The incredible Chardonnay – there I said it!
An aperitif that will carry you right through your meal
The 2018 Crush Report shows that 15.8 percent of all grapes crushed last year were green-skinned Chardonnay berries. This dry, lower acid, higher alcohol, not terribly aromatic wine tops the white grapes grown and crushed in California and ranks second only to the red favorite Cabernet Sauvignon. Yet it is only rarely that I enjoy a glass with friends.
One day it struck me the way other obvious things do – late in the day, making you wonder why you’d never noticed. Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, Vermentino, Riesling even, associated as it is – erroneously – with sweetness, but no sign of the otherwise ubiquitous Chardonnay in my offerings to friends.
It comes down to preference. Some Chardonnays, particularly from Napa Valley, can be quite heavy, oaky, and buttery. This is changing now as more winemakers dump oak barrels for steel. But mostly, I find, since my friends are primarily Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers – the heaviness there appears not to bother them – moving them over to a Chard is hard. Hence the other varietals, a sort of bringing them into the fold of white-wine lovers. The high-acid wines mentioned above go well with a variety of hors d’oeuvres, which no doubt helps in the adoption.
I never understood this aversion to white wine until a nephew analyzed it – accurately, I think, or please let me know. In early adulthood, people drink much cheap wine. A red offers some flavor. A cheap white, on the other hand, is the gustatory equivalent of shrillness. Once turned away from the pleasure of the white, it takes effort – and persuasion — to return.
Over lunch recently at a local Italian restaurant, in a moment of what-the-heck, I ordered a glass of Talley Vineyards’ 2016 Arroyo Grande Chardonnay. And then I wondered why my zeal to convert my friends to white had kept me away from this varietal for so long. For this wine blog, I should say whether the wine was oaky, buttery, green apple or yellow, but I can’t. Not that I won’t; I just can’t. A cold glass of Chardonnay on a hot summer day hit the spot. I didn’t want to analyze. Swirl, sip, savor, and let the flavors explode without having to think about them.
There was no stopping me. I had another glass the following week and then opened a bottle of 2013 Chardonnay from Auteur Wines in Sonoma. This was from the Green Acres Vineyard, and it was delightful with tropical flavors of pineapple and lychee. Lemon peel gave it a hint of an appealing bitterness. (The flavor profile on Auteur’s website is completely different!) And though fermented in oak barrels, it was not oaky.
I enjoyed Auteur wines well before I thought of writing a wine blog. My husband and I visited the tasting room on a visit to downtown Sonoma and were impressed by the dedication of the owners and their terrific wines. Confession: we put Auteur on our itinerary because we loved the name. What’s in a name, asked the Bard rhetorically. Clearly, he didn’t know us!
Angie Cerretani at the winery told me over the phone that Auteur has special rows in the Green Acres Vineyard in the Carneros AVA in Sonoma County. This vineyard, sitting north of the San Pablo Bay, is a tad cooler than some of the others in the AVA. Owners Kenneth and Laura Juhasz oversee and maintain their rows, working with the Sangiacomo family that has owned the land for decades and in 1969 planted Chardonnay. Kenneth works with the vineyard manager on how to farm his rows, so he can extract the flavors he wants from his grapes.
As we chatted, I mentioned to Angie that my 2013 Auteur Chardonnay didn’t seem as acidic as the cool climate by the Bay would suggest. She was drinking a 2017 Green Acres and felt it was plenty acidic. While acidity in wine is complex, the simple answer is that age can soften, which also changes the perception of acidity in wine.
In quotidian terms, we can enjoy this particular Chardonnay with all the foods we pair with the varietals mentioned above.
What does this picture of railroad tracks laid along San Pablo Bay in the nineteenth century have to do with Chardonnay? In a word, Nothing. But as I browsed pictures on Shutterstock, I kept coming back to this one: It made me nostalgic for a simpler time. Maybe it wasn’t; railways do suggest people coming in, goods, in this case lumber, going out, fierce battles for land and market share. However, the rails hugging the coastline also looked like a smaller incursion into pristine lands than the last several decades have seen.