To put it bluntly, most consumers are clueless about chardonnay, whether they love it or hate it. Many tend to make the sweeping generalization that all chardonnays boast the big, buttery and oaky flavors that the California styles of the wine have become known for.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Depending on where the varietal is grown, chardonnay’s flavor profile can range from crisp and mineral to fresh citrus to toasted spice to tropical fruit—to name only a few styles. There is likely a chardonnay to suit any white-wine drinker, but too many consumers dismiss all wines made from the varietal as oaky butter bombs.
Not to say that some chardonnay producers haven’t overdone it with the oak—a lot of them have. That’s likely why some guests are starting to order unoaked wine, as Brian Duncan, wine director at Chicago restaurant Bin 36, points out in our cover story on chardonnay.
But many winemakers are realizing that they don’t need to use quite so much oak when aging chardonnay. What’s more, while California and France tend to be the main sources for the wine, different styles of chardonnays are coming onto the market from places like Australia, South America and other parts of Europe.
On a recent visit to Chile, several wine producers were candid about what they’ve learned since the country began really ramping up its wine production 20 years ago. The topic of oak came up more than once.
“We used to be very aggressive with oak, but now we’re cutting back,” says Santiago Margozzini, winemaker at MontGras in Chile’s Colchagua Valley. In the early to mid 1990s in Chile, he notes, “oak was everything. Now it’s more about expressing the fruit.”
Margozzini also points out that oak will mask issues with the wine. That could be a key reason why some people don’t like oaky wines—perhaps they experienced some wines that weren’t all that great to begin with.
There’s nothing wrong with oak or with big, buttery chardonnays. The reason the style caught on and became ubiquitous is that people like it. But it’s important that guests understand that’s not the only style of chardonnay.
For a roundup of some Chilean chardonnays, see page 29; the chardonnay feature begins on page 26. And for some truly creative beer promotions (Girl Scout cookie beer pairings! Hotel turndown service with craft beers!), see page 30.
We also look at innovations in cocktail mixers and garnishes on page 34, and share some terrific summer drink recipes on page 46. The season is all about kicking back and keeping cool, whether that’s with a chilled glass of wine, a refreshing cold beer, an iced cocktail or whatever. Make it a great one.