Up until recently, ordering a glass of Chardonnay among seasoned wine drinkers was like wearing a scarlet letter. It was widely considered a dirty word in the industry, even spurring a movement dubbed ABC (short for “Anything But Chardonnay”). The wine—specifically those produced in California—was derided for having a butterscotch-like sweetness and an overwhelming oaky flavor. But now it seems that experts are dramatically changing their stance about the wine, which poses the question: Is it time to overcome our collective bias against Chardonnay?
Below, a panel of experts—ranging from sommeliers to winemakers—offer insight into the following: Are we in the midst of a Chardonnay revival?
Oak is officially taking a back seat.
According to Ryan Arnold, divisional wine director for restaurants like RPM Italian and Paris Club Bistro and Bar, the Chardonnay revival is definitely happening. “Four years ago, consumers saw a huge uptick in cheap un-oaked Chardonnay bottled with screw caps, but these wines didn’t have much character. Today, certain producers are making vineyard-specific wines that use oak as a supporting role to the expression of fruit.”
Small producers are breaking the mold with mineral-driven Chardonnays.
“I think it’s great to see the movement towards more mineral-driven styles,” explains Ian Cauble, master sommelier and co-founder of SommSelect, a curated wine e-tailer. “Numerous small producers are making wine the way they want to drink it, in a style usually found in Burgundy.”
The newer, less-overwhelming Chardonnays pair better with food.
“This is definitely trending right now. Producers have been able to create wines that really focus on acidity and balance, scaling down robustness and oakiness,” suggests Scott Cameron, beverage director of the Michelin-starred chef’s counter Atera. “These types of wines make the perfect options for food pairings because they’re not as overwhelming and can be matched to specific cuisines, ingredients and flavors. I think this is where the world is heading, and it won’t fade away.”
…and they’re also more fruit-focused.
“There has been a major shift in Chardonnay over the past decade that reflects a turn away from the stereotypically oaky varieties with high alcohol contents. Today, we see Chardonnays coming from California that are much more balanced and fruit-focused, making them especially elegant and easy to drink,” says sommelier Olivier Flosse, who oversees the wine cellars at A Voce restaurants.
Despite what the trends say, it’s always been a top seller.
“Chardonnay has been the number one selling varietal since the early to mid ‘90s—accounting for roughly one out of every five bottles sold in the US for over a decade,” says David Biggar, partner at Vintage Point Partners in Wine, a winery sales and marketing firm. “While the ABC movement was talked about in trends, the consumers stayed pretty loyal to Chardonnay all this time.”