by Rick Riozza
The Charms of Chardonnay
Now to you ABC—Anything But Chardonnay—wine fans of the last decade, the news is great. You may again be pleasantly comforted to enjoy the cool and satisfying charms of Chardonnay.
Yeah—we know, Chardonnay, which is still the number one selling white wine varietal in the world, became the trendy wine about town that not only took the nickname of a “Chard” but it inundated the bars, enveloped restaurant fare, and invaded our private dreams.
Apparently size mattered, and for awhile the new world Chardonnay of choice was big in oak and vanilla flavor, heavy in alcohol content, huge in buttery, rich, fat notes, and so full-bodied that it could take on any steak dinner offered. The idea of pairing these wines with salads, vegetables, shellfish, and poultry—as traditionally done with the old world French Chardonnay (known as White Burgundy), was lost!
But I would call it serendipitous that so many Chardonnay fans switched over to try the Sauvignon Blanc, with its refreshing cleansing acidity and the Pinot Grigio with the light, light, flavors. These have become popular lunch wines with their lower alcohol percentage. The more wines people become acquainted with, the better it is for us all: it increases the production of new varietal wines and ultimately lowers the price, as there is more around to purchase.
For those of you loyal fans who continued to enjoy Chardonnay through the mutinous dog days, you’ve no doubt tasted the great array of flavors that a Chardonnay can display. It classically tastes like lemon, apple, and pear. And in Burgundy, the great Chardonnays enjoy the perfect triangle of oak, acid, and fruit.
If you’ve heard of a French “Chablis”, well that’s simply a Chardonnay produced, north of Burgundy, in much cooler region that shows very crisp, stony, and chalky wine with green apple and green pear flavors. This could be the consummate wine to pair with raw oysters.
In the warmer climates of California you’ll get tropical fruits thrown in with some ripe peach and apricot. With all these flavors going on, you can see why this remains the most popular white wine in the world and why it’s bringing white wine enthusiasts back to their first love.
And you can’t talk about Chardonnay without mentioning oak, where that special relationship imparts butter, smoke, toast, and vanilla to the flavor profile providing a medium to full-bodied rich and elegant wine. The great trend now in winemaking is that the wines are a bit leaner with more balanced acidity.
If an “oaked” Chardonnay is considered a “winter” white wine, then surely an “un-oaked” one is for the springtime and summer with its refreshing lemon, melon, and nectarine notes. In our desert heat, we want a light bodied/ low alcohol quaffer. Matured in stainless steel vats, a lighter, sharper and tangier Chardonnay emerges, which makes our lighter meals a bit more charming.
Generally speaking, the Carneros area vineyards ( south Sonoma/ south Napa) and those in Monterey County show a very refreshing citrusy and minerally Chardonnay. Look for these area “appellations” on the wine label.
Do you know what’s better than reading about a refreshing light Chardonnay? Drinking one! Let’s go out this week to the local wine bars and see what fun wine we can beat the heat with. I’ll be over at the Wine Bar In Old Town, 78015 Main St., La Quinta 760. 564.2201; at LQ Wines and Craft Beer Shop, 46520 Washington St., La Quinta 760.771.8466; and at 3rd Corner Wine Shop & Bistro, 73101 Hwy 111, Palm Desert, 760.837.9600 throughout the week tasting and taking notes for my next column.
Chime in if you’d like; I’d love to hear your comments and recommendations.
Stay tuned, charmed, and refreshed! CHEERS!
Rick Riozza is the desert’s sommelier-about-town entertaining at private and corporate wine tastings and events. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org