The “ABC” movement – Anything But Chardonnay – began benignly several years ago in an effort to build consumer awareness about other grape varietals made into wine and worth experiencing. In 2008, Laura Holmes Haddad wrote a book under the “ABC” title that offered a world of discovery into unfamiliar red and white grapes. It didn’t have the same effect of knocking Chardonnay out of the box, like the movie “Sideways” did to Merlot sales, nor was it meant to spark a sinister campaign. Lately, however, the ABCers are at it again, aiming to attract millennials by “attacking” Chardonnay for its “tired” taste.
Chardonnay is one of the world’s classic grapes. It grows almost anywhere – in warm and cold climates and nearly every type of Mother Earth’s soils. The best part is that Chardonnay expresses an amazing sense of place. That’s why French Chablis can taste excitingly different from Chardonnays made in Italy, Chile, the United States and elsewhere.
Consumers willing to taste Chardonnay instead of just drinking it stand to gain an appreciation of its numerous styles – clean, crisp, creamy or sweet, fruity and minerally semi-dry – and learn to identify regional nuances.
Like any quality wine, Chardonnay prices range from under $10 a bottle to $500 or more for ageworthy Grand Cru Burgundies. For the value conscious, there are plenty of good choices on store shelves that don’t require an equity loan to purchase. Here are some of my favorites:
Kendall Jackson Vintners Chardonnay Grand Reserve, $15.99 – KJ revolutionized California Chardonnay back in the 1980s by crafting creamier wines with an elegant disposition. From cool-climate Central Coast vineyards, Grand Reserve mixes floral, melon and vanilla spice notes into a well-balanced white.
Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Chardonnay, $14.99 – A perennial top value on annual wine lists, this Washington State white originates from Columbia Valley’s warmest vineyards and delivers ripe pineapple and tropical fruit flavors on a soft frame.
La Crema Monterey Chardonnay, $12.99 – The winery serves as a case study in offering affordable Chards from diverse vineyards in Monterey, Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast. The Monterey version has a slate mineral cast on the finish, which I adore in French Chablis, to go along with tropical fruit notes.
Hess Collection Napa Valley Chardonnay, $22 -A clean, crisp Chard where the apple and nectarine fruit aren’t overwhelmed by the fermenting process. The wine sees only a touch of oak to give it a round texture, while sustaining nice acidity and building complexity .
Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Chardonnay, $34 – Sonoma’s RR Valley is greatly affected by fog that rolls in off the Pacific Ocean, cooling vineyards and preserving acidity levels. This Chardonnay stands out for its vibrancy, lemon-lime zest, almond paste notes, and silky palate.
Chehalem INOX Chardonnay 2017, Willamette Valley, $19.99 – An unoaked Chard from a top Pinot Noir house, INOX exploits the steely minerality and tart apple notes that give this a true Oregon identity. It’s available in New Hampshire.
Frescobaldi Pomino Chardonnay, Tuscany, $16.99 – A very precise, delicate and soft white featuring apple, pear and grapefruit traits. The straw color is mesmerizing. A subtle seasalt taste adds to the uplifting finish.
J. Moureau & Fils Chablis, $23.99 – The winery’s cru Chablis sells for $50, yet this entry-level version is no slouch for its refined Burgundy structure and stone-fruit flavors. The limestone terroir adds bright acidity and a distinct flinty note on the finish.
Indaba Chardonnay, $7.99 – This is an every-day, easy drinking white from South Africa that is half-way between oak and unoaked and no one is going to mind. Chill and thrill with light foods.
Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley Chardonnay, $38 – Few “creamy-buttery” Chardonnays have been fine-tuned to this meticulous level. The apple, pear and lemon fruit are rich and weighty, the palate velvety. The taste is clean, fulfilling. Yes, you pay more but it’s a real ABC – Absolutely Beautiful Chardonnay.