Drink Your ABCs

Drink your ABC's
by Peter Marks, Master of Wine

I never bought into the whole ABC craze, meaning "Anything But Chardonnay." True, it may have raised awareness of some lesser known varietals — Malvasia Bianca may not have had its moment in the sun and we may not be drinking as much Verdelho or Viognier today — but it may have also resulted in a generation of wine drinkers missing out on some of the most enjoyable wines produced today.

I believe we've now moved far beyond the two decade-old "drink our ABCs" mantra. Wine lovers today are definitely more comfortable drinking whatever they wish and experimentation is on the rise. And if your wine of choice is a Chardonnay, then more power to you! Research indicates that Chardonnay (along with the other "C" Cabernet) are still top-selling varieties worldwide, and Chardonnay sales are projected to continue growth in the coming year.

This may be due to the fact that Chardonnay, and especially Chardonnay from California, comes in many different styles and is not as boring as once believed. When I started in the wine business 35 years ago, a big, rich, buttery, oaky Chardonnay was the style of choice. Then we went through a phase of so-called "food wines" which to my palate were eviscerated, under-fruited and underwhelming Chardonnays. In other words, the pendulum had swung too far in the other direction.

Nowadays wine lovers can find a California Chardonnay that is sure to please. We still have the rich, full-throttle versions, but for the most part producers have scaled back a bit on the oak and malolactic (butter) to make a more complex and less one-dimensional wine. For example take the rise in popularity of Chardonnays made in a much more elegant style and from cooler vineyard sites where ripeness occurs at lower sugar levels such as the Robert Mondavi Winery Chardonnay Carneros or the Clos du Bois Chardonnay Russian River Valley. Today, most higher-end Chardonnays on the market fall somewhere in between these styles.

I believe there's nothing better than today's luxury Chardonnays. This is a result of many factors, including vineyards planted in cooler sites where a long growing season results in gradual ripening of flavors and sugars plus improved clone selection matched to proper rootstock for ideal ripening, with more complexity and lower yields. Chardonnay is more forgiving with yields compared to say Pinot Noir, which often results in affordable pricing. And many Chardonnays are made with natural yeast and little or no filtration to allow the true essence of the site to shine through.

If you are one of the Baby Boomers like me that loves Chardonnay (and demographically that's who's buying) then you need to share them more often with your younger friends. My millennial daughter loves to experiment and try different wines and when I serve her a really nice, high-end Chardonnay, nothing pleases her more - except for the fact that I'm paying for it.

As the weather warms, now is a great time to revisit California Chardonnays as the vintages currently available are outstanding. For example during the 2014 growing season, after a warm start the weather turned generally cooler in the summer, allowing for even ripening and great balance in the wines. But despite the excellent ripening conditions, the continuing drought at the time reduced crop size, limiting supplies of this excellent vintage. So I say drink your ABC's and don't waste another moment! Try a Chardonnay, perhaps one you've not had before - and be sure to share!


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