Chardonnay is not among them. More than any other “major” variety, Chardonnay assumes the personality of the winemaker.
During the 1980s, California Chardonnay became known for its rich, buttery and oak-tinged style. It was a style that drew big numbers and rave reviews from influential wine critics, so it made good business sense for Golden State vintners to follow the herd.
Those California “butter bombs” were quite distinct from their French counterparts. White Burgundy, as Chardonnay was and is known there, has long had a more demure persona, defined by traits that have been described as “minerally” and “steely.” If California Chardonnay was Robin Williams, White Burgundy was Clint Eastwood.
In recent years, the “California style” of Chardonnay has evolved. Far fewer winemakers are embracing the “butter bomb” style (achieved through a process known as malolactic fermentation), and the majority are emulating the French style or one that falls somewhere in between.
This has transformed the majority of California Chardonnay bottlings from rich sipping wines into ones that are more balanced and food friendly.
At least once each year, however, there is a place at the dinner table for those rich, buttery Chardonnays that used to be so ubiquitous in the United States: Thanksgiving Day. If, that is, you have the traditional turkey feast with all the trimmings.
Turkey. Stuffing. Mashed potatoes with creamy gravy. Rolls slathered with melting butter. Those are the ingredients of a meal that cries out for “traditional” California Chardonnay. The aromas, textures and flavors mesh like an orchestra whose musicians have been playing together for years — a symphony for the senses.
With meals that aren’t as rich — rotisserie chicken, halibut, pork chops — the “lighter,” more fruitful style of Chardonnay is an ideal pairing partner. But on “Turkey Day,” it’s the perfect time to give thanks for those rich renditions made famous by California vintners of the 1980s.