I used to hear a lot of wine industry folks complain about their customers’ never-ending thirst for chardonnay. While the masses consumed it like water, we drank riesling or maybe white Burgundy which, by and large is made from chardonnay, is placed in a loftier category than chardonnay. Then, wine aficionados caught on and started to scoff at this grape as well. Even though chardonnay is still the most popular white wine in the United States, it seems as if a lot of average wine drinkers, at least in the Bay Area, have had enough, too. Why all the hate?
I can only guess that fatigue is a big part of it. Grapes that were once considered esoteric, such as ribolla gialla, are appearing on the shelves with more frequency, giving consumers more choices and opportunities to expand their palates.
Additionally, a good chunk of highly-touted chardonnay is just too expensive. For every Mount Eden that at $60 is arguably worth it, there are dozens of similarly priced wines that lack character.
When it comes to finding value in chardonnay, you often have to go beyond California and Burgundy, France and sometimes look in the most unusual places.
Piedmont, Italy is known for its red wines and if you want white, you’re much more likely to find arneis or cortese, the grape used in Gavi, than chardonnay. However, as it is suitable to the continental climate, this ubiquitous grape has found its place, and if you are among the ranks of consumers who have chardonnay burn-out, you should check them out. Here are my three besties:
De Forville Piemonte Chardonnay, 2013: Since first trying De Forville’s chardonnay maybe 10 years ago, I’ve been wowed on an annual basis. It is made from a 33-year-old vineyard in Castagnole delle Lanze, Italy, a town in Asti. Fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks, its pure expression of chardonnay’s apple, pear fruit and minerality are incredibly dialed in without being stripped. Suggested retail: $19
Roagna Langhe Bianco, 2012: Roagna, a bit of a maverick in Piedmont, has become one of the most respected producers in the region. The wine is composed of 90 percent chardonnay and 10 percent nebbiolo bianco (arneis), with 60 percent of the fruit coming from Barolo and the remainder from Barbaresco. Fermented in wood casks, it is not oaky but has body and richness that lines it up more closely with the wines from the Côte de Beaune region of France, as opposed to Chablis. Full-bodied with nuts, spice, herbal undertones and ripe red apple, this is an ever-so-slightly lavish, albeit perfectly balanced rendition of Piemonte chardonnay. Suggested retail: $21
Germano Ettore Langhe Chardonnay, 2012: Germano Ettore’s wines fly under the radar but they are very good and even the Barolo is reasonably priced — for Barolo. Made in Serralunga d’Alba, which is in Cuneo, Ettore’s chardonnay is vinified in stainless steel. Lean and crisp with racy mineral tones and subtle citrus and green apple, it reminds me a bit of Chablis. Suggested retail: $22
Some of these wines can be found at Biondivino, Draeger’s Market in San Mateo, San Francisco Wine Trading Company and Whole Foods (Castro, Potrero Hill).
Pamela S. Busch has been working in the wine industry since 1990 as a writer, educator and consultant and co-founded Hayes & Vine Wine Bar and Cav Wine Bar & Kitchen. In 2013, she launched TheVinguard.com, a blog covering a variety of wine-related topics.chardonnayDeForville PiemonteFeaturesFood & DrinkFood and WinePiedmont