National Chardonnay Day is quickly approaching. How quick is determined by which wine calendar you use. Winefolly and Vine Pair have it listed as May 21st. Wente Vineyards and American Winery Guide have the day of celebration as May 26th. The fact that the date of National Chardonnay Day is a bit controversial and misunderstood is appropriate for a grape that often faces the same plight.
I recently read an interesting article in The Daily Meal called “Its Time to Stop Hatin on Chardonnay.” The article highlights what we all know is true; many claim to not like Chardonnay without fully understanding Chardonnay. It is not ironic that the 40th anniversary of the Judgement of Paris is on May 24, 2016. This is the day that put the world on notice that California wines were as good as the rest and were here to stay! What wine won that competition? Chateau Montelana’s 1973 Chardonnay crafted by Mike Grgich. The entire US wine industry runs on the back of the work horse grape of Chardonnay. However, that is not the end of the tale.
In the 80’s Chardonnay was on fire. People were buying it so fast wine merchants were having a hard time keeping their shelves stocked. Wineries were doing everything they could to increase production and things went bad…really bad. Some got careless and began pumping out over oaked, over malo-ed (buttery) Chardonnays. The market became flooded with “butter bombs” and Chardonnay’s illustrious image went from queen of the ball to “anything but Chardonnay.” I would say in some respects the grape is still recovering. Sadly there are still many “butter bombs” to be found in the market, and many who still really enjoy them. But thankfully the story continued. Many producers have pulled back from the misuse of oak to a more subtle approach, some opting for stainless steel fermentation, avoiding oak all together. Additionally, a balanced approach to malolactic fermentation has allowed many Chardonnays to maintain their acidity while still mellowing out some of its edginess. Think of the many beautiful expressions in the world of Chardonnay: White Burgundy and Chablis remain supreme in my book. And what about Champagne or sparkling wine? Chardonnay is one of the three blending grapes in Champagne and is widely used in producing sparkling wines all over the world. One of my favorite sparkling wines is Ferrari Trento Perle, 100% Chardonnay. In fact, Blanc de Blanc sparkling wines tend to be my favorites. Today, you will also find some beautifully balanced expressions on Chardonnay being crafted in Sonoma County, Santa Barbara County, and Willamette Valley.
So grab a glass and let’s celebrate National Chardonnay Day. And since there is some discrepancy as to whether it is May 21st or May 26th I say buy 6 bottles of all different styles of Chardonnay (including sparkling) and have a 6 day Chardonnay festival! *Don’t forget to toast the 40th anniversary of the Judgement of Paris while you are enjoying your Chardonnay!
Here are a couple of value driven, quality crafted Chardonnays:
Balletto 2014 Russian River Valley Chardonnay: This wine is crafted of 100% estate grown and estate bottled Chardonnay. It poured a golden yellow into the glass; aromas of yellow apples, ripe pears, baking spices and lemon zest fill the glass; on the palate it exhibits nice balance with a rich texture and soft toasted notes on the finish; it is full body, crisp, and light on the palate; it was mouth coating with a pleasing acidity that lingers on the palate. According to Balletto, “new oak has been used sparingly to enhance the wine with subtle toasted tones, rather than dominate the aromatic profile.” I would say they achieved this very well. 13.3% alcohol, 100% French oak with 33% new. SRP $20.
Balletto’s Chardonnay Winemaking Philosophy: “Growing and making outstanding barrel-fermented Chardonnay is one of the most difficult tasks in winemaking. We’re picking at optimal ripeness to maintain natural acidity and capture aromatics. Then, to add distinctness and weight, we use only native yeast and complete 100% malolactic fermentation. The wine is aged and finished in French oak (33% new) with lees stirring every three weeks for the first six months. The result is serious Chardonnay with depth, structure, and finesse.”
Hahn 2014 Monterey County Chardonnay: 100% Chardonnay; golden yellow in the glass; orchard fruit aromas of apples and pears are met with pineapples, lemon zest and soft baking spice notes; on the palate a more pronounced use of oak adds notes of toasted walnuts to the fruits and spices; rich in texture with a zesty mouth feel, crisp with mouth coating acidity that is balanced with a slightly creamy, long finish; 14.5% alcohol; SRP $15.
These two Chardonnays were crafted sustainably but fully sustainable, eco-friendly wineries. They are a perfect way to celebrate National Chardonnay Day. Whenever you decide to celebrate the day please let me know what’s in your glass. Cheers!