California Chardonnay has swung from lush to skinny and back again in the past two decades, and finally the pendulum has come to rest
Chardonnay’s reputation has morphed repeatedly in recent decades. It’s been as subject to fashion as clothing choices on the high street, swinging between bold and ripe styles in the early 2000s to the lean and racy wines of the past decade. With such swiftly changing style trends, many began to believe the variety couldn’t be taken seriously. But more recently, winemakers have begun to find a happy middle ground, balancing mouthwatering flavour with respect for what the vineyard gives them. This polarity of Chardonnay styles is an evolution that has taken place not only in California but in New Zealand and Australia, and wherever the variety is found in the New World. But its journey has not been smooth.
In California, Chardonnay became white wine royalty in the 1980s; drinkers couldn’t get enough of the state’s bright, ripe fruit flavours. But as its popularity grew, so did its style, with wines by the end of the 1990s and early 2000s becoming not only riper but also richer, almost always with a signature buttery and oak-spice flavour. ‘Bigger flavours were the taste of the day,’ says Andy Smith, viticulturist and winemaker at DuMOL in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. ‘In the late 1990s and early 2000s, chefs were cooking with lots of pork fat and richness. The wines reflected that.’
As the wines became larger, so did the backlash: the Anything But Chardonnay (ABC) movement formed, and two California vintners, Jasmine Hirsch and Rajat Parr, decided they’d had enough. In 2011, the pair created a countermovement promoting a different option for California wine. In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB) lasted only five years and had just 36 members at its close, but in that short time it gave rise to more controversy and discussion than an event its size seemed to merit. The impact of the annual IPOB programme in California – and its counterpart events all over the world – was greater than….
To keep reading this article, click through to the Club Oenologique website where it can be read in full free-for-all. The article was originally published in the 1st edition of their print magazine, released in October 2018. Here’s the direct link to the article on their website: https://cluboenologique.com/story/chardonnay-finds-its-perfect-balance/