Chardonnay is a pain in my ass. Really it is. I’ve mentioned it before, and it’s worth mentioning again. When I lead staff tastings in retail the Chardonnay days were the only one we all feared. Why you ask? Too many wines smell of old tuna fish cans and taste even worse. OK, that is a slight exaggeration, but the truth is that there is more crappy Chardonnay out there than any other variety of wine. On the one hand are those pretty terrible examples at the bottom of the spectrum. Lord knows what’s going on there. Over-ripe fruit, under-ripe fruit, wood chips or worse, residual sugar up the wazoo to cover all the faults. At at the top of the spectrum. Well a generation of wine writers have convinced many of us that chardonnay should taste like marshmallows and caramel and feel like buttermilk in the mouth. Bleech!
So that leaves me searching through the middle for Chardonnay that tastes like Chardonnay and not a candy factory. To a certain extent these lower, but not rock-bottom, price points hold the mother load of attractive Chardonnays. The sell for prices that prevent winemakers from going too low with yields and too high with toasty new oak. There’s also a new winemaking style that prefers barrel ageing, which along with less stirring can add a lovely roundness to Chardonnay, but forgoes the use of new oak and the flavors, and textures it brings.