Anything AND Chardonnay
For many years, I've been a preacher of the "Anything But Chardonnay" gospel, advising wine lovers to break out of the traditional mold and try new and different wine experiences.
Of course the "ABC" chorus doesn't really mean that all Chardonnay should be avoided, all of the time. It's just an irreverent bumper-sticker slogan to illustrate the unfortunate reality that, during the past generation, Chardonnay has become something of a symbol for boring wine, too often grown in industrial agribusiness style and produced to a mass-market, least-common-denominator standard: Your basic "glass of white wine," best swigged as a casual cocktail drink without thoughtful analysis.
But my recent trip to Burgundy (detailed online at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wines/burg2004.phtml) gave me a useful and needed taste of reality. And I do mean taste. In this historic French wine region, there's a reason why Chardonnay has been recognized for centuries as the noble white-wine grape. Grown with honesty and vinified with care, showing proper respect to the fruit and the soil, it remains one of the world's great wines. No one doubts the quality of a Corton-Charlemagne, or course, or a Grands Cru from Meursault, or an excellent (real) Chablis. But even more modest Chardonnay-based whites from the Maconnais taste mighty fine in Burgundy, fresh and fruity and not stewed into a sweet, oaky soup.
But can cheap Chardonnay rise above the bland median? How about cheap New World Chardonnay? Inspired by these Burgundian musings, I propose a simple test for this month's featured topic in Wine Tasting 101. Over the next few weeks, I'll overcome my "ABC" reluctance and taste a number of decidedly modest Chardonnays, from France, California, Australia and other wine-producing regions. From time to time I'll try them in "blind" tasting pairs, Old World versus New.
I invite you to join me, and share your observations in our interactive Wine Tasting 101 Forum. The following pair of inexpensive, widely distributed wines is suggested as a benchmark, but please feel free to join the fun with any Chardonnays of your choosing.
Louis Jadot 2002 Macon-Villages Chardonnay ($9.49)
Smoking Loon 2002 California Chardonnay ($8.99)
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Wine news: So you think you're average?
If you believe that you're an "average" wine drinker, you might want to compare your favorites against the most popular wine brands based on sales in restaurants in the U.S.
The trade magazine Restaurant Wine, published by California based Ronn Wiegand (the first American to earn both the Master Sommelier and Master of Wine certification), recently surveyed U.S. restaurants about their best selling brands in 2003, and compiled a list of the top 100. The full article is available for a hefty fee, but the magazine's publicists circulated the top 25. As it turns out, just 13 corporate entities distribute or import all 25, and virtually all are in the "mass-market" sector, many of them labels produced only for restaurant sales and not available in retail shops.
All this seems to provide further evidence, as if any were needed, that the "wine geek" sector is a mighty small subset of the world market for wine. Here are the top 25, in order by brand name, distributor/importer and national origin:
Beringer Vineyards (Beringer Blass Wine Estates [Foster's]), USA
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Wednesday, June 16, 2004