Chardonnay has long been one of the best-selling and most-produced wines in the country. It is, perhaps, the first wine we try when we come of age and, more than likely, the first wine we find palatable as a young 21-year-old with a lingering sweet tooth. It is likely that same sweet flavor or aroma that makes chardonnay fall out of flavor as we grow more “sophisticated” in our vino tastes. Now, a pure chardonnay shouldn’t be sickeningly sweet or oaky but after the eclectic tastes of the 80’s and 90’s, winemakers have struggled to shift to the current cleaner preferences. And thus the mantra “Anything But Chardonnay” or “ABC,” came into existence.
The dip in chardonnay popularity and sales has had American winemakers nervous. They are accustomed to mass producing chards in order to meet the constant demand, but now they must adapt and give their oenophiles what they want: a pure, fresh fruit wine without additives. Enter stainless steel tanks and barrels.
There are many reasons wineries have moved away from oak barrels and begun to favor stainless steel wine containers such as those made by Skolnik. Specifically for chardonnay, a stainless steel tank offers winemakers a degree of purity that oak simply cannot touch. Some winemakers continue to use older “neutral” oak barrels, but for those determined to produce the cleanest, freshest chards, no oak is neutral enough.
And the public is happy for it. The truth is, chardonnay never needed all of those additives – it had the power to be different on its own all along. The Europeans have been creating vastly different, barrel-free chardonnay for ages. Even if the winemakers followed the exact same recipe and procedures, their chardonnays will offer a unique flavor or aroma based on the different regions, climates and soil make-ups of their vineyards.
So next time you are asked what wine you want, instead of answering, “Anything But Chardonnay” try asking for “Anything But Oaked Chardonnay” and give your sophisticated taste buds something fresh and delicious to sip on.