I'm all to ready admit to my general dislike of California Chardonnays, especially in comparison to their Burgundian cousins. However, Steve Heimoff's thought provoking blog "Why I'm not an ABCer" and particularly some insightful comments by his readers got me questioning why I am so vehemently against most California Chardonnays. After all, they come in a wide variety of styles, ranging from the Burgundian efforts at places like Ramey to the Chablis-esque Chateau Montelena to the rich fruit forward Mer et Soleil and in a variety of price points. So, I'm officially removing my ABC (for the uninitiated, Anything But Chardonnay) outlook I acquired from spending too much time around some serious wine snobs and cleaning the slate. Well, cleaning as much as I can. However, to clean the slate, I need to be realistic with my preconceptions in hopes of confirming or expunging them. So here they are.
1) Cheap California Chardonnay sucks. No two ways about this, I avoid any Chardonnay from California under $20.00 and admit to looking down my snoot at those who enjoy them. My expectations from cheap Chardonnay is overly alcoholic without the right balance, oak chips, 100% malolactic for the nasty buttered popcorn, and fruit profiles either non existent or reminiscint of overly sweet pies and noxious banana bread. In short, cheap California Chardonnay sucks.
2) Burgundian whites are superior to California Chardonnay at every level. While there are high end California Chardonnays that I like better than village level wines from Burgundy, when price is equal, I assume that the Burgundy is better (of course, with ubiquitous vintage chart in hand).
3) The only California Chardonnays worth seeking are those that are explicitly attempting to model Burgundy. This is a big one for me and points to my obvious preference for the Burgundian style. However, without knowledge of the actual winemaking practices or experience with specific wineries, this can be very tough to ascertain. So, unless it's Ramey, Hobbs, or another winemaker known for "Burgundian" styles, I avoid.
4) The "Pompous Barbarian" effect. I choose the name of this blog because this is what I am. I can quite pompous about things like Chardonnay, but utterly barbaric in my reasoning and communication. While I have enough experience to say that I don't like most Cal Chard, I also have never really had an open mind to it having the superiority of Burgundy bludgeoned into my starting at my first fine dining job with only a few Cal Chard fans encountered along the way. Coming from the Pompous world of fine dining where nearly every wine steward looks at purchasing a bottle of Chardonnay with the same snootiness as top chefs have towards people who order chicken, I have learned a few really bad habits when it comes to wine.
So, with my preconceptions firmly understood I have the makings of a small yet simple plan. Taste as much Chardonnay at different price points from different locations (just looking at California and Burgundy would fall into the same pompous trap that I am trying to escape) and take notes, whether on paper or mentally.