Chardonnay’s unfiltered future

The ABC movement seems to have failed, as chardonnay remains enormously popular. But it still might get its desired result.

And that’s not even counting the Anything But Chardonnay brigade’s victory of sorts. By promoting a market for white grapes that don’t taste like what St. Innocent winemaker Mark Vlossak (left) calls “furniture slathered in butter,” Jancis Robinson and other ABCers probably helped pave the way for a boatload of no- or low-oak/butter chardonnays.

More and more New World chards never see the dark of oak or the jarring process of malolactic fermentation, as I noted in my Star Tribune column this week. Another of my favorite wine writers, Jon Bonné, writes in the current issue of Decanter magazine about “a beautiful new diversity of Chardonnay styles emerging, with generally lower alcohol and more nuance. 

I’m guessing that quite a few consumers who decided they didn’t like chardonnay after sampling some K-J-like butter bombs have come back to the varietal in its cleaner, leaner iterations. (My way-better half is among that contingent.)

But the long-range future of chardonnay is a bit murky, thanks to a generation of drinkers that likes a little bit of everything and not a whole lot of anything: the Millennials. The 30-and-under set has embraced wine in a big way, but also in a decidedly experimental way.

Brand loyalty, never mind grape loyalty, is not part of their M.O. The rich chard that they loved last night is not in their sights again anytime soon, merchants and other experts agree.

During my last several visits to California wine regions, the only line heard more often than “cheers” was “We’re pulling back on the oak in our chardonnay.  Letting this delicious grape shine on its own is a good start, but it might not get the job done.

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