Thanks to diverse styles, Chardonnay makes a comeback

By on September 27, 2015
Chardonnay grapes in Kestrel Vineyard.

Beautiful Chardonnay grapes are close to optimal ripeness at Kestrel Vintners’ estate vineyard north of Prosser in Washington’s Yakima Valley. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Barely a half-decade ago, we were in the dark times of Chardonnay.

California’s heavy, wood-laden style of big, fat Chardonnays ruled the winemaking landscape. Rare was the Chardonnay with finesse.

But just as wine lovers have gravitated toward myriad white varieties – Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Grüner Veltliner among them – so, too, as Chardonnay changed from being a one-trick pony.

Today, Chardonnay is a blissfully diverse variety. Though not as nimble as the noble Riesling, Chardonnay nonetheless is able to transform into many kinds of wine, thanks to different clones, a variety of growing regions and a plethora of winemaking styles.

Just a half-decade after wine drinkers declared their independence from Chardonnay, they now seem to be flocking back to the country’s most important wine variety. Winemakers, too, are embracing this diversity by trying all kinds of techniques.

For example, some winemakers are crafting Chardonnays that are “naked,” meaning they are made in stainless steel and often without going through secondary malolactic fermentation (which converts malic acids to softer, richer lactic acids). Others are doing partial barrel fermentation and/or partial malolactic fermentation. And many still are producing big, rich, buttery Chardonnays using all the tools available – yet experimenting with different barrel types and different yeasts to produce wines of energy and distinction.

Throughout the Pacific Northwest, Chardonnay remains an important grape. In Oregon, it is No. 2 to Pinot Gris in white wines, but plenty of plantings of new Chardonnay vineyards are going into the soil each year. In Washington, it’s unclear whether Chardonnay or Riesling is No. 1, but Chardonnay undoubtedly is on the upswing, while Riesling seems to have momentarily plateaued.

This week, we take a look at a broad range of Northwest Chardonnays from a variety of regions and made in different styles. Just click the little arrow above to go through the dozen wines we picked out for you.

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About Great Northwest Wine

Articles credited to Great Northwest Wine are authored by Eric Degerman and other contributors. In most cases, these are wine reviews that are judged blind by the Great Northwest Wine tasting panel.

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