Friday, January 24, 2014

Poised for a come back?

Chardonnay has become the pariah of the white wine world to many people. So much so, that we have and abbreviation in the industry called an ABC white (Anything But Chardonnay). It comes from waiting on customers and hearing that answer to the question we ask often and that is... What type of white are you looking for?

It seems that many people are willing to take a chance on a white that they haven't ever experienced as long as it isn't made from Chardonnay. The problem stems from the pendulum swing that happened in the industry where wine makers, especially in California and Australia, began to make bigger, oakier and more extracted wines back in the 90's and even into the new millenium. At first, consumers were buying these big wines by the arm load and in response, wine makers began to adjust their styles to fit what people were looking for. The wines became bigger, more densely fruited and woody wines that lacked finesse and just offered obvious components that had less balance. Australian Shiraz, California Merlot, and Chardonnay reigned supreme. That was then...

It didn't take wine drinkers long to realize that it was easy to like the first sip or two but finishing the glass was another story. These very obvious wines made your pallete tired and going back for a second glass of a gloppy, over extracted, high alcohol wine became a chore rather than an enjoyable endeavor. The pendulum was about to start its swing back in the other direction.

Suddenly, and almost without warning the big California Chardonnay and the Australian Shiraz grapes fell out of favor and instead our customers were looking for something that paired better with foods. In our wine classes Len teaches an acronym, FAAT (Fruit, Alcohol, Acidity, Tannin) and when these components are in place in balance with one another, the wine is harmonious and inviting. Whether our customers knew it or not, they began to opt for wines that offered these pieces in better balance.

Over time the industry has adjusted to what consumers are looking for (for the most part) and things like unoaked Chardonnays and/or more lightly wooded ones are much more in style. Now when we hear "Anything But Chardonnay" our approach is shifting. Instead of just giving up on the grape, we can offer many wines that aren't in the style gave it a bad reputation. There are still "California Style" Chards out there but more and more we talk about "Burgundian Style" Chardonnays from California that offer this balance.

Interesting to note that even when this grape was at its all time low and our customers were telling us that there was no interest, we were still able to offer a white Burgundy and have success. The trust there had not been broken and these world class wines were seemingly immune to the ABC fear.

Are consumers now moving back toward Chardonnay? It certainly feels like it.

How about Shiraz?
Not so much... it seems that the Aussies haven't heard the message quite as clearly as California did. 

An interesting side note...
When Shiraz was in its hayday and Merlot was falling out of favor thanks to the movie "Sideways", vineyards planted to the Merlot grape were being ripped out and the vineyard owners began to plant the Syrah grape in abundance (Shiraz and Syrah are synonomous). The vines that were planted at that time are now producing fruit that is being turned into some very interesting wines. California is seeing a very big move toward these wines locally. This trend hasn't seemed to have moved to our area yet and maybe it never will but if I had to make a prediction, I would guess that the even handed approach our domestic producers are using make it a likely player in the coming years.

In the end it will be up to you, the consumer and us, the reatailers to help the pendulum find its balance. Producers want to make wines that people enjoy and of course buy. Figuring out what that is will always be dictated by the consumer.



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