre-pandemic years to northern California wine country where the opportunity to taste a broader spectrum of Chardonnay entirely reshaped my perception of the category. By my September 2019 trip for the Slow Wine guide, my third for the imprint, I had discovered so many expressions of Chardonnay that we both loved. From Santa Ynez to west Sonoma coast, there were myriad winemakers — many of them négociants — that had never found their way into our glass along our überhipster wine route.
It wasn’t that there was a “new California” that even the Times touted at the time. In fact, there was plenty of great California Chardonnay to go around. But it hadn’t been “marketed” to our emerging demographic of Gen X, would-be enlightened wine lovers.
By missed-opportunity marketing, I don’t mean that those winemakers had failed us. No, they had not, by any means. As I discovered, many of them were happily selling their entire production to their lists and to a tuned-in clientele who had appreciated the stuff for more than a generation.
The truth is we had failed them by letting them be eclipsed by the new subversive media- and social media-driven wine culture. Subversion was good. And a lot of cool stemmed from it. But it was also deeply myopic in certain fundamental instances like l’affaire Chardonnay.
Another seismic shift was also happening: we were becoming more experienced wine drinkers. As we strived for many years to birth our “cool palates,” we began to realize that a great lacuna had formed in our wine tastes. And ten years into that arc, we became aware of that gap because we had started to taste some of the great expressions of Chardonnay with more finely honed tasting chops.
And you know what? We discovered that we loved the wines.
There were also other factors that guided the shift toward the most coveted of candid grape varieties.
We stopped being drawn to the palate-bracing acidity of some of the wines that came out the the in search of balance movement (yeah, you know what and whom I’m talking about). At the time it seemed that the winemakers were overcompensating for the “okay buttery” (and attenuated acidity) paradigm.
Another thing that has really influenced our wine buying habits has been the release of an overwhelming number of Bourgogne blanc from top producers. At our end of the Passover Seder this year, we’ll be drinking current release 2015 Bourgogne, “white Burgundy wine,” from De Montille. It’s friggin’ delicious, people. And I imagine that Étienne (yeah, you know whom I’m talking about) reclassified this lot. Gauging from the wine, you would think that he had more lofty aspirations for it.
His Bourgogne blanc is just one of the many marquee houses that are now releasing rivers of appellation-wide designate wines (i.e., “Bourgogne”).
The current lineup in our cellar is Au Bon Climat, Boillot, De Montille, and a Mâcon from Thévenet.
Dear Chardonnay, it took us a long time to make it, but we got here as quick as we could. And we’ve been loving every minute of it.