The End of “Anything But Chardonnay” - Casewinelife.com Order Wine Online

The End of “Anything But Chardonnay”

Apr 23, 2023Michael Bozzelli

Updated:  11/8/23

The catchphrase "Anything but Chardonnay" emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s as a reaction to the popularity of heavily oaked, buttery Chardonnays that dominated the wine market at the time.  We hilariously unpacked the phrase in an interview on the Case Wine Life Show with Brand Ambassador for Trinchero Fine Wines, Carly Maher.  

History

The “Anything But Chardonnay” Chardonnays were mostly produced in California and were made with a technique called malolactic fermentation, which gives the wine a buttery, creamy texture and flavors of vanilla and oak by converting malic acid to lactic acid.  However, many wine drinkers found these wines to be too heavy and overbearing, leading also to the contention that all Chardonnays taste the same.  Thus, the phrase "Anything but Chardonnay" surfaced as a way to express this sentiment and to signal a preference for other white wine varietals like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Riesling.

Chardonnay sales dropped as wine drinkers reached for Voga Pinot Grigio, a top selling pinot grigio in the early 2000’s, and Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, another alternative to Chardonnay with sales through the roof.  Adding insult to injury, Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc (Kim identifies as a man not a woman by the way) was awarded a seat at the apex of the widely respected Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list in 2003.  

Re-invention

Nothing like self preservation as a motivator, Chardonnay producers took heed of what consumers were saying and regrouped.  They dusted off their enology and viticulture books from U.C. Davis (the foremost incubator of California winemakers) and reformulated how they made Chardonnay.  The shift was focused towards a lighter and more balanced product–away from the heavily-oaked, buttery style of Chardonnay.  Generally the culprit for that maligned flavor profile was fermenting the wine in new oak barrels and allowing the wine to undergo the malolactic fermentation as mentioned.  

Reformed efforts had a lighter touch when it came to the oak barreling, opting for neutral oak barrels or stainless steel tanks instead of new oak. This allows the natural fruit flavors of the Chardonnay grape to shine through, resulting in wines that are fresher and more vibrant.  In addition, many winemakers are focusing on picking Chardonnay grapes at optimal ripeness to ensure a balance between acidity and fruit flavors. This can result in wines with a more nuanced flavor profile and a greater sense of somewhereness, as the grapes reflect the unique characteristics of the terroir in which they were grown.  It is a familiar refrain among winemakers “that wine is made in the vineyard.”  

The timing of the new and improved Chardonnay could not have been better.  When Post-Anything But Chardonnay (Post-ABC and coined here first) Chardonnay hit the market in the mid-2000’s interest in pairing food with wine started to spike.  The Post-ABC Chardonnay was super versatile–perf! for pairing with any dish, from seafood to red meat.  Even with a Whataburger Jalapeno Cheeseburger for some.   

The Impact of Social Media

The rise of social media not only enhanced wine's versatility but also democratized its culture, making knowledge and accessibility widespread. This shift in dynamics empowered more individuals to confidently explore the wine aisles at stores like Publix or Giant Food. Driven by an unquenchable curiosity for new experiences, people began venturing into reformulated versions of familiar varietals, such as Chardonnay.

Final Note

In response to the prevailing bias against "Anything But Chardonnay," the emergence of Unoaked Chardonnay became a game-changer. This style, now a frontrunner, has transformed into one of the most beloved variations of America's favorite white wine varietal—Chardonnay. Witness the end of the "Anything But Chardonnay" era as this innovative approach captures the palates of wine enthusiasts across the nation. Cheers to the evolving landscape of Chardonnay!

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