For those of you not familiar with the term, “ABC” in this case means “Anything But Chardonnay”–meaning there is a contingent of the wine drinking populace that is stringently anti-Chard, but I am here to boldly state that “ABC” is dead (or at least it should be).
I get it.
I really do.
At least I get why this “movement” (I guess it is more of a “sentiment”) came into being: Chardonnay is the most popular white wine variety in the world (OK, some claim there are more acres devoted to Airén, but go ahead and find me a bottle of that at the local wine shop), and a decade or so ago, many (most?) California Chardonnays were big oaky messes.
Back at the beginning of the “modern” California wine trade, winemakers tried to emulate the white wines of Burgundy–the home of Chardonnay (and if you have ever had a wine with “Montrachet” on the label, you will know why). To do this, many California Chardonnay producers aged their wine in oak, as did their French brethren. The problem is that American oak imparts a much heavier oak taste to the final product than does the French oak that is used in Burgundy.
So when Americans started drinking more wine a few decades ago, white wine (which was overwhelmingly Chardonnay) tended to be big, creamy, buttery, and oaky. The more the people consumed, the more was produced and many (most?) wineries started to imitate the big oaky style, hoping to make people smile and even happy for a while (hidden 1970’s pop-music paraphrase). But something happened on the way to utter Oenophilia: in the rush to make more and more wine in the popular style at every price point, corners were cut, philosophies may have been compromised, and a lot of crappy wine was made.
As a result, as more wine drinkers came into the market, they learned that “Chardonnay” meant a big, buttery wine from which you were likely to get splinters.
Instead of highlighting the fruit, Chardonnay, at least in the U.S., had become, to borrow a phrase, one big Oak Monster, which is why people began to request “Anything But Chardonnay” when requesting a white wine.
Eventually, Chardonnay producers started to take their collective foot off the Oak pedal, and today, although there are certainly still bigger California-style Chardonnays to be found, many more Chards that are fermented/aged in French oak, “neutral” oak (once a barrel has been used for more than 2 years, the oak influence it imparts into the wine is negligible), or even “Unoaked” where the wine only sees stainless steel (or concrete, but that is another post).
Thus, today, there are so many quality Chardonnays that highlight the fruit and stay away from oak, that “Anything But Chardonnay” is a thing of the past (or at least it should be). Now if you want to form a ABPG (Anything But Pinot Grigio) group, I am all ears….
Here are a few Chardonnays that I have recently tasted that even the most stringent ABC adherent could embrace.
2013 Carmel Road Unoaked Chardonnay Monterey: Retail $18. Under twist-off. 100% Stainless fermented and partial malolactic fermentation. Pleasant nose of lemon with some mineral notes. Very nice acidity on the palate with vibrant acidity, a bit of honey, and a chalky base on the finish. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2013 La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay: Retail $23. Composite cork (not a fan). Lemon, oak, vanilla, and even a little cherry on the onset, with vibrant flavors of lemon again, but with pretty vibrant acidity (as it warms up). I would hazard to state that this wine needs to be served slightly warmer than refrigerator temperature–perhaps 52-63 degrees (like the precision?), where the acidity is no longer muted and the fruit plays an integral role. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
2013 La Crema Chardonnay Russian River Valley: Retail $30. Very closed initially on the nose, not getting much at all. Eventually some melon and pineapple with a hint of oak. Nice on the palate–unctuous, but not overly so with good acidity and a slight hand with the oak. the finish is slightly flinty with a touch of Meyer lemon. Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2013 Robert Mondavi Chardonnay Napa Valley: Retail $19. This showed up on my door unannounced–which is a bit unusual (normally, wineries or marketing firms will contact me first–since shipping wine to PA is a pain in the tuchus–see any of the thousand posts I have already written on this subject). I have tremendous respect for what Robert Mondavi did for wine in the Napa Valley and this country in general, but I have to admit that since the takeover of the winery, well…. So with some apprehension, I plopped this in the fridge. Initially, I took this as a “traditional” California Chardonnay–creamy pineapple with a bit of oak on the nose. On the palate, however, this shows depth, with very nice acidity and some ripe fruit and the oak is certainly minimal. In fact, this is a solid effort–particularly given the modest price. Very Good. 86-88 Points.
2012 Paul Mas Estate Hilaire Single Vineyard Chardonnay: Retail $15. $15? Really? While no one will confuse this with a DRC Montrachet, there are some really nice aromatics on this wine: pineapple, pear, melon, and more. On the palate, not a hint of oak, but there is a bit of creaminess. I would guess some, but not all malo. Great acidity and even some minerality on the back. I was ready to have my doubts, but Jean-Claude Mas is really making some quality wines at great price points. Very Good, maybe more. 88-90 Points.