I've flirted with other varietals both professionally and socially and can easily identify a Viognier or a Sauvignon Gris in a blind line-up but always return to Chardonnay. It's the best.
Chardonnay (White Burgundy) used to be called the 'Queen' of wines in the old lexicography of wine appreciation (Pinot Noir or Burgundy was the 'King').
In recent years the commercial popularity of wine accompanied by a democratisation of wine drinking and wine appreciation has raised the 'second-tier' white wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Viognier etc. to a point where good old Chardonnay has been nudged out.
One of the problems with the promotion of the 'second-tier' is that on average the cost of production of Chardonnay or at least good Chardonnay has gone up. Reduced plantings and volumes of chardonnay grapes means that costs cannot be amortised as much as before. Also, with the growth in popularity of wine and the dominance of supermarkets in selling it, wine producers are now making wine from the bottom up rather than top down.
OK, what do I mean by that?
As a consequence the model has been tipped upside down - wineries primarily produce cheap wine to meet new market demands and, if they wish to have higher tier brands and labels they have to start from scratch. While it's easy to produce a lesser quality and cheaper wine from a base of really good and expensive wine (blending, stretching, barrel and tank selection etc.) the reverse cannot be done
Wineries and wine companies that want to make a good wine on top of the commercial wines necessary for their continued survival - in our case here - a Chardonnay - have to make the choice right from the beginning to have a dual process going. Of course smaller wineries can still do the top down approach but the volumes produced of the second and third tier labels are not great and are hard to find although I still look out for them on internet wine sites and ex-winery sales.
The bigger wineries who dominate the industry and populate the wine shelves (nearly 80% of retail wine around the world is sold through supermarkets and the very large format stores) who choose to still produce top quality brands and labels (for PR reasons essentially to gain wine-writer support and successes in wine competitions) don't need to employ the trickle-down method with these wines and generally, unless bullied by the supermarket customer or have made a mistake in production planning, price the wines according to the expensive inputs they have used.
So what does this mean for me as a recent old age Pensioner and you my
Bad news I'm afraid.
The type of Chardonnays I like to drink are the top-tier ones: made from ideally bunch selection grapes from low-yielding vineyards; barrel fermented in new oak; barrel aged in a mixture of new and seasoned French oak barrels and held back for 18 months before release.
Montrachet would be a good choice.
|Try and find this for under $500 a bottle|
It is becoming increasingly difficult to find the second-tier wines that have been made like this and even the third-tier wines (that might have had a percentage of the real stuff in the blend) are not a patch on what they once were. The canny big wine companies now market ordinary shit with sub-branding like "Reserve', 'Selection' etc. that means bugger-all.
I've written in the past about brands like Selaks that had Selaks Reserve Chardonnay which was a pretty good and fair-priced drop. Unfortunately no longer. The wonderful Selaks Founders Reserve Chardonnay seems to have disappeared from supermarket shelves - hopefully it hasn't been discontinued. I bought a bottle of Selaks Reserve Chardonnay 2015 for $12 the other day (not the Founder's Reserve) and guess what? It was very very ordinary and a pale imitation of the wine under this label of a couple of years ago. To try and be fair to Selaks I then bought a bottle of Montana Reserve Chardonnay 2016 for $13. It was very ordinary.
I'll still look out for deals on the top wines but I fear that these will be few and far between.
I'll have to change my wine drinking choices. Not to Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris which to me is just lolly-water, but to Riesling and Gewurztraminer which fortunately New Zealand makes some of the best examples in the world and, at least at this time they are very affordable.