California is quite aptly known as the ‘Sunshine State’. Once you have spent a day or two roaming the vineyards of Santa Barbara County or Napa Valley you can understand why. You tend to get sunburnt whilst wandering the vines with a glass of something nice in hand.
Many are familiar with the red wines of California which are being produced as a dime-a-dozen, with more juicy and rich Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots than you can throw a stick at. With the general heat and amount of sunshine hours that California amasses in a year it only makes sense that it is a top producer of great red wines. I could wax lyrical for days about the brilliance of Californian reds yet today I want to highlight the Chardonnays.
Some of you have probably heard of the ‘ABC’ movement that started back in the 1980s. For those not familiar with it, it was the ‘Anything But Chardonnay’ revolt. It was more a backlash against the big-oaky bombs that Californian winemakers used to be obsessed with producing than Chardonnay as a whole.
Why was, or is, oak so prized in wine? This is a surprisingly tricky question to answer actually. It has a couple of factors: consumer demand and wine critic points.
A few of the leading American wine critics at this time wanted bigger, fuller, richer wines. Which really was more like 'fat, obvious, oaky wines'. It was a time when Chardonnay greatness was measured by the amount of oak it possessed instead of fruit richness or complexity. However the people have spoken over the years and we can see a movement towards balance and fruit-richness vs. focusing on how many staves you can fit in to a tank of wine.
As you probably know, or can surmise for yourself, you can still find Chardonnays of the oak-persuasion. Yet it now seems about 35:65 with oak as the major party but a clear rise in the un-oaked or barely-oaked wines produced across Chardonnay.
Personally I, and the rest of the team at The Cellar, tend to be very liberal with our wine choices. There are days that I feel like pulling the cork on something with an OBE (Oaky, Buttery Exuberance) but there are other times that something clean and pristine is called for. That is honestly one of the reasons I love Chardonnay so much - its versatility.
So why not have a few of our recommendations:
Au Bon Climat are known for their Burgundian style wines (restrained and less oak). Their beginning Chardonnay from 'Santa Barbara County' is utterly gorgeous and packs a lot in to the bottle. If you are wanting a Burgundy look-alike that is incredibly complex then it is their Nuits-Blanches-au-Bouge that you are looking for!
Duckhorn Vineyards and Decoy Vineyards are unabashedly friends of oak and a bit of butter. The Duckhorn from Napa is rich with lots of ripe tropical fruit in there whereas the Decoy is more peachy and apricoty.
Migration Vineyard's Chardonnay or the White Rock Vineyard are somewhere in the middle stylistically. But I think that anyone and everyone would agree that this is a stunning wine no matter what you feel about butter, oak, or Chardonnay - for that matter!
So there is plenty to learn, love, and drink. What are you waiting for?