Buttery California Chards Deserve A Second Chance | Wine Enthusiast
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The Case for Oaky Chardonnay

The Anything-But-Chardonnay movement was a direct response to the late-20th-century rise of flabby, over oaked, high-alcohol Chardonnays. Two decades later, the ABC sentiment is alive and well, even though the prevailing style today, at least for the wines I review from California’s Central Coast, is tight and racy, driven by fresh citrus flavors and chalky textures.

I spend a lot of my time educating the Anything-Butters about the zippy wonders of these “new” vibrant Chardonnays. Though many express doubt at first, my conversion rate is happily high.

All Chardonnay needn’t be made the same, and there remains a seat at my table for rich, oaky Chardonnay, which is still plentiful. To me, their butter scotch drizzled, seared marshmallow, honeysuckle-laden flavors are the embodiment of comfort in your cup. Few white wines go as well with a roaring fire as snow falls outside, or to complement both soft and hard cheeses before or after dinner, or as an accompaniment to roasted chicken—such succulent, herb-infused flesh never knew a better beverage buddy than nutty, caramelized Chardonnay.

Of course, these Chards must achieve balance amid their opulence to qualify for my cellar. That mandatory counterpoint usually arrives in the form of lemony acidity, but a chalky tension also works, as do savory hints of herb or sea salt.

A combination of all of the above— richness at the core, fresh on the edges and minerally taut on the frame with an umami kick—is arguably the best formula for Chardonnay, no matter where it’s grown. In fact, some of the richest Chards I’ve ever had come from Burgundy, albeit with the region’s hallmark minerality and acidity in tow.

Part of this stylistic appreciation, at least for me, is memory. My family lived on buttery Chard when I was growing up, and that was the dominant style when I started drinking professionally two decades ago. To taste an unctuous Chardonnay is to recall past people and gatherings I’ve cherished.

There’s also something to say about the wisdom of the crowd. Even more common than Anything-But-Chardonnayers are those lifelong fans of opulently oaked Chardonnay, who proudly proclaim their affinity for benchmark brands such as Rombauer. Even Satellite SB, one of the Central Coast’s top natural wine bars, serves “Rom-Bomb,” as they call it.

So, as much as we wine “experts” thrive on discovering the next styles and under the-radar producers, there’s solace to be found in the stability of classic styles like oaky Chard. Nothing comes closer to sipping warm rays of sunshine.

This article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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