Over the last few years I've read quite a few articles in wine magazines and newspapers declaring that Americans are over those big ol' oaky Chards and are embracing oak-less versions, or unwooded varieties like Riesling and Gruner Veltliner. Could it be true? Well, sort of. If you look at sales growth by percentage, wines like Riesling and GruV are kicking Chardonnay's ass. But when you consider the fact that Chardonnay still has waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more market share than many of those unoaked varieties combined, the trend seems far less revolutionary.
A look at the white wines in my sample stash reflects the reality of the market: California wineries are still putting out a hell of a lot of Chardonnay. And they wouldn't be doing it if nobody was drinking the stuff. Mind you, not all of it is over-oaked--but it seems that the higher up you go in price the more oak influence the wines seem to have. ("I paid $900 each for those French oak barrels, damnit, so by god, people are going to taste them!") What I wouldn't give to find a nice bottle of Gruner Veltliner on my doorstep...
You won't be surprised to read that California Chard doesn't top the list of my favorite white wines (too many splinters in the throat can make anyone jaded). But there are some that have won my heart. Namely:
Stony Hill Vineyard
MacRostie - Carneros or Sonoma Coast
Dutton Goldfield - Dutton Ranch
Marimar Torres - "Acero"
Steele - Bien Nacido Vineyard
Of the Chards listed above, only one (the Marimar Torres) is unoaked. The appealing thing, to me, about the wines is that the purity of the fruit shines through, and isn't overshadowed by oak. It's all about balance, baby.
My questions for you, dear readers, are the following: Do you think Americans are truly moving on from Chardonnay to unwooded (or less wooded) varieties? And which California Chardonnays (unoaked or otherwise) tickle your fancy?